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Deir Yassin massacre

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The battle of Deir Yassin took place on April 9, 1948, during the Jewish attempts to break the siege of Jerusalem (imposed by raids of Arab irregular forces upon the sole Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road). At least 107 Palestinian civilians were killed; some sources give considerably higher figures. Arabs hold that there was a deliberate massacre of several hundred Arab civilians, and refer to this incident as the Deir Yassin massacre. They further state that this event helped convince many Palestinians to flee Palestine and that this outcome was an intended part of a Zionist plan to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Arabs. The emptied villages were later razed to the ground by Israel to make way for Jewish settlements.

According to Yunes Ahmed Assad, a Deir Yassin survivor, in Al Urdun (Jordanian Newspaper), April 9, 1953, quoted by the Israel Office of Information, under Golda Meir, 1960: "The Jews never intended to harm the population of the village, but were forced to do so after they encountered fire from the population, which killed the Irgun commander."

The Jewish forces participating in the battle belonged to two Jewish terrorist groups - the Irgun led by Menachem Begin (although he did not command the forces at Deir Yassin) and the Stern gang.

"...representatives of each of the five clans in Deir Yassin met in Jerusalem in the Moslem offices near the Al Aqsa mosque and made a list of the people who had not been found. We went through the names. It came to 116. Nothing has happened since 1948 to make me think this figure was wrong." - Muhammad Arif Sammour, quoted in Begin: The Haunted Prophet, by Eric Silver

"I know when I speak that God is up there and God knows the truth and God will not forgive the liars," said Radwan, who puts the number of villagers killed at 93, listed in his own handwriting. "There were no rapes. It's all lies. There were no pregnant women who were slit open. It was propaganda that... Arabs put out so Arab armies would invade," he said. "They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin." - Mohammed Radwan, fought and survived the Deir Yassin battle, reported by Paul Holmes, Middle East Times, 20-April-1998

"I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story. 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." - Hazen Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news in 1948, was interviewed for the BBC television series "Israel and the Arabs: the 50-year conflict." He describes an encounter with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi, the secretary of the Arab Higher Committee, at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.

Table of contents

The Attack

Background

Deir Yassin was an Arab village situated strategically on a hill overlooking the main highway going into Jerusalem as well as a number of Jerusalem's western neighborhoods. The 1945 British census counted 610 residents; according to Arab sources the number had grown to 750 by April 1948 (Sharif Kanani and Nihad Zitawi, Deir Yassin, Monograph No.4, Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project (Bir Zeit: Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, 1987), p.6.) Deir Yassin strategic location made it very likely it would become a battle site. Some sources claim that the villagers reportedly wanted to remain neutral in the war and they had repeatedly resisted help and alliances with the Palestinian irregulars. Instead they had made a pact with Haganah to not help the irregulars as long as they were not the target of military operations. (Levi, Yitzhak, op. cit. pp 340-341) Other sources claim that Iraqi soldiers were among the Palestinian villagers. Iraq took part on the Arab side in the Arab war against the establishment of the State of Israel.

"Deir Yassin was an integral, inseparable episode in the battle for Jerusalem... Arab forces were attempting to cut the only highway linking Jerusalem with Tel Aviv and the outside world. It had cut the pipeline upon which the defenders depended for water. Palestinian Arab contingents, stiffened by men of the regular Iraqi army, had seized vantage points overlooking the Jerusalem road and from them were firing on trucks that tried to reach the beleaguered city with vital food-stuffs and supplies. Dir Yassin, like the strategic hill and village of Kastel, was one of these vantage points. In fact, the two villages were interconnected militarily, reinforcements passing from Dir Yassin to Kastel during the fierce engagement for that hill." - Abba Eban, Background Notes on Current Themes - No.6: Dir Yassin (Jerusalem: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Information Division, 16 March 1969)

"...This Arab village in 1948 sat in a key position high on the hill controlling passage on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road. Those villagers were no different than other nearby Arab villagers who were heavily armed, hostile and aggressive. They also hosted a battle group from the Iraqi army. They had incessantly attacked Jewish convoys trying to supply food and medical supplies to Jerusalem which was under siege and cut-off by Arab armies in linkage with those same villagers. They were killing many Jews. Deir Yassin was a staging area for the villagers and regular army from various Arab armies. They were not innocents as proclaimed by the Arab nations or the Jewish Revisionists. " - from Jewish Historical Revisionists, by Emanuel A. Winston, a Middle East Analyst & commentator

Reasons for the attack

During the winter and spring of 1948, an "Arab Liberation Army," composed of volunteers from various Arab countries and sponsored by the Arab League, attacked Jewish communities in Palestine, and Jewish traffic on major roads. Such attacks on traffic ended up isolating Western Jerusalem from other regions.

