This, I guess, is my entry in the Most Hawkish and Bloody-Hungry Blog contest over at the Daily Pundit. I say that only because it seems that Deir Yassin is considered a delicate subject, even by many of Israel's most ardent supporters. The PR puppies have done a good job with this one, and they've had a long time to do it in. "Don't mess with Deir Yassin" is a warning that's pretty much heeded. I've heard rabbis mention it in sermons, shaking their heads in shame. I've seen it touted as the "exception that proves the rule" of exemplary Israeli military conduct. And Deir Yassin massacre denial is often equated with Holocaust denial as a rejection of well-documented and incontrovertible slaughter. I, of course, beg to disagree.
It can be useful, if you have the opportunity, to talk to someone who was there. I have, at great length. Yes, he was a member of the Stern Gang and yes, he had a definite reason to be biased. But he was there, and since I first sat and listened to his story some 26 years ago, I've heard and read it told pretty much the same way countless times. Just as often, I've heard a very different story. Someone is lying.
There's been a lot written about the "massacre" at Deir Yassin, but the following two accounts are a pretty good distillation of what's out there. The text in italics is an account on the website of an activist organization called Deir Yassin Remembered. It's a very thorough site and includes a whole page of testimony from survivors. The text in bold is from the Palestine Facts website, a source that I rely on a lot. It's also got testimony from survivors, some of which is included below. (Naturally, the testimonies on the two sites don't tend to match but, oddly enough, the summary accounts overlap in many respects.) Two versions, one event. You be the judge:
Early in the morning of Friday, April 9, 1948, commandos of the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. It was several weeks before the end of the British Mandate. The village lay outside of the area that the United Nations recommended be included in a future Jewish State. Deir Yassin had a peaceful reputation and was even said by a Jewish newspaper to have driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and one plan, kept secret until years afterwards, called for it to be destroyed and the residents evacuated to make way for a small airfield that would supply the beleaguered Jewish residents of Jerusalem.
Dir Yassin lies on a hill west of Jerusalem, eight hundred meters above sea level, and 700 meters from the Jewish neighbourhood of Givat Shaul. The Dir Yassin fortified position overlooked the westerly Jewish neighborhoods: Givat Shaul, Bet Hakerem, Yefe Nof, and the road to Bayit Vagan. The village also overlooked the section of road linking Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv. Dir Yassin served as a halfway site for forces moving up from the Arab villages of Ein Karem and Malha in the south to Kastel and Kolonia, which overlooked the main Jerusalem - Tel Aviv road.
On April 2, 1948, the Arab inhabitants of Dir Yassin began sniping at the Jewish Quarters of Bet Hakerem and Yefe Nof. According to reports by the Shai (Haganah Intelligence), fortifications were being constructed in the village and a large quantity of arms being stockpiled. Several days before the attack on Dir Yassin, the presence of foreign fighters was reported, including Iraqi soldiers and irregular forces. An Arab research study conducted at Bir Zeit University (near Ramallah) relates that the men of Dir Yassin took an active part in violent acts against Jewish targets and that many of the men of the village fought in the battle for Kastel, together with Abd-el-Kadr el-Husseini. The report also stated that trenches had been dug at the entry to the village, and that more than 100 men had been trained and equipped with rifles and Bren guns. A local guard force had been set up and 40 inhabitants guarded the village every night.
By noon over 100 people, half of them women and children, had been systematically murdered. Four commandos died at the hands of resisting Palestinians using old Mausers and muskets. Twenty-five male villagers were loaded into trucks, paraded through the Zakhron Yosef quarter in Jerusalem, and then taken to a stone quarry along the road between Givat Shaul and Deir Yassin and shot to death. The remaining residents were driven to Arab East Jerusalem
On April 6, 1948, Operation Nachshon was launched by the Haganah with the aim of opening up the road to Jerusalem. The Palmach was part of this effort together with the Irgun (under Menachem Begin) and Lehi forces, their first combined operation. On Thursday, April 8, 1948 they launched the attack between 4 and 5 AM. A loudspeaker mounted on an armored car warned the Arabs and asked them to evacuate their women and children. Hundreds left, but hundreds stayed. A pitched battle ensued, and when the smoke cleared, 110 to 120 Arabs were killed, 40 Jews were seriously injured and four Jews were dead. The number killed has been confirmed even by Palestinian Arab researchers, such as Bir Zeit University professor Sharif Kanaana who puts the number no higher than 120 (although he clings to the claim of massacre). Another contemporary Arab source deflates the number killed to less than 100, stating, after a count, "that there were no more than 46 corpses". The head of the coroner unit, professor Yehoshua Arieli, testified that the number was 110.
