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Myths & Facts

By: Mitchell G. Bard

Chapter 10: Israel & Lebanon

- “The PLO posed no threat to Israel in 1982 when Israel attacked Lebanon.”
- “Israel was responsible for the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila.”
- “Israel has not withdrawn completely from Lebanon.”
- “Lebanon has abided by UN Resolution 1701 and poses no direct threat to Israel.”
- “Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the war instigated by Hezbollah.”
- “The overwhelming majority of casualties in the war with Hezbollah were civilians.”
- “The media fairly and accurately covered the second war in Lebanon.”


“The PLO posed no threat to Israel in 1982 when Israel attacked Lebanon.”


Israel-Lebanon border, June 1982

The PLO repeatedly violated the July 1981 cease-fire agreement. By June 1982, when the IDF went into Lebanon, the PLO had made life in northern Israel intolerable through its repeated shelling of Israeli towns.

In the ensuing 11 months, the PLO staged 270 terrorist actions in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and along the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Twenty-nine Israelis died, and more than 300 were injured in the attacks. 1 The frequency of attacks in the Galilee forced thousands of residents to flee their homes or to spend large amounts of time in bomb shelters.

A force of some 15–18,000 PLO members was encamped in scores of locations in Lebanon. About 5,000–6,000 were foreign mercenaries, coming from such countries as Libya, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Chad and Mozambique. 2 The PLO had an arsenal that included mortars, Katyusha rockets, and an extensive anti-aircraft network Israel later discovered enough light arms and other weapons in Lebanon to equip five brigades. 3 The PLO also brought hundreds of T-34 tanks into the area. 4 Syria, which permitted Lebanon to become a haven for the PLO and other terrorist groups, brought surface-to-air missiles into that country, creating yet another danger for Israel.

Israeli strikes and commando raids were unable to stem the growth of this PLO army. Israel was not prepared to wait for more deadly attacks to be launched against its civilian population before acting against the terrorists.

After Israel launched one such assault on June 4–5, 1982, the PLO responded with a massive artillery and mortar attack on the Israeli population of the Galilee. On June 6, the IDF moved into Lebanon to drive out the terrorists.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger defended the Israeli operation: “No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction and implementing its objectives by periodic shellings and raids.” 5


“Israel was responsible for the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila.”


The Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia was responsible for the massacres that occurred at the two Beirut-area refugee camps on September 16–17, 1982. Israeli troops allowed the Phalangists to enter Sabra and Shatila to root out terrorist cells believed to be located there. It had been estimated that there may have been up to 200 armed men in the camps working out of the countless bunkers built by the PLO over the years, and stocked with generous reserves of ammunition. 6

When Israeli soldiers ordered the Phalangists out, they found hundreds dead (estimates range from 460 according to the Lebanese police, to 700–800 calculated by Israeli intelligence). The dead, according to the Lebanese account, included 35 women and children. The rest were men: Palestinians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Iranians, Syrians and Algerians. 7 The killings were perpetrated to avenge the murders of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel and 25 of his followers, killed in a bomb attack earlier that week. 8

Israel had allowed the Phalange to enter the camps as part of a plan to transfer authority to the Lebanese, and accepted responsibility for that decision. The Kahan Commission of Inquiry, formed by the Israeli government in response to public outrage and grief, found that Israel was indirectly responsible for not anticipating the possibility of Phalangist violence. Subsequently, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon resigned and the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raful Eitan, was dismissed.

The Kahan Commission, declared former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, was “a great tribute to Israeli democracy. . . . There are very few governments in the world that one can imagine making such a public investigation of such a difficult and shameful episode.” 9

Ironically, while 300,000 Israelis protested the killings, little or no reaction occurred in the Arab world. Outside the Middle East, a major international outcry against Israel erupted over the massacres. The Phalangists, who perpetrated the crime, were spared the brunt of the condemnations for it.

By contrast, few voices were raised in May 1985, when Muslim militiamen attacked the Shatila and Burj-el Barajneh Palestinian refugee camps. According to UN officials, 635 were killed and 2,500 wounded. During a two-year battle between the Syrian-backed Shiite Amal militia and the PLO, more than 2,000 people, including many civilians, were reportedly killed. No outcry was directed at the PLO or the Syrians and their allies over the slaughter. International reaction was also muted in October 1990 when Syrian forces overran Christian-controlled areas of Lebanon. In the eight-hour clash, 700 Christians were killed—the worst single battle of Lebanon’s Civil War. 10 These killings came on top of an estimated 95,000 deaths that had occurred during the civil war in Lebanon from 1975–1982.11


“Israel has not withdrawn completely from Lebanon.”


