A post by CAMERA Arabic
On November 9th BBC Arabic editors finally amended an article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre by Beirut correspondent Muhammad Hamdar, which had originally been published on September 17th. This was a part of a wave of BBC Arabic corrections prompted jointly by CAMERA Arabic, CAMERA UK and The Jewish Chronicle.
Despite its subject matter being the massacre, throughout the entire article the BBC journalist refrained from naming those responsible: Lebanese Christian militiamen known as the Lebanese Forces or the Phalanges. For example, after describing Israel’s previous collaboration with them (as well as with Lebanese Christian officials decades before), he depicted the massacre itself as follows in a sub-section titled “what happened in Beirut in 1982?”:
“A day after the [Lebanese president elect Bachir Gemayel’s] assassination, Israeli forces entered the capital Beirut. On Sep. 16, the killings began in the Sabra and Shatila [refugee] camps.”
CAMERA Arabic contacted the BBC, pointing out that while Israeli forces surrounded the camps in west Beirut and facilitated the Phalanges’ entrance into the camps, the Sabra and Shatila massacre was carried out by the Phalanges alone. This was contrary to prior and real-time understandings with senior IDF commanders. The question of Israel’s indirect responsibility for not anticipating the massacre, as well its leadership’s ability to understand what was happening on the ground and intervene during the 38 hours it lasted, both remain disputed.
The Lebanese Civil War influenced the construction of a Sabra and Shatila narrative claiming that Israel was the party which planned and carried out the massacre which is prominent among Lebanese and Palestinians alike. For example, Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari’s book “Israel’s Lebanon War” quotes the responses of Yasser Arafat and former Lebanese PM Saeb Salam to the massacre, shortly after its occurrence (pages 278-9, emphasis added):
“Arafat and his lieutenants insist[ed] that ‘at most the Israeli soldiers were assisted by a handful of guides from Hadad’s militia.’ The Moslem leadership in Lebanon professes the same version. After he declared that ‘no members of the Phalange were in West Beirut during the massacre,’ [former Lebanese PM and prominent Sunni leader] Saeb Salam was asked why is he deliberately ignoring facts. ‘if one is permitted to kill for one’s country, how much more admissible it is to lie for it,’ was his laconic reply. Thus a broad-based understanding was quickly forged in Lebanon to salvage the prospect of collaboration between the Moslem majority and [Bashir’s brother and new president] Amin Gemayel’s administration. It was simply convenient for all these parties to draw together behind the transparent lie that Israel alone was responsible for the bloodshed.”
CAMERA Arabic put it to the BBC it was the editors’ responsibility to separate truth from fiction and ulterior motives and to stick to the historical facts, which includes being clear about the perpetrators’ true identity.
Action was eventually taken 36 working days after submission of the original complaint: more than 3 times the timeframe for addressing a complaint set by the BBC itself. The amended version of the article now correctly states (amendment in bold):
“A day after the [Lebanese president elect Bachir Gemayel’s] assassination, Israeli forces entered the capital Beirut. On Sep. 16, groups belonging to the Lebanese Forces militia began the killings in the Sabra and Shatila [refugee] camps.”