In the week preceding the IZL-Lehi action against Deir Yassin, shooting attacks originating in the village were aimed at Jewish targets in the area. On April 2, gunfire from the Deir Yassin area strafed the nearby Jewish neighborhoods of Beit Hakerem and Bayit VeGan ("Shots in Jerusalem,"Davar, 4 April 1948, p.2.) On April 4, a urgent message from the intelligence officer of the Haganah's Etzioni division was received by commander Shaltiel: "There's a gathering in Deir Yassin. Armed men left [from Deir Yassin] in the direction of [the nearby town of] lower Motza, northwest of Givat Shaul. They are shooting at passing cars." (Uri Milstein, The War of Independence: Out of Crisis Came Decision - Volume IV [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Zmora-Bitan Publishers, 1991), p. 257, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives.)

Also on April 4th, Michael Hapt, deputy commander of the Haganah's Beit Horon brigade, informed Shaltiel: "A [Jewish] passenger car from Motza was attacked near the flour mill, below Deir Yassin, and is stopped there. There is rifle fire upon it. You too send an armoured vehicle with weapons. There is concern that the road is cut off." (Milstein, p. 257, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence.)

On the same day and location, an armoured vehicle carrying Lehi fighters was also attacked. According to Lehi officer David Gottlieb, those of his men who got out of their vehicle to fire back reported that it appeared the attackers were Arab soldiers rather than local villagers (Testimony of David Gottlieb, MZ; Milstein, pp.257-258, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence Collection 21/17, "From Hashmonai," 4 April 1948.)

A telegram from Michael Hapt, of the Haganah's Beit Horon brigade, to the Haganah command, at 5:00 p.m. that day, urged: "In order to prevent [an attack] on lower Motza, cutting off of road to Jerusalem, and capture of position south of Tzova, Deir Yassin must be captured." (Milstein, p. 258, citing "Operations Log - Arza," 4 April 1948, 17:00 hours, Broadcast #562, Israel Defense Forces Archive, War of Independence Collection, 88/17.)

Before the battle Mordechai Gihon's lookouts reported many armed men were moving between Ein Kerem and Deir Yassin. Some of the soldiers were wearing Iraqi uniforms, and while many had entered Deir Yassin, just a few returned to Ein Kerem (Milstein, p.258 (interview with Mordechai Gihon).) Mere hours before the battle, Shaltiel cabled his colleague Shimon Avidan: "The Arabs in Deir Yassin have trained a mortar on the highway in order to shell the convoy [bringing supplies to besieged Jewish portions of Jerusalem]." (Milstein, p.258, citing Israel Defense Forces Archive, War of Independence Collection, 228/3, Operation Log, 9 April 1948, 2:40 a.m.)

In the meeting with Haganah commander David Shaitel, which was Irgun's and the Stern Gang's link to the Haganah, they opted for an attack against the village. In a letter to the underground commanders Shaitel allowed them to attack the village, provided that they could hold it thereafter (Shaltiel, David, Jerusalem 1948, Israel Ministry of Defense, Tel Aviv 1981, p. 139).

Palestinians claim that sounds of the attack were recorded, and used again and again to frighten other villages, and areas, containing the native Palestinian population, this also encouraged them to flee. However, no proof exists for these claims. See [1] (http://www.deiryassin.org/) for an Arab point of view.

The battle

The attack force consisted of about 132 men, 72 from Irgun and 60 from Lehi. Most were teens lacking military training or experience. According to most insider accounts, instructions were given to minimize casualties. (Geneis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War 1970, p.139, Dan Kurzman) During some of the preliminary meetings the idea of a massacre was discussed and rejected. (Milstein, op. cit. p. 258.)

