The Lebanese War, 1982

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There is an excellent, but age-restricted video, only available on Youtube which can be found here

Why did PLO end up in Lebanon and what were its effects?

  • In the aftermath of Jordanian Civil War, many Palestinians arrived in Lebanon, among them Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
  • The PLO boosted life for the 300,000 refugees living in Lebnaon. They used money donated by other Arab states to create schools, health clinics, repair roads nadprovie electricity;
  • But the arrival of so many Sunni muslims, upset an already delicate ethnic balance in the Lebnon which consisted of Maronite Christians, Lebanese Sunnis (who looked to other Arab states for support) and Shi’a muslims who looked to Iran.
  • The Maronite christians (about 40% of the population) in particular felt threatened and a milita group known as the Phalange began fighitng the PLO who were joined by Lebanese Muslism (55% of population) and Druze (5%).
  • Beginning with street fighting in Beirut between Christian Phalangists and Palestinian militiamen, it became a civil war which drew in support from neighbouring countries; Israel suppplied the Christians with weapony, whilst Syrian forces also supplied forces to support the Christians, but despite their efforts by late 1976 the PLO still controlled much of southern Lebanon.
  • In his speeh to the UN in 1974, Arafat declared that he would be willing to negotatiate with the Israelis but hardliners refused to believe his sincerity whilst many in the PLO itself rejected Araf’s new appraoch.

The Coastal Road Massacre and the road to war

  • 11th March, 1978 – in an attempt to disrupt the peace negotations in Camp David, 13 PLO militants tried to take tourists from a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv as hostages, but ended up in a fire fight with Israeli police that resulted in the deaths of 38 Israelli civilians, including 13 chidlren and a further 71 injured.  9 of the PLO activists were also killed. 
  • In a speech to the knesset, Begin blamed Yasser Arafat.
  • Israel’s response was Operation Litani – on 15th March 1978, 26,000 troops invaded lebanon; resutling in 1100 Palestinian and lebanese deaths, including 75 in a mosque hit by an airstrike.  Most of the deaths were civilian as Arafat had already ordered PLO fighters to move north.
  • With Soviet help, the PLO acquired heavy weaponry, including long-range artillery, rocket lanunchers and anti-aircraft missiles – now any IDF attack on the PLO in the south Lebanon, would be repaid by rocket attacks on Israeli farming settlements in Galilee.
  • The UN organised a truce – but Israel used the time to prepare for war.

Operation Peace for Galilee

  • Using the attempted murder of the Israeli ambassador to London as a pretext (it was unrelated), Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee, on 6th June, involving 70,000 troops, 800 tanks and 350 fighter jets.
  • 300,000 Lebanese lost their homes; 12,000 killed; 40,000 wounded; Beirut was surrounded and placed in a state of siege for 2 months;
  • The intervention of the USA, France and Italy led to an evacuation of 11,500 Palestinian fighters from Beirut by ship; most went to Tunisia where Yasser Arafat set up the new PLO headquarters.
  • The Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, was not satisfied and announced that 2000 PLO terrorists remained in the camps; after Israeli forces surrounded and bombed Sabra and Shatila, Phalangists carried out a massacre resulting in 3,500 civilians  killed – sometimes after brutal torture.

The impact of Israel’s War in the Lebanon

Ariel Sharon, Israel’s minister of defence in helmet and flak jacket during the advance on Beruit in the early days of the invasion of lebanon in June 1982.
  • On 16 December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide.
  • In 1983, a commission chaired by Seán MacBride, the assistant to the UN Secretary General and President of United Nations General Assembly at the time, concluded that Israel, as the camp’s occupying power, bore responsibility for the violence. The commission also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide.  Ariel Sharon was forced to resign as Defence Minister.
  • The Israeli invasion removed PLO presence from Southern Lebanon and the Syrian military was weakened by combat losses, especially in the air.
  • But the larger Israeli objectives of resolving the conflict in Lebanon in its favour had failed. The removal of the PLO also paved the way for the rise of other militant groups, particularly Hezbollah, funded directly funded by Iran.
    • Postscript: Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said in a videotape, released on the eve of the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, that he was inspired to attack the buildings of the United States by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in which towers and buildings in Beirut were destroyed in the siege of the capital

Sana M’Heidli – the shape of things to come

Sana M’Heidli was a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party who, at the age of 16 blew herself and a Peugeot filled with explosives up next to an Israeli convoy in JezzineLebanon, during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and twelve were injured. She is thought to be the first female suicide bomber and is sometimes referred to as ‘the bride of the South’.

It is thought that here – in the Lebanon – Palestinian activists learned more radical techniques – including suicide bombing – that would become a feature of Palestinian resistance in the 21st century.

In her pre-recorded vdeotape, she said ‘I chose dath in order to fulfil my national duty.’

Key questions

There is a series of superb questions/exercises on p. 81 of the Brash textbook and these are to be strongly recommended to embed the learning from this section.

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