Israel-Lebanon border, 2000

Despite the UN ruling that Israel completed its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Lebanese government insist that Israel still holds a largely uninhabited patch of Lebanese territory called -Shebaa Farms. 12

Israel, which has built a series of observation posts on strategic hilltops in the area, maintains that the land was captured from Syria; nevertheless, the Syrians have supported Hezbollah’s claim. The controversy benefits each of the Arab parties. “For Syria, it means Hezbollah can still be used to keep the Israelis off balance; for Lebanon, it provides a way to apply pressure over issues, like the return of Lebanese prisoners still held in Israeli jails. For Hezbollah, it is a reason to keep its militia armed and active, providing a ready new goal for a resistance movement that otherwise had nothing left to resist.” 13

In January 2005, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the violence along the Israel-Lebanon border and reasserted that the Lebanese claim to the Shebaa Farms area is “not compatible with Security Council resolutions” affirming that Israel completely withdrew from Lebanon.

In November 2008, Nawaf Musawi, Hezbollah’s head of international relations, told Norway’s ambassador to Lebanon that portions of northern Israel belong to Lebanon. He referred to the Blue Line, the border demarcation accepted by the United Nations in 2000 after Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon, as merely a “withdrawal line.” Musawi’s comments have been interpreted to mean that Hezbollah has territorial demands that extend beyond the Shebaa Farms and into northern Israel. 15

“If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them. Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine . . . [Jews] can go back to Germany or wherever they came from.”

— Hezbollah spokesperson Hassan Ezzedin 14


“Lebanon has abided by UN Resolution 1701 and poses no direct threat to Israel.”


On August 11, 2006, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 in response to the Israel-Hezbollah war. The resolution called upon the Lebanese government “to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms and related materials.”

In May 2007, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon established the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT) to evaluate Lebanon’s compliance with Resolution 1701. The committee concluded that “the performance of the (Lebanese inspection) agencies in stopping ongoing arms smuggling, which is generally accepted as a fact, can only be described as not up to what can be expected.” 16

The committee discovered widespread corruption amongst Lebanese border police and described the ease by which missiles and militants move across the Syrian-Lebanese border. The report illustrated the United Nations’ skepticism of Lebanese attempts to end the flow of illegal arms into Lebanon when it said “one would have expected that an occasional seizure of arms. . . would have taken place. If by nothing else, then by pure chance. This lack of performance is worrying.” 17

Lebanon’s failure to implement Resolution 1701 poses a direct threat to Israel and to Lebanese stability. Since the war in 2006, large quantities of weapons (including rockets capable of striking as far south as Tel Aviv and southern Israel), have been smuggled into Lebanon from Syria and Iran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has declared openly that Hezbollah will not disarm so long as Israel remains a threat. He also claims to have tens of thousands of rockets ready to fire at Israel (Israeli military estimates place the number at 20,000). 18 The smuggling and stockpiling of weapons by Hebollah, with the complicity of Lebanese border officials, also threatens the pro-Western Lebanese government. If the UN does not take steps to ensure the implementation of its resolution, the risk of renewed violence between Israel and Hezbollah will grow, as will the possibility of a takeover of Lebanon by Hezbollah.


“Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians during the war instigated by Hezbollah.”


Three weeks after the beginning of the war initiated by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report that charged Israel withindiscriminate attacks against civilians in Lebanon.” 19 Nothing in the report was based on first-hand knowledge of HRW; rather, it was gathered from interviews with “eye-witnesses and survivors” of Israeli strikes who “told HRW that neither Hezbollah fighters nor other legitimate military targets were in the area that the IDF attacked.”

If the investigators did not find evidence of Hezbollah’s presence at bomb sites, it does not necessarily follow that the terrorists had not been there since it is possible that any weapons, documents or bodies were removed before HRW arrived on the scene. As analyst Joshua Muravchik observed, “There was no dependable method by which HRW could assess the veracity of what it was told by the ‘witnesses,’ many of whom were in areas where the population was sympathetic to, or intimidated by Hezbollah. Indeed, there was no means by which it could be sure that they were not Hezbollah cadres, since members of the group do not ordinarily wear uniforms or display identity badges.” 20

HRW also has no evidence for the scurrilous accusation that civilians were “deliberately” killed.On the contrary, a great deal of evidence was available showing the efforts Israel made to avoid harming noncombatants, such as dropping leaflets to warn civilians to evacuate locations before they were attacked, the pinpoint attacks of buildings in neighborhoods that could more easily have been carpet-bombed, and the reports of Israeli pilots and others who withheld fire because of the presence of civilians in target areas.

