October 21, 2023
[From Noam Chomsky’s FATEFUL TRIANGLE on Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Thanks to Jamie Stern-Weiner for his research]
Repeatedly, Israel blocked international relief efforts and prevented food and medical supplies from reaching victims. Israeli military forces also appear to have gone out of their way to destroy medical facilities—at least, if one wants to believe Israeli government claims about “pinpoint accuracy” in bombardment. “International agencies agree that the civilian death toll would have been considerably higher had it not been for the medical facilities that the Palestine Liberation Organization provides for its own people”—and, in fact, for many poor Lebanese—so it is not surprising that these were a particular target of attack.
In the first bombing in June, a children’s hospital in the Sabra refugee camp was hit, Lebanese television reported, and a cameraman said he saw “many children” lying dead inside the Bourj al Barajneh camp in Beirut, while “fires were burning out of control at dozens of apartment buildings” and the Gaza Hospital near the camps was reported hit… On June 12, four bombs fell on a hospital in Aley, severely damaging it. “There is nothing unusual” in the story told by an operating room assistant who had lost two hands in the attack; “That the target of the air strike was a hospital, whether by design or accident, is not unique either,” William Branigan reports, noting that other hospitals were even more badly damaged. Fragments of cluster bombs were found on the grounds of an Armenian sanitarium south of Beirut that was also “heavily damaged during the Israeli drive.” A neurosurgeon at the Gaza hospital in Beirut “insists that Israeli gunners deliberately shelled his hospital,” it was reported at the same time. A few days later, Richard Ben Cramer reported that the Acre Hospital in Beirut was hit by Israeli shells, and that the hospitals in the camps had again been hit. “Israeli guns never seem to stop here,” he reported from the Sabra camp, later to be the scene of a major massacre: “After two weeks of this random thunder, Sabra is only a place to run through.”
The Acre hospital was again hit on June 24, along with the Gaza hospital and the Islamic Home for Invalids, where “the corridors were streaked with blood.” The hospitals were short of supplies because Israel was blocking tons of medical supplies ready for shipment in Cyprus, according to the International Red Cross. By mid-August, the Islamic Home had been repeatedly shelled, only 15 of 200 staff members remained, and “several of the retarded children have died of starvation for lack of someone who has the time to feed them properly.” At the Palestinian Hospital for the Disabled (perhaps the same institution), “a visitor walking the gloomy corridors is approached by stumbling figures crying ‘Food, food’ in Arabic”; 800 patients remained, all mentally ill, half of them children, cared for by a dozen nurses.
A French doctor reported witnessing “an intense Israeli bombing raid around and against the [Gaza] hospital, which forced the evacuation of the hospital at the time.” When the Beirut mental hospital was hit shortly after, “800 patients varying in condition from senile dementia to violent schizophrenia were released into the streets of Beirut.” The hospital, clearly marked by Red Cross flags, was hit by artillery and naval gunfire, including four phosphorus shells. Medical personnel reported that the patients, including children with mental problems whose nursery was hit by rockets that set beds on fire, were 90% Lebanese. No military target was found within a half-mile. The hospital was, however, “precariously located near the Palestinian ghettoes of Sabra and Shatila, frequent targets of Israeli bombardment,” though the “immediate surroundings are residential” (i.e., not Palestinian slums).
Most of this was before the bombing escalated to new levels of violence in August. By August 4, 8 of the 9 Homes for Orphans in Beirut had been destroyed, attacked by cluster and phosphorus bombs. The last was hit by phosphorus and other rockets, though clearly marked by a red cross on the roof, after assurances by the International Red Cross that it would be spared. On August 4, the American University hospital was hit by shrapnel and mortar fire. A doctor “standing in bloodstained rags” said: “We have no more room.” The director reported: “It’s a carnage. There is nothing military anywhere near this hospital.” The hospital was the only one in Beirut to escape direct shelling, and even there, sanitary conditions had deteriorated to the point where half the intensive-care patients were lost and with 99% of the cases being trauma victims, there was no room for ordinary illnesses. “Drive down any street and you will almost always see a man or woman with a missing limb.”
