The great massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla camps came back onto the agenda with the BBC program "The Accused" broadcast on June 17, 2001. In that documentary, which looked into Ariel Sharon's role in the massacre in which 3,000 people lost their lives, living witnesses who escaped the slaughter spoke at first hand of the savagery, which lasted nearly 3 days. The program concluded by saying that Ariel Sharon, who was then defense minister, was responsible for the massacre and must face trial for it. "The Accused" Was Broadcast Despite Pressure From the State of Israel People who escaped the massacre, the Phalange leaders who carried it out, representatives of the Israeli Army, lawyers, and academics participated in the documentary, which was prepared by journalist Fergal Keane. However, before it had even been broadcast it met with a strong reaction from Israel and radical Jewish communities. Right up until the last moment, everyone expected that it might be cancelled. However, according to statements by Keane, the program was screened "under thousands of e-mails, threatening messages, and warnings of boycotts." Furthermore, because of the wide interest it received, it was repeated several times on the BBC and shown on television channels in a number of foreign countries. What Panorama revealed The Sabra and Shatilla massacre was carried out by the Lebanese Christian Phalange groups whom Lebanese Muslim Arabs had been at war for a long time. Yet it was Israel that supported, organized, and armed these groups from the beginning. In his program, Keane described the relationship between the Phalangists and Israel in this manner: The Phalange were led by the charismatic and ruthless Bashir Gemayel. He was Israel's main ally in Lebanon. Israel's Mossad knew from meetings with him that he wanted to "eliminate" the Palestinian problem, and now he was about to become president of Lebanon. Bashir's election worried the people of the camps, but they'd been promised security. The Israeli Army, which guaranteed the Palestinians in the camps that nothing would happen to them, was firmly behind the Phalange, the force that carried out the massacre. Before the massacre, the Israeli Army took the camp under its control by bombing it for days. It later closed all the gates to the camp, forbidding anyone without permission to enter or leave. It also gave the Phalange the time and the means to carry out the slaughter by firing flares all night long that lit their way, and by not intervening for 40 hours. It made it easier for the massacre to continue by issuing death threats, and by turning back those Palestinians who tried to leave and who got as far as the exits and sought help. In Keane's words, "in the rubble were children who'd been scalped, young men who'd been castrated." One of the living witnesses of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre who spoke on the program, Nabil Ahmed, described what he went through in this way: I was hoping to find my family alive. Then, when I started seeing the bodies in the streets, I accepted the fact then that I'll be grateful to find their bodies. You see what happened. They put them in a house, they killed them and they bulldozed the houses on them, so we were digging the rubble to identify. So we pulled the hair of my relative and that's when we realised that this is the spot where they are there. The massacre perpetrated by the Phalange was indescribable. Statements of an Israeli officer in the program clearly revealed that the Phalange were enemies of the Muslims. Israeli paratroop brigade commander Yoram Yair recounted the shocking request he received from a Phalangist: Judge Richard Goldstone is the former Chief Prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal He say: "Do me a favour, make sure to bring me that much." I say: "What is it?" He say: "Listen, I know that yter go inside West Beirut. Promise me that you will bring me that much Palestinian blood.
I want to drink it." Israel's then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon knew about every stage of this massacre which was carried out under an Israeli Army security umbrella. Keane explained Sharon's role in these words: Ariel Sharon arrived in Beirut on Wednesday morning insisting there were PLO forces in the camps. And so after conferring with his senior officers, including Amos Yuron, the Commander for Beirut and the refugee camps, Ariel Sharon agreed a fateful order. "Only one element, and that is the Israeli Defence Force, shall command the forces in the area. For the operation in the camps the Phalangist should be sent in." Ariel Sharon went to see the Phalange at their headquarters to discuss the Beirut operation… Now, a day after their leader's murder, the Israelis were asking the Phalange to fight in Palestinian camps. Could Ariel Sharon have been in any doubt about what would have happened if you sent the Phalangists into a Palestinian refugee camp, an undefended camp? Then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon made constant observations in the conflict area, and scrutinized every stage of the war during his visit to the Phalange refugee camp. Keane put that question to many officials, to Morris Draper, the U.S. Middle East representative at the time; Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor at the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal; Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University; and others… They all agreed that Ariel Sharon was responsible in the first degree for the massacre and that he was a war criminal. For instance, Goldstone revealed his thoughts in these terms: 'If the person who gave the command knows, or should know on the facts available to him or her, that is a situation where innocent civilians are going to be injured or killed, then that person is as responsible, in fact in my book more responsible even than the people who carry out the order." Space was given in the program to a telephone conversation that supported these opinions. Israeli journalist Ron Ben Yishai reported a conversation between himself and Sharon on the second day in this way: I found him at home sleeping. He woke up and I told him: "Listen, there are stories about killings and massacres in the camps. A lot of our officers know about it and tell me about it, and if they know it, the whole world will know about it. You can still stop it." I didn't know that the massacre actually started 24 hours earlier. I thought it started only then and I said to him: "Look, we still have time to stop it. Do something about it." He didn't react. In short, although he has denied it for years, Ariel Sharon knew about the massacre, decided on it together with the Phalangists, and made no effort to stop the killings in the camps, which were under his responsibility. This reality that Panorama revealed was one that had been expressed for years by those who have studied the event closely and those who lived through it. However, the reason why the program attracted so much attention was that it was the first time that such a respectable channel as BBC had broadcast statements directly accusing Israel, and because it also accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.