The Israeli reaction to the massacres in Shatila and Sabra camps serves to reaffirm the ethical, moral, and democratic foundations of the state. No other state in the Middle East has ever witnessed similar anguish to the slaughter of people of other ethnic backgrounds. Certainly no Arab nation has ever responded in kind to the murder of Jews.
One of the most striking aspects of world reaction to these massacres is the lack of blame or recrimination against the murderers themselves. Part of the reticence to look for the actual culprits is the pervasive belief that Amin Gemayel's own troops participated in the murders. There is a fear that condemning these soldiers might undermine the fragile structure of the newly elected regime.
More to the point, the spectacle of Arabs killing Arabs has apparently become so commonplace that even Arabs do not protest. This is not surprising or new. There was hardly any reaction to the slaughter of over 10,000 civilians by Syrian troops in Hama earlier this year. The Arab world remained silent; the world media chose to neglect this tragedy.
Similarly, the Arab world and the world media have also failed to emphasize the bloodbaths within Lebanon that have taken place since the outbreak of the civil war in 1975. Over 100,000 people have died in this strife-torn nation during the past seven years.
Although the world will now long remember the hundreds who died at Shatila and Sabra, few can recall the thousands of innocent Palestinian Muslims who met violent deaths at the hands of Christian Lebanese in Tel Zataar, or the thousands of Christians who were butchered by the Palestinians at Damur. These killings and feuds go beyond interreligious strife. Christians murdered other Christians following the assassination of Tony Franjieh and the death of Bashir Gemayel's 18-month-old daughter. Regardless of religion, historically when Arabs kill Arabs, the world remains silent.
The difference in Shatila and Sabra is the potential culpability of the Israeli defense forces and role of the Begin government. Thus far there has not been any accusation that a single Israeli soldier actually participated in the massacres. A good case, however, can be made that these troops mishandled the situation. By moving into west Beirut Israel accepted the responsibility for preserving order. Those who failed in this mission must be held accountable.
The psychology of the Jewish people, influenced by memories of the Holocaust, has fashioned a collective burden of guilt. Jews in Israel, America, and throughout the world rightfully condemn the massacres and protest against any complicity by Jewish officials. They are correct in demanding to know whether any Israeli could have prevented or minimized the slaughter. They are correct in demanding that justice be done. Jewish outrage following the death of Arabs at the hands of other Arabs also serves to reaffirm that Jews have learned the lessons of the past, that the basic morality of the people and state remains unquestioned.
The aftermath of the events in Lebanon also underscores the vibrancy of democracy in Israel. It is Israeli not Arab or Western journalists who are most active in uncovering every piece of information about the massacres. It was the Israeli press that first told the story of the possible complicity by the Israeli officials. The Israeli press has carried these stories on a daily basis, leading to continual protests in the streets of Tel Aviv.
The democratic process within Israel has been activated - soldiers and officers have protested and resigned their commissions, cabinet ministers have left the government, calls for new elections are more frequent, opposition spokesmen have criticized the Begin administration's actions in west Beirut, a full, impartial investigation will be initiated. These reactions stand in stark contrast to other nations in the region.
Israelis often complain that their country is held to a higher standard than any other state. Norman Podhoretz charged in his Commentary article entitled ''J'accuse'' that anti-Semitism was the cause of this misappli-cation of a double standard to the behavior of Jews. However, considering the origins of the state of Israel, the democratic nature of its system, the humanism of its people , these are precisely the criteria by which Israel must be judged. Considering their response to recent events, Israelis are meeting the test.