From Givat Shaul a Lehi unit approached Deir Yassin, accompanied with Meir Pa'il and a photographer "to watch their military performance". (Deir Yassin, Milstein) One Irgun unit moved towards Deir Yassin from the east, while a second approached it from the south. At 4:45 a.m. the fighting started when concealed Irgunists encountered a village guard. (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.262, Milstein) The road south-westward towards Ein Kerem filled with panicked villagers fleeing.

From the Sharafa rigde, villagers' fire inflicted heavy casualties and drove off the Irgun. The Lehi units advance stopped at the town's center where they were only holding the eastern parts. The attacker's fighting capability matched their progress, weapons failed to work, a few tossed hand-grenades without pulling the plug and a Lehi unit commander, Amos Keynan, was wounded by his own men. (Deir Yassin, Milstein; A Jewish Eyewitness: An Interview with Meir Pa'il, McGowan)

The first fighter unit to reach Deir Yassin was led by a truck armed with a loudspeaker. An Iraqi-born Jew, fluent in Arabic, called out to inhabitants to leave Deir Yassin via the western exit the attackers had left clear for that purpose. However, the truck was hit by Arab gunfire after entering the town and veered into a ditch, defying repeated efforts by Lehi men, under fire, to extract it.

According to Irgun leader Menachem Begin the truck was driven to the entrance of the area and broadcasted a warning to the civilians (The Revolt 1977, Begin). Other sources claim that the truck never reached the village (Levi, Yitzhak, op. cit. p 342), although some state that it came to a relatively small distance from it. According to Uri Milstein had "The armored car with the loudspeaker left Givat Shaul a few minutes before 5:00 AM as planned, and by then the battle had already started." Other sources claim that the truck rolled into a ditch caused by Palestinian gunfire before it could broadcast its warning (Terror out of Zion 1977, Bowyer Bell). Ezra Yachin related,

"After we filled in the ditch we continued travelling. We passed two barricades and stopped in front of the third, 30 meters away from the village. One of us called out on the loudspeaker in Arabic, telling the inhabitants to put down their weapons and flee. I don't know if they heard, and I know these appeals had no effect. We alighted from the armored car and joined the attack" (Milstein, Uri, op. cit. p. 262.)

Whether or not the truck's message was heard by the villagers is unclear. While hundreds of Deir Yassin residents did flee, it is unclear if it was because of the announcements, the sound of gunfire, or warnings from fellow-villagers who were near the battle sites.

While both IZL and Lehi commanders had anticipated many residents would flee, and the remaining would surrender after token resistance, both groups of soldiers, entering the town from different sides, immediately encountered fierce volleys of Arab rifle fire, some from the foreign troops who had been reported in the area.

IZL deputy commander Michael Harif, one of the first to enter Deir Yassin, later recalled how, early in the battle, "I saw a man in khaki run ahead. I thought he was one of us, I ran after him and told him, 'Move ahead to that house!' Suddenly he turned, pointed his weapon at me and fired. He was an Iraqi soldier. I was wounded in the leg." (Milstein interview with Harif, p.262.)

Patchiah Zalivensky of Lehi recalled that among the Arab soldiers killed by his unit was a Yugoslavian Muslim officer, whose identification papers indicated he had been with the all-Muslim units of the Nazi SS that had been organized in Yugoslavia during World War II by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Palestinian Arab leader and Nazi collaborator. (Milstein, p.263 (interview with Zalivensky).)

The villagers sniper fire from higher positions in the west contained effectively the attack. Especially from the mukthars (mayors) house. Some Lehi units went for help from the Haganah's Camp Schneller in Jerusalem. (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.262-265, Milstein)

Intense Arab firepower caused the fighters' advance into Deir Yassin to be very slow. Reuven Greenberg reported later that "the Arabs fought like lions and excelled at accurate sniping." He added that "[Arab] women ran from the houses under fire, collected the weapons which had fallen from the hands of Arab fighters who had been wounded, and brought them back into the houses." (Testimony of Reuven Greenberg.)

