Israel furious at BBC for Sharon claimBrian Whitaker in Jerusalem and Vikram Dodd Friday June 15, 2001 The Guardian
Israeli officials attacked the BBC yesterday for a Panorama programme which concludes that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, could be tried for war crimes in connection with the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982. Israel army radio said efforts were being made to prevent the programme being broadcast on Sunday, or to include an Israeli reply in it.
After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, its forces, under Mr Sharon's command as defence minister, allowed Lebanese Christian allies to enter the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
More than 1,000 Palestinians were massacred by the Phalangist militias.
But the Israeli justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, said the programme made by Fergal Keane, The Accused, was proof of the BBC's consistently "anti-Israel" and "pro-Palestinian" bias.
Gideon Meir, the Israeli foreign ministry's deputy director of communications, said: "The programme is a scandal. It's a systematic decision of theirs [the BBC] that is entirely against Israel. There's no doubt we'll have to consider our path towards the BBC."
A BBC spokeswoman said it deplored the Israeli threats and stood by the programme.
Panorama interviewed Mr Sharon's foreign press adviser, Raanan Gissin, for the programme, but an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said: "It was not done in a bona fide, fair or professional way...
"They wrote a letter saying the programme was about Sabra and Shatila in the light of humanitarian law, but didn't mention war crimes.
"I'm 100% sure that if Gissin had known, he would not have given the interview.
"Somebody is manipulating the BBC by raising this specific subject. It's a public trial of the prime minister - the whole idea looks to us unfair."
He said Mr Meir's remarks did not threaten reprisals against the BBC as a whole. "We have constant dialogue with the BBC. We're speaking about Panorama and the fact that BBC1 is going to host it."
In London, the Israel press attache, David Schneeweiss, said: "We've been in touch with the BBC at all levels to find out what the programme's about. One has to question why they are focusing on old news. These events happened 20 years ago."
Mr Sharon resigned as defence minister in 1983 after an Israeli commission of inquiry criticised him for his role in the massacres.
It found that he had failed to carry out his duty by disregarding the risk that Phalangists would carry out acts of vengeance when he decided to let them enter the camps, and by "not ordering appropriate measures" to reduce the danger of a massacre.
It is believed that the programme does not reveal any new facts about responsibility for the atrocity, but shows interviews with legal experts who conclude that Mr Sharon could be indicted for war crimes for his role in it.
In a statement, the BBC said: "This week's Panorama is a legitimate analysis of a human rights issue. It looks at the question of ultimate legal responsibility for the massacres... at a time when Ariel Sharon was defence minister.
"Panorama asked Prime Minister Sharon for an interview about the issues raised, and that offer still stands. The programme contains a contribution from Raanan Gissin, who was made fully aware of the issues which would feature in the programme."