Lebanon’s Civil War and Jennings’ Historical Revisionism

In his Oct. 23 report on the twentieth anniversary of the Marine barracks bombing, Peter Jennings provided a highly slanted account of Lebanon’s tumultuous civil war years, twice mentioning Israel as a destabilizing factor but not mentioning the Syrian occupation or the Palestinians’ role in fomenting violence and chaos. He stated:

In 1983, the marines were in Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission. Lebanon had been the scene of a civil war for 15 years. Israel had invaded the country. The US was resented by many in the region who believed that President Reagan had approved. And Palestinians had recently been massacred by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies. And six months before the marines were attacked, this new era of violence had begun. The US embassy in West Beirut had been attacked by a suicide bomber in another truck, 63 people, including 17 Americans, had died that day. And four months after the marine barracks bombing, the US withdrew from Lebanon. . .

In his review of Lebanon’s raging civil war, Jennings neglects the violence’s origins: the PLO’s establishment of a bloody state-within-a-state which destabilized the country’s delicate balance of religious and ethnic groups. After being ejected from Jordan in 1970, the Palestinian leadership relocated to Lebanon, using it as a base for attacks against Israel and the local Lebanese populations–both Christian and Muslim. As the New York Times reported on Oct. 15, 1976, speaking at a United Nations General Assembly, Lebanese Ambassador Edward Ghorra “laid full blame for Lebanon’s civil war on ‘the Palestinian revolution’ and its supporters in the Arab countries. . . . . Not even Israelis in this General Assembly have gone so far as Mr. Ghorra, who condemned ‘the assaults perpetrated by the Palestinian organization against the sovereignty of Lebanon and the security of its people.'” Indeed, ABC News staff people themselves were victims of the PLO’s new regime in Beirut: ABC radio reporter Sean Toolan was murdered by PLO thugs and ABC’s Jerry King was forced to leave the country after a PLO threat on his life (Ze’ev Chafets, Double Vision).

In addition, while Jennings notes that Israel invaded Lebanon, he neglects to mention the reason: The PLO’s repeated shelling of northern Israeli towns from Lebanon and hundreds of terrorist attacks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand why Jennings finds the Israeli invasion newsworthy, but not the Syrian. In 1976, Syria entered the Lebanese civil war on the Christian side but switched allegiance to the PLO, Druze and Muslims two years later. Syria took over two-thirds of the country and fueled the raging fighting there by deploying surface-to-air missile batteries and permitting Palestinian terrorist groups to attack Israel (Jillian Becker, The PLO).

Finally, Palestinians, who played a major role in Lebanon’s civil war violence, are mentioned in only one reference: as victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre: “. . .Palestinians had recently been massacred by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies.” Thus, while Israel and the Christians are implicated in violence, the Palestinians are not. Jennings might have reported, for example, that the massacre followed the Palestinian assassination of President Elect of Lebanon Bashir Gemayel, which came two days earlier. Moreover, the Palestinians themselves had carried out massacres, such as the one in the Christian town of Damour in January 1976. Umm-Atallah, a female survivor, recounted the devastation and murder perpetrated by the PLO and their Muslim allies:

They assaulted Damour and murdered people there. My son and my nephew were killed; my second sister, her son and grandson, her daughter and her daughter-in-law, her daughter’s mother-in-law and her second grandson, and the son of my third sister [were all murdered]. After they invaded Damour, they went in and killed everybody in the house, with the assistance of a group of the Na’ama neighbourhood inhabitants: Palestinians, Syrians and other people from Na’ama. . .

When they entered Damour, every house which was not burnt or destroyed, they set afire and robbed. . . .All in order to let our their frustrations and wrath on the Christian Lebanese, cut men and women into pieces [sic]. They literally cut them down with axes before they killed them. (Israel Television, July 23, 1982, cited in PLO in Lebanon: Selected Documents, edited by Raphael Israeli)

In short, an accurate report would have noted that in addition to the Israeli invasion, Lebanon suffered through a Syrian invasion and the PLO’s establishment of a violent mini-state (which prompted the Israeli invasion).

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