 
In certain cases, after storming a house, dead Arab women were found with guns in their hands, a sign they had taken part in the battle. (Testimony of Yehoshua Gorodenchik, MZ.) Ezra Yachin recalled, "To take a house, you had either to throw a grenade or shoot your way into it. If you were foolish enough to open doors, you got shot down--sometimes by men dressed up as women, shooting out at you in a second of surprise." (Lynne Reid Banks, A Torn Country: An Oral History of the Israeli War of Independence (New York: Franklin Watts, 1982), p. 62.)

Pre-battle briefings had stated that most of the Deir Yassin houses had wooden doors, so while trying to storm them, the fighters were surprised to discover the doors were made of iron, leaving no recourse but to blow them open with powerful explosives, in the process inadvertently killing or wounding some inhabitants.(Testimony of Yehoshua Gorodenchik, MZ.) The Lehi forces slowly advanced house by house.

Meanwhile, the IZL soldiers on the other side of the village, were having a very difficult time. By 7:00 a.m., discouraged by the Arab resistance and their own increasing casualties, IZL commanders relayed a message to the Lehi camp that they were seriously considering retreating from the town.

Lehi commanders relayed back that they had already entered the village and expected victory soon. The IZL quickly arranged to receive a supply of explosives from their base in Givat Shaul, and started blasting their way into house after house. In certain instances, the force of the explosions collapsed whole parts of houses, burying Arab soldiers as well as civilians who were still inside.

It is not clear whether the civilians had chosen to stay of their own free, or were held as human shields by Arab soldiers who thought their presence would deter the Jewish forces. (Milstein, pp.264-265, interviews with Ezra Yachin, Mordechai Ra'anan, Benzion Cohen and Yehuda Lapidot; Testimonies of Mordechai Ra'anan, Benzion Cohen, and Yehuda Lapidot.)

In numerous instances of Arabs emerged from the houses and surrendered; over 100 were taken prisoner by day's end. At least two Haganah members on the scene reported the Lehi repeatedly using a loudspeaker to implore the residents to surrender. (Milstein, p.263, interview with Uri Brenner; Daniel Spicehandler's testimony, quoted in Ralph G. Martin, Golda: Golda Meir - The Romantic Years (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988), p.329.) In certain cases Arabs pretending to surrender revealed hidden weapons and shot at their would-be Jewish captors. (Testimony of Yehoshua Gorodenchik, MZ. Benny Morris, a harsh critic of the IZL and Lehi, has characterized Gorodenchik's testimony as "confused." (Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p.323, n.175.)

"The Jews never intended to harm the population of the village, but were forced to do so after they encountered fire from the population, which killed the Irgun commander." - Yunes Ahmed Assad, a Deir Yassin survivor, Al Urdun (Jordanian Newspaper), April 9, 1953, quoted by the Israel Office of Information, under Golda Meir, 1960

At about 10:00 am a sizeable Palmach unit from the Haganah arrived, they brought an armored vehicle and a two-inch mortar. (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.265-266, Milstein) The mortar shot tree shoots at the mukthar's house which silenced its snipers. The Palmach unit managed to clear the village of serious resistance and Lehi officer David Gottlieb saw the Palmach accomplish "in one our what we could not accomplish in several hours." (Edge of the Sword, p.450, Lorch)

The fighting was over at about 11:00 am. The fighters begin to clean up the houses to secure them. Irgun's commander Ben-Zion Cohen noted: "[We] felt a desire for revenge." (Statement of Ben-Zion Cohen, file 1/10 4-K, Jabotinsky Archives) One villager has stated that the attackers appeared to have been set off by an Irgun commander's death, still others reported that upon discovering an armed man disguised as a woman, one guerrilla began shooting everyone around, followed by his comrades joining in. (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.276, Milstein)

Irgunist Yehoshua Gorodentchik said that "Male Arabs dressed as Arab women were found, and so they started shooting the [surrendering] women also." (Statement of Yehoshua Gorodentchik, file 1/10 4-K, Jabotinsky Archives)

Number of dead

Haganah intelligence officer Mordehai Gilhon, who visisted the scene on April 9, said "I estimated that there were four cisterns (or pits) full of bodies, and in each pit there were 20 bodies, and several tens more in the quarry". (Milstein, Uri, op. cit. p. 274).

The first number publicized about the death toll was 254. Irgun commander Raanan told it to reporters and it quickly stuck.

