THE OFFICIAL Lebanese report on the massacre at Sabra and Shatila defines Lebanon, unfortunately, as precisely as the Israeli report last February defined Israel. The Israelis leapt with a passion into the thicket of the catastrophe and emerged with a not altogether conclusive but still rigorous examination of their own role in the slaughter of 400 Palestinian refugees. By contrast, the Lebanese crept only begrudgingly into the issue, assigning it not to a special inquiry but to a functionary. His report satisfies Lebanon's political requirements of the day, nothing more.
The report, prepared by the military prosecutor, assigns to the Israelis "legal responsibility" for the killings. This does not appear to be much different from the "indirect responsibility" that Israel had already taken upon itself for not doing what it might have done to preclude or halt the massacre after Israeli troops had moved into West Beirut expressly "to prevent possible grave occurrences (in the wake of president-elect Bashir Gemayel's assassination) and ensure quiet."
In two other key respects, however, the report falls short of any acceptable standard of public responsibility and respect for the dead. It does not identify the killers, who, it is otherwise known, came mostly from the ranks of the Lebanese Forces militia of Bashir Gemayel. And--here is the main point of the exercise--it absolves "the leadership" of the (Christian) Phalange Party and the Lebanese Forces of any advance knowledge or support of the camp operations. Bashir Gemayel's brother, Amin, is now president of Lebanon, and their father heads the Phalange. The Lebanese Forces still exist as its private army. There should be no prosecution of anybody for anything, the report recommended, "pending the definition of the competent judicial authorities." In short, a whitewash.
For Israel, in the wake of an invasion that had culminated in a bloodbath of innocents, there were both reasons of state and reasons of heart to come at least partly to terms with the most dismaying aspect of the whole operation--the civilian toll. The Israeli inquiry served that purpose well. Lebanon never had the same reasons. Before, during and since the war, its single purpose has been to deal with massive thrusts into its territory and its national life by foreigners--Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis. Its evasion of the responsibility for this particular calamity, one of a still-running series, may be seen in that context. The result is stark, unsatisfying and wholly without honor, for all that it was probably politically inevitable.