Anyone watching television saw the images of rockets being fired from civilian areas, and the photos of weapons and armed men in what should have been peaceful neighborhoods. Numerous witnesses told reporters very different stories than those reported by HRW, giving examples of weapons caches in mosques and fighters using UN troops as shields. 21 HRW had no trouble accepting the word of the Lebanese people it interviewed, but gave no credence to evidence presented by Israel, such as weapons captured in fighting in civilian areas or videos showing the deployment and launching of rockets from areas that were attacked.

HRW ignored basic moral and legal distinctions. The group did not differentiate between Hezbollah’s action in initiating the conflict and Israel’s reaction in self-defense, or between Hezbollah’s deliberate targeting of civilians and Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties. Most remarkably, HRW did not take note of the contrasting goals of the combatants. One of Hezbollah’s declared aims is to destroy Israel, while Israel’s goal was to survive and to protect its citizens.

The spurious allegations made by HRW, as well as similar ones published by Amnesty International, were further undermined by a report issued in November 2006 by the Intelligence and Terrorism Center at the Israeli Center for Special Studies. This publication provided extensive documentation and photographic evidence of “Hezbollah’s consistent pattern of intentionally placing its fighters and weapons among civilians.” It also shows that Hezbollah was “well aware of the civilian casualties that would ensue” from this activity. 22


“The overwhelming majority of casualties in the war with Hezbollah were civilians.”


Throughout the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the media reported casualty totals offered by Lebanese officials as facts with no apparent effort to verify them. When the number of Hezbollah terrorists killed was mentioned at all, it was invariably with a qualifier such as “Israel says” or “Israel claims.” The evidence suggests, however, that it is likely that half or more of the casualties were not innocent civilians, but Hezbollah fighters.

According to Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council, the total number of Lebanese who died in the war was 1,191. 23 No distinctions were made between civilians and terrorists. Press reports usually ignored the fact that it was in Hezbollah and the Lebanese government’s interest to exaggerate the number of civilian casualties to blacken the image of Israel and support their contention that Israeli attacks were disproportionate and indiscriminate. Simultaneously, Hezbollah sought to conceal its casualties to enhance its prestige and make propagandistic claims about the damage it was inflicting on Israel while suffering few losses of its own.

The truth did dribble out, though it was largely ignored. For example, the Daily Telegraph reported:

Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with Israel, and another 1,500 injured. Lebanese officials have also disclosed that many of Hezbollah’s wounded are being treated in hospitals in Syria to conceal the true extent of the casualties. “Hezbollah is desperate to conceal its casualties because it wants to give the impression that it is winning its war,” said a senior security official. “People might reach a very different conclusion if they knew the true extent of Hezbollah’s casualties.” 24

The Kuwait Times quoted a report that said Hezbollah “buried more than 700 fighters so far, with many more to go.” 25 Military expert John Keegan said Hezbollah losses might have been as high as 1,000 out of a total strength of 5,000. 26

These sources are consistent with information provided by Israel. Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a former senior officer in Israeli military intelligence, said “Israel identified 440 dead guerillas by name and address, and experience shows that Israeli figures are half to two-thirds of the enemy’s real casualties. Therefore, Amidror estimated, “Hezbollah’s real death toll might be as high as 700.” 27 A subsequent report three weeks later said that Israel had identified the names of 532 dead Hezbollah terrorists and estimated at least 200 others had been killed. 28

These reports suggest that at a minimum, roughly half the casualties in the war were combatants. It is more likely the figure approaches 60 percent, which would mean the majority of dead were terrorists. This reinforces the Israeli position that it did indeed inflict heavy losses on Hezbollah and that the civilian casualties were not a result of deliberate or indiscriminate attacks.

Tragically, many civilians were killed, often because they were used as human shields. Of course, there would have been zero casualties if Hezbollah had not attacked Israel and kidnapped and murdered its soldiers.


“The media fairly and accurately covered the second war in Lebanon.”