Raanan's figure was a gross exaggeration and a blatant lie, he later explained: "I told the reporters that 254 were killed so that a big figure would be published, and so that Arabs would panic." (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.269, Milstein)

The Jewish Agency and the Hagana leadership immediately condemned the massacre.

Why the conflicting reports?

The fog of war accounts for some of the discrepancies. In addition, there were severe rivalries between the Hagana, the IZL (Irgun) and the Lehi. Uri Milstein argues that Jewish reports of a massacre in Deir Yassin were a fiction of the Hagana in order to smear the IZL & Lehi. The number of 254 of killed was a complete fiction very convenient to everyone.

Morris observes:

In 1948 participants, observers and journalists wrote that as many as 254 villagers were killed that day. Everyone had an interest in publicizing a high Arab casualty figure: the Haganah, to tarnish the IZL [Irgun] and LHI [Stern Gang]; the Arabs and the British to blacken the Jews; the IZL and LHI to provoke terror and frighten Arabs into fleeing the country.

Arabs used the incident to unify and invigorate Arab anger against the Jews - indeed resulting in the Hadassa massacre of 78 Jewish doctors and nurses.

A Hagana officer called Meir Pail(Pilavsky,) a vigorously anti-IZL officer, who was not on the scene, was instrumental in perpetuating a horrid version of the story. Some examples of his reports: 'Zeinab Akkel, a woman, offered money (about $400) to protect her brother. One guerrilla took the money and "then he just knocked my brother over and shot him in the head with five bullets."(Meir Pa'il, Pa'il and Isseroff) Though he was not present, Pa'il claimed that during the battle he "started hearing shooting in the village. The fighting was over, yet there was the sound of firing of all kinds from different housed... Sporadic firing, not like you would [normally] hear when they clean a house." (Meir Pa'il, Pa'il and Isseroff) He also stated that no commanders directed the actions, just groups of guerillas running about "full of lust for murder." (Meir Pa'il, Pa'il and Isseroff)

Eliyahu Arbel, an officer of the Haganah, visited Deir Yassin on April 10, 1948 at the request of Haganah District Commander David Shaltiel and reported: "On the following day, after the operation, I inspected the village, in accordance with the order of General Shaltiel. Accompanied by an officer of the attacking unit, I saw the horrors that the fighters had created. I saw bodies of women and children, who were murdered in their houses in cold blood by gun fire, with no signs of battle and not as the result of blowing up the houses."

In 1987, the Research and Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, a prominent Arab university in the territory now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, published a comprehensive study of the history of Deir Yassin, as part of its "Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project." The Center's findings concerning Deir Yassin were published, in Arabic only, as the fourth booklet in its "Destroyed Arab Villages Series." The purpose of the project, according to its directors, is "to gather information from persons who lived in these villages and were directly familiar with them, and then to compare these reports and publish them in order to preserve for future generations the special identity and particular characteristics of each village." (Kanani and Zitawi, Deir Yassin (Bir Zeit study), p.5.)

 
The Bir Zeit study's description of the 1948 battle of Deir Yassin begins with the phraseology typical of many accounts of the event, calling it "a massacre the likes of which history has rarely known," (Ibid., p.7.) However, unlike the authors of any other previous study of Deir Yassin, the Bir Zeit researchers tracked down the surviving Arab eyewitness to the attack and personally interviewed each of them. "For the most part, we have gathered the information in this monograph during the months of February-May 1985 from Deir Yassin natives living in the Ramallah region, who were extremely cooperative," the Bir Zeit authors explained, listing by name twelve former Deir Yassin residents whom they had interviewed concerning the battle. The study continued: "The [historical] sources which discuss the Deir Yassin massacre unanimously agree that number of victims ranges between 250-254; however, when we examined the names which appear in the various sources, we became absolutely convinced that the number of those killed does not exceed 120, and that the groups which carried out the massacre exaggerated the numbers in order to frighten Palestinian residents into leaving their villages and cities without resistance." (Ibid., pp.7-.8.) The authors concluded: "Below is a list of the names and ages of those killed at Deir Yassin in the massacre which took place on April 9, 1948, which was compiled by us on the basis of the testimony of Deir Yassin natives. We have invested great effort in checking it and in making certain of each name on it, such that we can say, with no hesitation, that it is the most accurate list of its type until today." A list of 107 people killed and twelve wounded followed.(Ibid., p.57.)