The Red Cross reported that by August 6, “there were 130 beds available in west Beirut out of a total of about 1,400.” The American University Hospital was admitting only “those who look salvageable” on bad days, the staff reported. The Berbir hospital was “just an underground dormitory with generators churning away to give the few patients air.” At the Hotel Bristol, hit by an Israeli phosphorus shell, the Red Cross had set up an underground hospital. “The majority of the doctors and nurses working in the city have fled.” “Even the Red Cross delegation has been shelled twice. In an Israeli naval bombardment on July 30, six shells struck the building and on Aug. 5 it was again hit by two artillery shells.” The Berbir hospital was already seriously damaged by mid-July, with trails of blood in the corridors, many of the patients removed from the wreckage, and the mortuary full of corpses until the remaining doctors were able to leave the building to bury the unidentified bodies in a communal grave when the shelling and air attacks temporarily stopped.
One of the true heroes of the war is Dr. Amal Shamma, an Americantrained Lebanese-American pediatrician who remained at work in Beirut’s Berbir hospital through the worst horrors. In November, she spent several weeks touring the U.S., receiving little notice, as expected. She was, however, interviewed in the Village Voice, where she described the extensive medical and social services for Palestinians and poor Lebanese that were destroyed by the Israeli invasion. For them, nothing is left apart from private hospitals that they cannot afford, some taken over by the Israeli army. No medical teams came from the U.S., although several came to help from Europe; the U.S. was preoccupied with supplying weapons to destroy. She reports that the hospitals were clearly marked with red crosses and that there were no guns nearby, though outside her hospital there was one disabled tank, which was never hit in the shellings that reduced the hospital to a first-aid station. On one day, 17 hospitals were shelled. Hers “was shelled repeatedly from August 1 to 12 until everything in it was destroyed.” It had been heavily damaged by mid-July, as already noted. Hospital employees stopped at Israeli barricades were told: “We shelled your hospital good enough, didn’t we? You treat terrorists there.” Recall that this is the testimony of a doctor at a Lebanese hospital, one of those liberated by the Israeli forces, according to official doctrine.
An American nurse working in Beirut, who was appalled by the “watered-down descriptions in American newspapers,” reported that Israel “dropped bombs on everything, including hospitals, orphanages and, in one case, a school bus carrying 35 young schoolgirls who were traveling on an open road”; she cared for the survivors. The U.S. Navy Lieut. Commander in charge of removing unexploded ordnance in Beirut reports that “we found five bombs in an orphanage with about 45 cluster bombs in the front yard. We were called there after five children were injured and four killed.” About 3-5% of the shells and bombs failed to go off and are considered highly dangerous, he said. This particular orphanage, then, must have been heavily bombed.
Not only hospitals, but also medical personnel seemed to evoke particular fury. One eyewitness saw a Palestinian doctor, unconscious, “his hands and neck tied to a post, his face bloodied and covered with flies.” Palestinian hospitals were closed down, their staffs arrested, removed to prison camps, and brutalized.
In Sidon, the Israeli army closed down the Palestinian Red Crescent Hospital. A Dutch nurse working there told a reporter: “I was in Holland during World War II. I know what fascists are like. It’s terrible that all these women and children are being killed. Tell that to the world.” On the same day, the New York Times reported a Jerusalem news conference in which Imri Ron, a Mapam Knesset member (from Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek) and paratroop major, “spoke from a combination of political and military authority” about the “clean fight” the Israeli army had fought, “taking extraordinary precautions to save civilians.” Apart from the U.S. military itself, only an Israeli officer would be accorded such “authority” in the U.S. press. Ron’s authority is undiminished by the fact that he was such an enthusiast for the war that he volunteered to take part in it, though as a Knesset member he was not called up. We return to some of his further “authoritative” observations, comparing them to those of a different breed of Israeli military officers.