Reporters covering the war from Lebanon were particularly egregious in revealing their own biases based, it seems, on living in the country and developing sympathies for their subjects. More serious, however, was the way some of these correspondents allowed themselves to be used by Hezbollah. In the first Lebanon war, the PLO threatened reporters and made favorable coverage the price of access. Hezbollah learned from their example and now influences much of what reporters can see and say.

CNN’s Nic Robertson, for example, was taken to an area of Beirut and told that the rubble of buildings was a result of Israeli air strikes on civilian targets. He repeated the allegation as fact. He had no way of knowing what was in the buildings, whether it was a rocket workshop, a hiding place for Katyushas, the home of a Hezbollah leader, or a command center. In fact, he didn’t even know if Israel was responsible for the destruction that he was shown.

Robertson later admitted that his report had been influenced by his Hezbollah guide. He acknowledged that he had been told what to film and where. “They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn’t have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.” Robertson said Hezbollah controls south Beirut. “You don’t get in there without their permission. We didn’t have enough time to see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, a taxi driver by day, and a Hezbollah fighter by night.” Unlike what he said on air during his guided reports, Robertson told CNN’s Reliable Sources, “there’s no doubt that the bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities.” 29

Robertson’s CNN colleague, Anderson Cooper, one of the journalists who was consistently fair and balanced, highlighted Hezbollah’s mendacity. He said the group was “just making things up,” and gave as one example a tour he was given in which Hezbollah had lined up some ambulances. They were told to turn on their sirens and then the ambulances drove off as if they were picking up wounded civilians when, in fact, they were simply going back and forth. 30

Time Magazine contributor Christopher Albritton made clear that reporters understand the rules of the game. “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loath to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.” 31

Under no duress whatsoever, the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks made perhaps the most outrageous charge of the war when he claimed that Israel intentionally left Hezbollah launchers intact because having Israeli civilians killed helps Israel in the public relations war. 32

Israel’s image was tarred by suggestions that it targeted Lebanese Christian areas, intimating that Israel was killing innocent Christians rather than restricting its attacks to the Shiite Muslims of Hezbollah. CNN reported, for example, an Israeli strike “on the edge of the city’s mostly Christian eastern district” that killed 10 people. In the next paragraph, however, the report says Israel hit “a building near a mosque.33

Photographs can be especially powerful, but they can also be misleading or outright fakes. A photo of a baby pulled from the rubble of a building in Qana that appeared on front pages around the world, for example was exposed as a fake. 34 One of the photographers involved, Adnan Hajj, was discovered to have doctored at least two photographs, one of which was changed to show more and darker smoke rising from buildings in Beirut bombed by Israel, and the other changed the image of an Israeli jet so it showed three flares being discharged instead of one. Reuters admitted the photos had been changed, suspended the photographer, and removed all of his photographs from its database. 35

Reporters in Lebanon exaggerated the destruction in Beirut and elsewhere by showing tight shots of buildings hit in Israeli air strikes and rebroadcasting the same images repeatedly. “You would think Beirut has begun to resemble Dresden and Hamburg in the aftermath of Second World War air raids,” observed former Sunday Telegraph correspondent Tom Gross. But, Gross notes, “a careful look at aerial satellite photos of the areas targeted by Israel in Beirut shows that certain specific buildings housing Hezbollah command centers in the city’s southern suburbs have been singled out. Most of the rest of Beirut, apart from strategic sites such as airport runways used to ferry Hezbollah weapons in and out of Lebanon, has been left pretty much untouched.” 36

While an Israeli strike that killed UN observers drew headlines, little attention was given to reports that Hezbollah was using the UN posts as shields. A Canadian soldier with UNIFIL, for example, reported that his team could observe “most of the Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol base” and noted that Israeli ordnance that fell near the base was not a result of deliberate targeting, but “has rather been due to tactical necessity.” 37

Over the years, Arab propagandists have learned one sure-fire way to get media attention is to scream “massacre” when Israelis are in the neighborhood. On August 7, news outlets repeated Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s claim that Israel had committed a “massacre” by killing 40 people in an air raid on the village of Houla. Later, it was learned that one person had died. 38

Here are some facts the media neglected during the war:

  • Two million Israelis lived under threat of rockets, including approximately 700,000 Israeli Arabs.
  • More than 300,000 Israelis were displaced from their homes.
  • Fifteen percent of the entire Israeli population lived in bomb shelters.
  • Approximately 5,500 homes were damaged by Hezbollah rockets.
  • Israel’s tourist industry, which had finally started to recover from the Palestinian War, was again devastated.
  • Towns that are home to important sites of the three major religions came under fire, including Tiberias, Nazareth and Safed.
  • Fires sparked by rockets destroyed 16,500 acres of forests and grazing fields in Israel.
  • Wars are never easy to cover, and each side of a conflict wants to make its case through the media. A responsible press, however, does not repeat whatever it hears, it first makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of its reporting.

