The world may never know exactly what happened between Sept. 15 and 17 in Beirut's Palestinian neighborhoods of Sabra and Shatila, but a television documentary to be aired tonight (Jan. 7) by ABC compiles evidence that places responsibility for the ''Beirut massacre'' with senior Israeli officials, Monitor contributor David G. Wilck reports.
The documentary, scheduled for broadcast at 10, Eastern standard time, weaves a patchwork of interviews with Israeli and American journalists, Lebanese and Israeli military officials, and Palestinian refugees, with extensive and explicit film footage of the carnage (parental discretion is advised).
According to ABC, up to 800 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, were killed when 130 members of the Christian Phalange militia were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila by Israeli defense forces to ''secure the camps.''
ABC says that ''direct responsibility rests primarily with three leaders of the Lebanese Phalange: Fady Frem, the Phalange military commander; Elias Hobeika , Mr. Frem's chief of security and chief of intelligence; and Joseph Edde, leader of the elite Phalange commandos.''
The most striking evidence presented denies the claims of Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir that the Israeli Army intervened immediately upon learning of the killings.
ABC also finds fault with the US government for failing to fulfill a pledge to protect Palestinian civilians after the PLO fighters withdrew. The documentary shows US troops leading an early withdrawal by the multinational peacekeeping force from Beirut, an evacuation that it says led to the instability that precipitated the massacre. Senior US diplomats told the network the reason for the early departure was the Reagan administration's ''reluctance to involve US troops in situations reminding the American public of Vietman.''