The resulting forced exile of over 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 over two million scattered in a far-flung diaspora today remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Remembering Deir Yassin brings together Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jewish theologians and Palestinian priests, to reflect on the fifty-year legacy of Deir Yassin.
Sixty years on, the true story of the slaughter of Palestinians at Deir Yassin may finally come out to the world if Ha'aretz is not shackled in some manner. Followed by this first piece you will find two eye-witness accounts of what happened upon that night so that the truth coming out is no more than a verification of what has been hidden.
May 10, 2010
Go! Go! GO! Ha'aretz! I must say, THIS really impresses the heck out of me.
Palestinian survivors of Deir Yassin, a village of around 400 inhabitants, claim the Jews committed a wholesale massacre there, spurring Palestinians to flee in the thousands, and undermining the long-held Israeli narrative that they left of their own accord. Israel's opposing version contends that Deir Yassin was the site of a pitched battle after Jewish forces faced unexpectedly strong resistance from the villagers. All of the casualties, it is argued, died in combat.
The events of Dier Yassin are so gruesome and the lies from the Israeli government and military appalling that, should the truth finally emerge, the country could be torn in half by the contents. Certainly Israel would lose even more credibility on the world stage. This was no battle, it was a simple slaughter of innocents.
Defending its right to keep the documents under wraps, the Israeli state has argued that their publication would tarnish the country's image abroad and inflame Arab-Israeli tensions. Ha'aretz and Ms Shoshani have countered that the public have a right to know and confront their past. Judges, who have viewed all the archived evidence held by the Israeli state on Deir Yassin, have yet to make a decision on what, if anything, to release.
Among the documents believed to be in the state's possession is a damning report written by Meir Pa'il, a Jewish officer who condemned his compatriots for bloodthirsty and shameful conduct on that day. Equally incriminating are the many photographs that survive.
"The photos clearly show there was a massacre," says Daniel McGowan, a US retired professor who works with Deir Yassin Remembered. "Those photos show [villagers] lined up against a quarry wall and shot."
In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan that would divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, with Jerusalem an international city. The Arabs fiercely opposed the plan and clashes broke out as both sides scrambled for territory before the British mandate expired. In April 1948, the Hagana, the predecessor of the Israeli army, launched a military operation to secure safe passage between Jewish areas by taking Arab villages on high ground above the road to Jerusalem.
Irgun and the Stern Gang, breakaway paramilitary groups, drew up separate plans to take the strategic Deir Yassin in a pre-dawn raid on 9 April 1948, even though the villagers had signed a non-aggression pact with the Jews and had stuck to it. What happened next is still under debate.
In his book The Revolt, Menachim Begin, (featured in the above Wanted poster) a future Israeli prime minister, recounts how the Jewish forces used a loudspeaker to warn all the villagers to leave the village. Those that remained fought.
This fabricating creature Begin would not know the truth from the air he breathed. He was a rabid zionist motivated by hatred and an all-consuming sense of racial superiority and Jewish entitlement. The value of the Nobel Peace Award was thrown into the gutter when he was so honoured.
"Our men were compelled to fight for every house; to overcome the enemy they used large numbers of hand grenades," wrote Mr Begin, who was not present at the battle. "And the civilians who had disregarded our warnings suffered inevitable casualties. I am convinced that our officers and men wished to avoid a single unnecessary casualty."
Mr Begin's account, however, is challenged by the recollections of survivors and eyewitnesses. Abdul-Kader Zidain was 22 years old in 1948, and immediately joined a band of 30 fighters from the village to fend off the surprise Jewish offensive, even though they were clearly outnumbered.
"They went into the houses and they shot the people inside. They killed everybody they saw, women and children," said Mr Zidain, who lost four of his immediate family, including his father and two brothers, in the attack.
Now a frail 84-year-old living in a West Bank village, he says he remembers everything as if it were yesterday. Survivor testimonies are supported by Mr Pa'il, whose detailed eyewitness account was published in 1998. Awaiting reassignment, he went to observe the attack as part of his remit to keep the Irgun and the Stern Gang in check.
After the fighting had wound down, Mr Pa'il described how he heard sporadic firing from the houses, and went to investigate. There he saw that the soldiers had stood the villagers in the corners of their homes and shot them dead. A short while later, he saw a group of around 25 prisoners being led to a quarry between Deir Yassin and neighbouring Givat Shaul. From a higher vantage point, he and a companion were able to see everything and take photographs.