1 Jillian Becker, The PLO, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), p. 205.
2 Becker, p. 205.
3 Jerusalem Post, (June 28, 1982).
4 Quoted in Raphael Israeli ed., PLO in Lebanon, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983), p. 7.
5 Henry Kissinger, “From Lebanon to the West Bank to the Gulf,” Washington Post, (June 16, 1982).
6 Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari, Israel’s Lebanon War, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 70.
7 Becker, p. 212.
8 Schiff and Yaari, p. 257.
9 Washington Post, (February 8, 1983).
10 New York Times, (October 19, 1990).
11 Becker, p. 212.
12 “Security Council Endorses Secretary-General’s Conclusion on Israeli Withdrawal from Lebanon as of 16 June,” UN Press Release, (June 18, 2000).
13 Washington Post, (January 30, 2001).
14 Jeffrey Goldberg, “In the Party of God,” New Yorker, (October 14, 2002).
15 Yoav Stern, “Hezbollah: Large Swaths of North Israel Belong to Lebanon,” Haaretz, (November 4, 2008).
16 Lebanonwire, Independent Border Assesment Team Report, (June 2007).
17 Lebanonwire, Independent Border Assesment Team Report, (June 2007).
18 Uzi Mahnaimi Zarit, “Hezbollah ‘has stockpiled rockets’ on Israeli border,” Timesonline. The Sunday Times. (June 10, 2007).
19 Human Rights Watch, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,” Vol. 18, No. 3, (August 2006), p. 3.
20 Joshua Muravchik, “Human Rights Watch vs. Human Rights: The cynical manipulation of a worthy cause has a history,” The Weekly Standard, (September 11, 2006).
21 Alan Dershowitz, “What Are They Watching?” New York Sun, (August 23, 2006).
22 Dr. Reuven Erlich (Col. Ret.), “Hezbollah’s use of Lebanese civilians as human shields: the extensive military infrastructure positioned and hidden in populated areas. From within the Lebanese towns and villages deliberate rocket attacks were directed against civilian targets in Israel.” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centerat the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S), (November 2006).
23 Lebanese Higher Relief Council, (December 6, 2006).
24 Con Coughlin, “Teheran fund pays war compensation to Hezbollah families,” Daily Telegraph, (August 4, 2006).
25 Kuwait Times, (August 30, 2006).
26 John Keegan, “Why Israel will go to war again—soon,” Daily Telegraph, (November 3, 2006).
27 UPI, (September 7, 2006).
28 Washington Times, (September 27, 2006); Steven Stotsky, “Questioning the Number of Civilian Casualties in Lebanon,” CAMERA, (September 7, 2006); Wikipedia.
29 CNN, (July 23, 2006). Also, corrected transcripts from broadcast.
30 Anderson Cooper, “Our Very Strange Day With Hezbollah,” AC 360 (CNN), (July 23, 2006).
31 Tom Gross, “The media war against Israel: The Jewish state is fighting not one enemy but two: Hezbollah, and those who peddle its propaganda,” National Post, (August 2, 2006).
32 CNN, (August 6, 2006).
33 CNN, (August 7, 2006).
34 Reuven Koret, Hezbollywood Horror: “Civil Defense Worker” doubles as Traveling Mortician,”, (August 3, 2006) and “Hezbollywood? Evidence mounts that Qana collapse and deaths were staged,”, (July 31, 2006); EU Referendum, (July 31, August. 1, August 5, 2006).
35 Ricki Hollander, “A Reprise: Media Photo Manipulation,” CAMERA, (August 9, 2006).
36 Tom Gross, “The media war against Israel: The Jewish state is fighting not one enemy but two: Hezbollah, and those who peddle its propaganda,” National Post, (August 2, 2006).
37 “A Canadian soldier’s report from South Lebanon,”, (July 26, 2006).
38 AP, (August 7, 2006) and Amos Harel, “One Dead in IDF Strike in Beirut Southern Suburb,” Haaretz, (August 7, 2006).