Some quotes from the Bir Zeit report claiming a deliberate massacre include:

"when one of his daughters screamed, they shot her too. They then called my brother Mahmoud and shot him in our presence, and when my mother screamed and bent over my brother (she was carrying my little sister Khadra who was still being breast fed) they shot my mother too." (Fahimi Zeidan, quoted by Kanani and Zitawi, "Deir Yassin, Monograph No. 4," 55.)

Haleem Eid, a woman, saw "a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister Salhiyeh who was nine months pregnant" (Kanani and Zitawi, "Deir Yassin, Monograph No. 4," 55.)

Fahimi Zeidan stated that she and her wounded siblings encountered a captured pair of village males and "When they reached us, the soldiers [guarding us] shot them." When the mother of one of the killed started hitting the fighters, "one of them stabbed her with a knife a few times." (Deir Yassin, Monograph No. 4, p.56, Kanani and Zitawi)

Mohammed Jaber, a village boy, observed the guerillas "break in, drive everybody outside, put them against the wall and shoot them." (Statement of Mohammed Jaber, dossier 179/110/17 GS, "Secret," Police Investigator Team reports dated 13, 15, and 16 April 1948)

Additional reports: On April 11, Palestine Red Cross delegate Jacques de Reynier visited the village. The dead had been "deliberately massacred", de Reynier wrote. (Edge of the Sword, p.89-92, Lorch) Alfed Engel, an accompanying doctor, saw that "it was clear that [the attackers] had gone from house to house and shot the people from close range." (Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.279, Milstein)

Dr Engel, who visited the village with the Red Cross on April 12, reported:"...It was clear that they (the attackers) had gone from house to house and shot the people at close range. I was a doctor in the German army for 5 years, in WWI, but I had not seen such a horrifying spectacle."

In the afternoon prisoners were taken on the village trucks to a victory parade in the Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem before they were released in Arab East Jerusalem. Fahimi Zeidan testified that they "put us in trucks and drove us around the Jewish quarters, all while cursing us." (Deir Yassin, Monograph No. 4, p.56, Kanani and Zitawi) Harry Levin, a Haganah broadcaster, reported seeing "three trucks driving slowly up and down King George V Avenue bearing men, women, and children, their hand above their heads, guarded by Jews armed with sten-guns and rifles." (Jerusalem Embattled, p.57, Levin)

From "The Revolt", by Menachem Begin, Dell Publishing, NY, 1977, pp. 225-227: "Apart from the military aspect, there is a moral aspect to the story of Dir Yassin. At that village, whose name was publicized throughout the world, both sides suffered heavy casualties. We had four killed and nearly forty wounded. The number of casualties was nearly forty percent of the total number of the attackers. The Arab troops suffered casualties neraly three times as heavy. The fighting was thus very severe. Yet the hostile propaganda, disseminated throughout the world, deliberately ignored the fact that the civilian population of Dir Yassin was actually given a warning by us before the battle began. One of our tenders carrying a loud speaker was stationed at the entrance to the village and it exhorted in Arabic all women, children and aged to leave their houses and to take shelter on the slopes of the hill. By giving this humane warning our fighters threw away the element of complete surprise, and thus increased their own risk in the ensuing battle. A substantial number of the inhabitants obeyed the warning and they were unhurt. A few did not leave their stone houses - perhaps because of the confusion. The fire of the enemy was murderous - to which the number of our casualties bears eloquent testimony. Our men were compelled to fight for every house; to overcome the enemy they used large numbers of hand grenades. And the civilians who had disregarded our warnings suffered inevitable casualties.

"The education which we gave our soldiers throughout the years of revolt was based on the observance of the traditional laws of war. We never broke them unless the enemy first did so and thus forced us, in accordance with the accepted custom of war, to apply reprisals. I am convinced, too, that our officers and men wished to avoid a single unnecessary casualty in the Dir Yassin battle. But those who throw stones of denunciation at the conquerors of Dir Yassin would do well not to don the cloak of hypocrisy.