"There was a natural wall there, formed by digging. They stood the prisoners against that wall and shot the lot of them," he said. Mr Pa'il described how Jews from neighbouring Givat Shaul finally stepped in to stop the slaughter. In the ensuing confusion and anger over the killings in Deir Yassin, both sides released an inflated Palestinian death toll for very different reasons:
A total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed including 288 children and 121 women. 239 police officers were also killed. 5,303 were injured in the assault, including 1,606 children and 828 women. Compare this to 17 Israelis, four of whom were killed in "friendly fire" by their mates.
But the damage was already done. The reports from Deir Yassin led to a total collapse of morale, and many historians regard the incident as the single biggest catalyst for the Palestinians' flight. By UN estimates, 750,000 Palestinians had fled their homes by the end of the 1948 War of Independence, roughly 60 per cent of Palestine's pre-war Arab population.
Mention Deir Yassin these days to most young Israelis and it will fail to register.
Not far from the Kfar Shaul hospital, two teenage boys shake their heads at a question on Deir Yassin. Never heard of it, they say.
"Most Israelis treat the subject with total silence," says Professor McGowan. "They no longer deny it, they just don't talk about it."
Which makes one ask, if an Israeli ignores it, did it ever really happen?
The decision on whether that silence will now be broken remains in the hands of Israel's courts.
"This was a big and important event in our history here. It was the first village we took and has a lot of meaning in the war that came after," says Ms Shoshani. "We have to deal with our past for our own sake."
RED CROSS EYE-WITNESS REPORT ON THE DEIR YASSIN MASSACRE
On the night of April 9, 1948, the Irgun Zvei Leumi surrounded the village of Deir Yassin, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. After giving the sleeping residents a 15 minute warning to evacuated, Menachem Begin's terrorists attacked the village of 700 people, killing 254 mostly old men, women and children and wounding 300 others. Begin's terrorists tossed many of the bodies in the village well, and paraded 150 captured women and children through the Jewish sectors of Jerusalem.
I wanted to encourage my soldiers by raping Arabic girls as the Palestinian woman is but a slave for Jews, and we do whatever we want to her and nobody tells us what we shall do but we tell others what they shall do.” ~ Ariel Sharon, 1956, interview with General Ouze Herham. Whatever happened to these women? Were they freed or enslaved?
"On Saturday, April 10, in the afternoon, I received a telephone call from the Arabs begging me to go at once to Deir Yassin where the civilian population of the whole village has just been massacred.
"I learned that the Irgun extremists hold this sector, situated near Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency and the Haganah's General Headquarters say that they know nothing about this matter and furthermore it is impossible for anyone to penetrate an Irgun area.
"They advise me that I not become involved in this matter as my mission will run the risk of being permanently cut short if I go there. Not only can they not help me but they also refuse all responsibility for what will certainly happen to me. I answer that I intend to go there at once, that the notorious Jewish Agency exercises its authority over the territory in Jewish hands and that the agency is responsible for my freedom of action within the bounds of my mission.
"In fact, I do not know at all how to do it. Without Jewish support it is impossible to reach that village. After thinking I suddenly remember that a Jewish nurse from a hospital here had made me take her telephone number, saying with a strange look that if I ever were in a difficult situation I could call her. On a chance I call her late in the evening and tell her the situation. She tells me to be in a predetermined location the following day at 7 o'clock and to take in my car the person who will be there.
"The next day on the hour and in the location upon which we agreed, an individual in civilian clothes, but with pistols stuffed in his pockets, jumps into my car and tells me to drive without stopping. At my request, he agrees to show me the road to Deir Yassin, but he admits not being able to do to much more for me. We drive out of Jerusalem, leave the main road and the last regular army post and we turn in on a cross road. Very soon two soldiers stop us. They look alarming with machine guns in full view and larger cutlasses at the belt.
"I recognize the uniform of those I am looking for. I must leave the car and lend myself to bodily search. Then I understand that I am a prisoner. All seems lost when a very big fellow ... jostles his friends, takes my hand ...
