November 16, 1984
p. 3, 23
By BROOKE W. KROEGER
Newsday UN Bureau
Gen. Ariel Sharon yesterday emotionally defended his role in the killing 69 Arabs, half o them woman and children, nearly 34 years before the Sabra and Chatilla massacre � the subject of his $50 million libel suit against Time Inc.
The legal maneuvers of attorneys Milton Gould for Sharon and Thomas Barr for Time Inc. focused the trial on the 1953 Israeli commando raid led by Sharon on the village of Kibya on the West Bank of the Jordan River, then ruled by Jordan and now by Israel.
Barr, in his opening remarks in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday and Wednesday, read from newspaper articles about Sharon that cited examples meant to show his brutality toward Arabs, notably the raid on Kibya and his “excesses” in the early 1970s when subduing Palestinian resistance in the occupied Gaza Strip.
In an effort to counter “the whole dish of atrocities” to which Gould said the jury had been treated, he had Sharon devote his second day of testimony to touting his military and political exploits, including his armored division’s historic crossing of the Suez Canal that “turned the tide” of the 1973 war.
Sharon said Israeli soldiers place the highest priority on preserving the lives of innocent civilians, including Palestinians, who, “like other civilians, they are human beings.”
On Wednesday, Barr had read an excerpt from an August 1981 Washington Post story which told of the Kibya raid by Sharon’s short-lived commando unit 101:
“Within one such raid on the Jordanian village of Kibya in 1953 commandos killed 69 civilians, half of them women and children, who were trapped in houses that were blown up with dynamite. Sharon said afterward that the unite believed the buildings were empty.”
Yesterday, Sharon gave a more expanded version of events. He said his unit was a small group of reservists organized for lightning strikes over the Jordanian frontier against Palestinian guerrillas who were attacking Israeli civilians, then dipping back over the border to Jordanian protection.
“In October 1943, Arab terrorists who came from Kibya went into this small town of Yehud [in Israel proper] and threw hand grenades into a bedroom of a civilian family and a mother and two children were killed,” he said. “It was not a shelling � from a distance a shell may fall on a building, but here they came and threw a hand grenade. . . . ”
Under cover of darkness, Sharon said he led about 70 men into Kibya, while another 30 manned roadblocks into the village. He said they were under orders to dynamite the houses in Kibya.
“Like later in Lebanon,” he said, “those terrorists used to find shelter among the civilian population.”
He said they had light weapons and one section of mortars. “We shot not one shell into this place,” he said.
Sharon said his outfit checked for civilians before dynamiting the village. “We went in at night and found the place empty. We did not hear anything or see anything . . . In one place we found a child, so we took him to a safe place. In another place, after lighting the [dynamite] fuse, we heard the cry of a girl” and rescued her.
“Could we check every hole, every cave, every cellar? My answer would be no. It was a war, in an area occupied by Jordanian forces since 1948. I don’t know if anyone else would have done it. We took all the possible precautions. We endangered ourselves by staying there several hours. After doing that, we left,” Sharon testified.
“Did you blow up the houses?” Gould asked.
“Yes,” Sharon said. “That was the order that we got.”
Sharon said on return he reported 10 to 12 casualties. “That’s what we saw there. Only later I heard on Jordanian radio that they were talking about 69 people killed there. We did not see them.”
Then Sharon said he found Time magazine’s Oct. 26, 1953 issue with its report on the Kibya raid, which claimed that a 600-man regular army Israeli battalion encircled the village and zeroed in on the target with artillery and shot men, women and children before dynamiting the village.
“If I could have tried Time magazine then, we would not be here today,” Sharon said.
Actually, the case is about a Feb. 21,1983, cover story in Time on the Israeli judicial inquiry into the Phalange massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps. Sharon charges that a paragraph in the article wrongly portrays him as having encouraged the Phalange to commit the atrocity by saying he “discussed” the need for revenge with Phalange leaders after the assassination of Lebanon’s president-elect, Bashir Gemayel. The article also states that a report of the conversation is in a secret appendix to the inquiry commission report.
Time maintains that it has good reason to believe the material is in the appendix as stated in the story, although Time has never seen it and Israel has prohibited its disclosure for security reasons.
But Barr told the jury, “The events we say happened, happened.”
For National History Day contestants. Upcoming — January 30: Iona College. February 4: Sagamore Hill. March 27: Ephemera Society of America. March 30: TBA April 4: Avon-on-Sea Public Library, Avon CT June 4-6: “Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),” Université de Lausanne. Link to past appearances.
Coming March 2020: Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, Brooke Kroeger, eds.