That evening the Irgunists and the Sternists escorted a party of foreign correspondents to a house at Givat Shaul, a nearby Jewish settlement founded in 1906. Over tea and cookies they amplified the details of the operation and justified it, saying Deir Yassin had become a concentration point for Arabs, including Syrians and Iraqis, planning to attack the western suburbs of Jerusalem. They said that 25 members of the Haganah militia had reinforced the attack and claimed that an Arabic-speaking Jew had warned the villagers over a loudspeaker from an armored car. This was duly reported in The New York Times on April 10.
The massacre claim, meaning the killing of defenceless people, has long since been discredited by the Israeli government and every other historical study. The story persists because pro-Arab sources constantly repeat it, often inflating the number of dead to 250 or more. There are completely fictional accounts written about Arabs being marched to the mosque and shot against the walls, or even worse stories of torture, rape or any other shocking aspect the storyteller invents.
A final body count of 254 was reported by The New York Times on April 13, a day after they were finally buried. By then the leaders of the Haganah had distanced themselves from having participated in the attack and issued a statement denouncing the dissidents of Irgun and the Stern Gang, just as they had after the attack on the King David Hotel in July 1946. A 1987 study undertaken by Birzeit University's Center for Research and Documentation of Palestinian Society found "the numbers of those killed does not exceed 120".
Palestinian Arab eyewitnesses have recently admitted that some of their claims about Dir Yassin were deliberate fabrications. The issue of the Jerusalem Report dated April 2, 1998 describes a BBC television program in which Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news in 1948, admits that he was told by Hussein Khalidi, a prominent Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate claims of atrocities at Dir Yassin in order to encourage Arab regimes to invade the expected Jewish state.The BBC program then shows a recent interview with Abu Mahmud, who was a Dir Yassin resident in 1948, who says:
According to the Jerusalem Report:Nusseibeh "describes an encounter at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi... 'I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story,' recalled Nusseibeh. 'He said, "We must make the most of this." So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped. All sorts of atrocities.' "
... the villagers protested against the atrocity claims: We said, "There was no rape." [Khalidi] said, "We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews."Khalidi was one of the originators of the "massacre" allegation in 1948. It was Khalidi's claims about Jewish atrocities in Dir Yassin that were the basis for an article in the New York Times by its correspondent, Dana Schmidt (on April 12, 1948), claiming a massacre took place. The Times article has been widely reprinted and cited as "proof" of the massacre throughout the past 50 years.
Nusseibeh, who is a member of one of Jerusalem's most prominent Arab families and presently lives in Amman, told the BBC that the fabricated atrocity stories about Dir Yassin were: Yes. The most well observed was the parading of the prisoners in public on the afternoon of the battle. Although other atrocities are still debated, it is appears certain that looting occurred, along with robbery of individuals. Mutilation of some bodies is quite probable and there is credible evidence of sexual atrocities. Torture and terrorization of captives appears likely to have occurred as well. Obviously, the perpetrators of such actions do not admit them and only some occurred in general view. Also, the victims and their families themselves downplay these out of respect for the deceased and a traditional peasant villageâ€™s sense of community and family honor.
"...our biggest mistake," because "Palestinians fled in terror" and left the country in huge numbers after hearing the atrocity claims.
The Haganah leaders admitted that the massacre "disgraced the cause of Jewish fighters and dishonored Jewish arms and the Jewish flag." They played down the fact that their militia had reinforced the terrorists' attack, even though they did not participate in the barbarism and looting during the subsequent "mopping up" operations.
It has also been alleged that the Dir Yassin hoax was supported by the left-wing political party of David Ben-Gurion in order to smear the right-wing, the Irgun and its commander Menachem Begin.It's fascinating that these narratives aren't really all that different. It's all in the spin, you see. Except, of course, for the stories of rape, murder and mayhem, such as this from a different page of the DYR website:
Were there other atrocities?(But see above.) "Still debated," "quite probable," "credible evidence" (unspecified), "appears likely," "respect for the deceased. . .." This is a typical account of the "atrocities" committed in the course of this particular "massacre."
Yes. The most well observed was the parading of the prisoners in public on the afternoon of the battle. Although other atrocities are still debated, it is appears certain that looting occurred, along with robbery of individuals. Mutilation of some bodies is quite probable and there is credible evidence of sexual atrocities. Torture and terrorization of captives appears likely to have occurred as well. Obviously, the perpetrators of such actions do not admit them and only some occurred in general view. Also, the victims and their families themselves downplay these out of respect for the deceased and a traditional peasant villageâ€™s sense of community and family honor.
Deir Yassin, Tantura and Jenin. I promised to discuss what these three really have in common, and it's coming up. Soon.