He understands neither English nor French, but in German we arrive at a perfect understanding. He tells me his joy at seeing an ICRC delegate, for having been a prisoner in a camp for Jews in Germany he owes his life to nothing else but our intervention and three reprieves. He says that I am more than a brother for him and that he will do anything I ask. ... We go to Deir Yassin.
"Having reached a ridge 500 meters from the village which we see below, we must wait a long time for permission to go ahead. The shooting from the Arab side starts every time somebody tries to cross the road and the Commander of the Irgun detachment does not seem willing to relieve me. Finally he arrives, young, distinguished, perfectly correct, but his eyes have a strange, cruel, cold look. I explain my mission to him which has nothing in common with that of a judge or arbiter. I want to help the wounded and bring back the dead.
"Moreover, the Jews have signed a pledge to respect the Geneva Convention and my mission is therefore an official one. This last statement provokes the anger of this officer who asks me to consider once and for all that here it is the Irgun who are in command and nobody else, not even the Jewish Agency with which they have nothing in common.
"My (guide) hearing the raised voices intervenes ... Suddenly the officer tells me I can act as I see fit but on my own responsibility. He tells me the story of this village populated by about 400 Arabs, disarmed since always and living on good terms with the Jews who encircled them.
According to him, the Irgun arrived 24 hours previously and ordered by loudspeaker the whole population to evacuate all the buildings and surrender. There is a 15 minute delay in the execution of the command. Some of the unhappy people came forward and would have been taken prisoners and then turned loose shortly afterwards toward the Arab lines.
The rest did not obey the order and suffered the fate they deserved. But one must not exaggerate for there are only a few dead who would be buried as soon as the `clean up' of the village is over. If I find a bodies, I can take them with me, but there are certainly no wounded.
"This tale gives me cold chills. "I return to Jerusalem to find an ambulance and a truck that I had alerted through the Red Shield ... I arrive with my convoy in the village and the Arab fire ceases. The (Jewish) troops are in campaign uniforms with helmets
All the young people and even the adolescents, men and women, are armed to their teeth: pistols, machine guns, grenades, and also big cutlasses, most of them still bloody, that they hold in their hands. A young girl with the eyes of a criminal, shows me hers still dripping. She carries it around like a trophy. This is the `clean up' team which certainly has accomplished its job very conscientiously.
"I try to enter a building. About 10 soldiers surround me with machine guns aimed at me. An officer forbids me to move from the spot. They are going to bring the dead that are there, he says. I then get as furious as never before in my life and tell these criminals what I think about the way they act, menacing them with the thunder I can muster, then I roughly push aside those who surround me and enter the building.
"The first room is dark, completely in disorder, and empty. In the second, I find among smashed furniture covers and all sorts of debris, some cold bodies. There they have been cleaned up by machine guns then by grenades. They have been finished by knives.
"It is the same thing in the next room, but just as I am leaving, I hear something like a sigh. I search everywhere, move some bodies and finally find a small foot which is still warm. It is a little 10 year old girl, very injured by grenade, but still alive. I want to take her with me but the officer forbids it and blocks the door. I push him aside and leave with my precious cargo protected by the brave (guide).
"The loaded ambulances leaves with orders to return as soon as possible. And because these troops have not dared to attack me directly, it is possible to continue.
"I give orders to load the bodies from this house on the truck. Then I go on to the neighboring house and go on. Everywhere I encounter the same terrible sight. I only find two persons still alive, two women, one of whom is an old grandmother, hidden behind the firewood where she kept immobile for at least 24 hours.
"There were 400 persons in the village. About 50 had fled, three are still alive, but the rest have been massacred on orders, for as I have noticed, this troop is admirably disciplined and acts only on command.
"I then go to see the Arabs. I say nothing about what I have seen, but only that after a first quick visit to the spot there seems to be several dead and I ask what I shall do or where to bring them ... they ask me to see that a suitable burial be given them in a place which will be recognizable later on. I pledge to do so and on my return to Deir Yassin, I find the Irgun people in a very bad mood.
They try to stop me from approaching the village and I understand when I see the number and above all the state of the bodies which have been lined up on the main street. I demand firmly that they proceed with the burial and insist on helping them. After some discussion, they begin actually to scoop out a big grave in a small garden. It is impossible to verify the identity of the dead, for they have no papers, but I wrote accurately their descriptions with approximate ages.