"In connection with the capture of Dir Yassin the Jewish Agency found it necessary to send a letter of apology to Abdullah, whom Mr. Ben Gurion, at a moment of great political emotion, called 'the wise ruler who seeks the good of his people and this country.' The 'wise ruler,' whose mercenary forces demolished Gush Etzion and flung the bodies of its heroic defenders to birds of prey, replied with feudal superciliousness. He rejected the apology and replied that the Jews were all to blame and that he did not believe in the existence of 'dissidents.' Throughout the Arab world and the world at large a wave of lying propaganda was let loose about 'Jewish attrocities.'

"The enemy propaganda was designed to besmirch our name. In the result it helped us. Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia village, which had previously repulsed every attack of the Haganah, was evacuated overnight and fell without further fighting. Beit-Iksa was also evacuated. These two places overlooked the main road; and their fall, together with the capture of Kastel by the Haganah, made it possible to keep open the road to Jerusalem. In the rest of the country, too, the Arabs began to flee in terror, even before they clashed with Jewish forces. Not what happened at Dir Yassin, but what was invented about Dir Yassin, helped to carve the way to our decisive victories on the battlefield. The legend of Dir Yassin helped us in particular in the saving of Tiberias and the conquest of Haifa".

A footnote from "The Revolt", pp.226-7: "To counteract the loss of Dir yassin, a village of strategic importance, Arab headquarters at Ramallah broadcast a crude atrocity story, alleging a massacre by Irgun troops of women and children in the village. Certain Jewish officials, fearing the Irgun men as political rivals, seized upon this Arab gruel propaganda to smear the Irgun. An eminent Rabbi was induced to reprimand the Irgun before he had time to sift the truth. Out of evil, however, good came. This Arab propaganda spread a legend of terror amongst Arabs and Arab troops, who were seized with panic at the mention of Irgun soldiers. The legend was worth half a dozen battalions to the forces of Israel. The `Dir Yassin Massacre' lie is still propagated by Jew-haters all over the world".

Results Deir Yassin very quickly became an ideological bat in the propaganda war between Israel and the Arab states. Panic flight of Arabs across Palestine intensified. It was also used as a strong argument for the Arab states to wage war agaisnt Israel, Arab League chief Azzam Pasha said "The massacre of Deir Yassin was to a great extent the cause of the wrath of the Arab nations and the most important factor for sending [in] the Arab armies". Moreever the Arab retaliatory strike came very quickly. Just four days after the massacre at Deir Yassin had been published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, doctors, nurses and patiens.

After the war Deir Yassin was settled by Israelis and named Givat Schaul Beth, today belonging to the disctrict of Jerusalem. In 1980 a settlement was built over the remaining ruins and its streets were named after the Irgun-units who participated in the battle.

Modern debate Sid Zion wrote in a March 23, 1998 column in the New York Daily News that what happened in Deir Yassin was a pitched battle, not a massacre, and that the Irgun actually warned the Arab residents prior to the battle. He further concludes that the charge of "massacre" was a "libel". See the web site [2] (http://www.zoa.org/pressrel/19980325a.htm).

Additional websources include: Deir Yassin, by Mitchell Bard [3] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/deir_yassin)

Deir Yassin, by Prof. Yehuda Lapidot, from the IZL (Irgun) site [4] (http://www.etzel.org.il/english/ac17.htm)

Deir Yassin a casualty of guns and propaganda, by Paul Holmes, Middle East Times, 20-April-1998 [5] (http://metimes.com/issue98-16/reg/deir.htm)

Several articles (including one by Sid Zion above) discuss the incident as a pitched-up battle. These reports raise the question of whether the battle's description as a massacre had been exaggerated in Arab media for propagandist purposes. This turns the discussion of the events of Deir Yassin into an information war of its own, as Arabs claim that pro-Israel organizations are in effect trying to tone down the size of the massacre.

Sources

  • Sharif Kanaana and Nihad Zitawi, "Deir Yassin," Monograph No. 4, Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project (Bir Zeit: Documentation Center of Bir Zeit University, 1987), p. 55.

  • "There was no Massacre there" by Yerach Tal, in Ha'Aretz 8.9.91, page B3

  • "History of the Independence War Volume 4: From Crisis came Decision" by Uri Milstein.



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