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Donald Wagner: Israelis Dressed Up as Phalangists in Order to Kill Arabs at Sabra and Shatila

Last we heard from Presbyterian minister Dr. Donald Wagner, he was expressing confidence in Bob Smietana of The Tennessean after the latter had written an extremely predudicial series of articles in which he asserted that anti-jihadists were only working for the money (don't laugh). It seems Dr. Wagner was busy around that time giving a lecture at the University of New York at Buffalo in which he asserted that Israeli soldiers actually participated in the 1982 killing. This assertion has never been made before in all the literature written on this atrocity and seems to have originated with Wagner alone. Ernest Sternberg writes (with thanks to Dexter Van Zile):

Despite the history of recurrent blood libels that Jews have had to endure over the centuries, it is still a surprise that a new one would premier in an academic lecture hall. The event occurred on the evening of October 22, 2010, at the University at Buffalo, the campus of the State University of New York where I teach. I write now because it is only in recent weeks that I have received sufficient documentation on what took place and have had enough time to look into the ugly allegations then made.

The distinctive accusation that evening was that Israeli soldiers dressed up as Lebanese Phalangist militiamen to massacre Palestinians in Beirut in 1982. The lecture concluded with veiled justification for violence against Israelis, repeated audience expressions of fury, frenzied calls for boycotts and other punishments of Israel, and recruitment for anti-Israel activist groups.

What is as interesting as the fact of a blood libel’s occurrence on a campus is why it is happening at all. It is the question to which I return after describing what happened.

According to the account widely accepted by Israeli and Palestinian sources, the massacres took place in Sabra and Shatila, two camps where Palestinian refugees and their descendants were forced to live by Lebanese law. On September 16 and 17, 1982, the military arm of the Lebanese Front, consisting predominantly of members of a Maronite Christian Party called the Lebanese Phalanges, entered the camps, killed nearly 1000 people, and wounded many others. Historians believe that the Phalangists were taking revenge for the assassination of their leader Bashir al-Jumayyil and for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s massacre of an estimated 500 people in the Christian village of Damour in January 1976. (The Lebanese forces also perpetrated a massacre of Palestinians at the refugee camp Tal al-Za’tar in August 1976.)

At the time of the atrocity in Sabra and Shatila, Israeli troops controlled the outskirts of the camps and allowed the Maronite troops to enter. An official Israeli investigation found Israeli military command culpable for not having anticipated the massacre and for not having acted rapidly, upon receiving information that civilians were being murdered, to stop or evict the Maronite forces. A few days later, several hundred thousand Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s central square to express their outrage that their country could be even indirectly connected to the massacre. Lebanon never released results of an official investigation into the event.

Inflaming Hatred in Buffalo

The posters on campus that announced the lecture, “Sabra and Shatila Massacre 28 Years On: Memory Lives, Resistance Persists,” invited students to “Join the discussion and the ongoing work to organize for a local ADC [American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee] chapter.” The posters also depicted the Palestinian cartoon character Handala scribbling an Arabic phrase that has been translated as “Revolution until Victory.”

The first part of the lecture consisted of a graphic personal remembrance of the killings by Nabil Mohammad, who was introduced as a survivor of the massacre and a current organizer of the ADC. He was followed by Don Wagner, a Presbyterian Minister, described in the poster as an “eyewitness,” and otherwise widely known for extreme antipathy to Israel. He is the one who claimed at the lecture, after a harrowing description of the killings, that “most likely many Israelis were in the Phalangists’ military uniforms and they denied responsibility.

Students in the audience would naturally get the point: that the murdered family members, dead bodies, stench of death, and dead babies under rubble, on which the speakers dwelled, were the work of the Israelis. The ones most likely to have been affected were the university’s Arab or Muslim students from abroad, who made up a large part of the audience and would have come to the event usually with little knowledge of Jewish history.

According to the account I have, Wagner also called for Palestinians to quit negotiating with Israelis and to “resist.” While he claimed “I am committed to nonviolent resistance,” he also said “that’s my comfortable feeling as an American,” and Palestinians would feel differently, especially, he claimed, because they had been nonviolent and it hadn’t worked. “There is an enormous nonviolent movement in Palestine and many are paying a heavy price, so resist in all kinds of ways! Don’t concede!”

By the conclusion of the event, the speakers had worked the audience into a fervor. Speakers and audience members called for economic sanctions, boycotts, and divestment. Voices called to “Boycott anything that you think is Israeli Zionist,” boycott Starbucks, support Persbyterian boycotts, help form the ADC chapter in Buffalo, and work with Students for Justice in Palestine (a group that advocates academic boycotts of Israel). Audience members were urged to fill out cards so they could be contacted for the organizing effort...

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