"Two days later, the Irgun had disappeared from the spot and the Haganah had taken possession. We have discovered different places where the bodies have been piled up without either decency or respect in the open air.
"Back in my office I received two gentleman in civilian clothes, very well dressed who had waited for more than one hour. It is the commander of the Irgun detachment and his aide. They have prepared a text they ask me to sign. It is a statement according to which I have been received courteously by them, that I have obtained all the help needed to accomplish my mission and I thank them for the aide they gave me.
"As I hesitate, I begin to discuss the statement, and they tell me that if I care for my life I should sign immediately."
"In the exchange that followed four [Irgun] men were killed and a dozen were wounded ... by noon time the battle was over and the shooting had ceased. Although there was calm, the village had not yet surrendered.
The Irgun and LEHI men came out of hiding and began to `clean' the houses. They shot whoever they saw, women and children included, the commanders did not try to stop the massacre .... I pleaded with the commander to order his men to cease fire, but to no avail.
In the meantime, 25 Arabs had been loaded on a truck and driven through Mahne Yehuda and Zichron Yousef (like prisoners in a Roman `March of Triumph'). At the end of the drive, they were taken to the quarry between Deir Yassin and Giv'at Shaul, and murdered in cold blood ...
The commanders also declined when asked to take their men and bury the 254 Arab bodies. This unpleasant task was performed by two Gadna units brought to the village from Jerusalem."
TARGETING PALESTINIAN MOTHERS
The type of indoctrination South African cartoonist Zapiro so bitingly exposes in his work, raising the hackles of scribes such as David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. When I became involved in our liberation struggle, I became aware of the similarities with the Palestinian cause in the dispossession of land and birthright by expansionist settler occupation.
I came to see that the racial and colonial character of the two conflicts provided greater comparisons than with any other struggle. When Nelson Mandela stated that we know as South Africans "that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,"  he was not simply talking to our Muslim community, who can be expected to directly empathize, but to all South Africans precisely because of our experience of racial and colonial subjugation, and because we well understand the value of international solidarity.
"The Jews ordered [us] ... to line up against the wall ... started shooting ... all ... were killed: my father ... mother ... grandfather and grandmother ... uncles and aunts and some of their children ... Halim Eid saw a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister ... who was ... pregnant. Then he cut her stomach open with a butcher's knife ... In another house, Naaneh Khalil ... saw a man take a ... sword and slash my neighbor ..." 
"It was noon when the battle ended...Things had become quiet, but the village had not surrendered. The Etzel [Irgun] and Lehi [Stern] irregulars ... started ... cleaning up operations ...
They fired with all the arms they had, and threw explosives into the houses. They also shot everyone they saw ... the commanders made no attempt to check the ... slaughter.
I ... and a number of inhabitants begged the commanders to give orders ... to stop shooting, but our efforts were unsuccessful ... some 25 men had been brought out of the houses: they were loaded into a ... truck and led in a 'victory parade' ... through ... Jerusalem [then] ... taken to a ... quarry ... and shot ... The fighters ... put the women and children who were still alive on a truck and took them to the Mandelbaum Gate." 
"There is ... no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered ... Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one old woman ... who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts ..." 
"The gang ... were young ... men and women, armed to the teeth ... and [had] also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the 'cleaning up' team, that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously."
"... amid disemboweled furniture ... I found some bodies ... the 'cleaning up' had been done with machine-guns ... hand grenades ... finished off with knives ... I ... turned over ... the bodies, and ... found ... a little girl ... mutilated by a hand grenade ... everywhere it was the same horrible sight ... this gang was admirably disciplined and only acted under orders." 
"I often disagree when the term Nazi was applied to the British ... even though the British committed Nazi crimes. But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being is shaken." 
"Fifteen minutes by car from Tel-Aviv University lies the village of Kfar Qassim where, on 29 October 1956, Israeli troops massacred 49 villagers returning from their fields. Then there was Qibya in the 1950s, Samoa in the 1960s, the villages of the Galilee in 1976, Sabra and Shatila in 1982, Kfar Qana in 1999, Wadi Ara in 2000 and the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002. And in addition there are the numerous killings B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights organization, keeps track of. There has never been an end of Israel's killings of Palestinians."