A Belgian doctor at the closed Sidon hospital, who “struggled to cope with wounded men, women and children” (victims of this “clean fight”), stated that “We had a good operation here. We were doing surgery and everything” before almost the entire staff was arrested by the Israeli army. Shipler reported the same events in the New York Times. He quotes the Israeli Major who is military governor of Sidon and who closed the hospital because, he said, “It’s obvious it’s not a good hospital.” Therefore, “At 11A.M. today I had all the patients moved out to a good private hospital, the Labib Medical Center,” not tainted by a Palestinian connection. He added that he had not ordered the arrest of a Norwegian nurse, though “she is a member of the P.L.O.,” because “we are democratic” and therefore “we are not taking women”—whether or not this was true at the time, it is false for the subsequent period, as we shall see. A Canadian and Norwegian doctor, along with Palestinian doctors, will be taken to Israel for interrogation and possible imprisonment, the Major added. Shipler visited the “good private hospital,” where no one seemed “pressed for time” and the director angrily refused to take patients from the closed hospital, explaining to his guests that “The first case I got from there, she had gangrene all over her body.” He will take only “good cases.” Meanwhile one Belgian doctor remained in the closed Palestinian hospital to take care of 58 patients, some badly wounded, amidst “a stench of filth and rotting flesh.” The director of the “good private hospital” is, incidentally, the son of a millionaire orange grove owner, who was quite pleased to be liberated by the Israeli army.
In his congressional testimony, [the Canadian surgeon Chris] Giannou reported that he was “a witness to four prisoners who were beaten to death” (reduced to two by the Times). He also witnessed “the total, utter devastation of residential areas, and the blind, savage, indiscriminate destruction of refugee camps by simultaneous shelling and carpet bombing from aircraft, gunboats, tanks and artillery,” leaving only “large blackened craters filled with rubble and debris, broken concrete slabs and twisted iron bars, and corpses”; “hospitals being shelled,” one shell killing 40-50 people; the shelling of the camp after Israeli soldiers had permitted women and children to return to it; the use of cluster bombs in settled areas; “the calcinated, carbonized bodies of the victims of phosphorus bombs”; 300 cadavers in one area while he was evacuating the Government Hospital; and much more. He saw “the entire male staff’ of the hospitals being taken into custody, leaving patients unattended, and “savage and indiscriminate beatings” of prisoners with fists, sticks, ropes with nuts and bolts tied to them. He saw a Palestinian doctor hung by his hands from a tree and beaten and an Iraqi surgeon “beaten by several guards viciously, and left to lie in the sun with his face buried in the sand,” all in the presence of an Israeli Colonel who did nothing about it. He watched prisoners “being rehearsed by an Israeli officer to shout ‘Long Live Begin’,” others sitting bound in “stifling heat” with “food and water in short supply.” He was forced to evacuate his hospital and bring the patients down to the seafront. The Norwegians confirmed his story and said that they had seen at least 10 people beaten to death, including an old man who was crazed by the lack of water and intense heat as the prisoners were forced to sit for hours in the sun; he was beaten by four or five soldiers who then tied him with his wrists to his ankles and let him lie in the sun until he died.
The Norwegian doctor and social worker told the story of their captivity in a report issued by the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs. Under Israeli captivity, they were forced to sit, hands tied, for 36 hours without permission to move, while they heard “screams of pain” from nearby. In an Israeli prison, they were forced to lie for 48 hours, blindfolded and handcuffed, on the interrogation ground. They report “extensive violence” against prisoners, including beatings by thick table legs, batons, plastic tubes “often with big knots in the ends” and clubs with nails. Officers were present during severe beatings, but did nothing. One of the most sadistic Israeli guards told them he was from a kibbutz where an Austrian girl had been killed by rocket fire. Prisoners were tied with tight plastic straps with sharp edges, “causing pain.” The Norwegians were given “preferential treatment.” Arab prisoners were subjected to constant brutality and degradation.
Dr. Shafiqul-Islam from Bangladesh, who was on the staff of the Palestinian hospital in Sidon, reports that he was arrested by the IDF while operating on a 12-year-old Palestinian boy with severe internal shrapnel injuries. He was not permitted to complete the operation, but was arrested, beaten mercilessly, forbidden to ask for food or water for 4 days, denied drugs or dressings for other prisoners on the grounds that they were “all terrorists,” and so on.