Remembering Deir Yassin: Its Contemporary Relevance
By Daniel A. McGowan, Director
(Deir Yassin Remembered)
April 4, 2002
Writing in The Guardian on March 26, 2002, Anne Karpf prophetically said, "the events that took place in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin in April 1948 are so symbolic that they might almost serve as the DNA of the Arab-Israeli conflict." To remember the truth about the massacre of over 100 Muslim Arabs (mostly old men, women, and children) by Jewish terrorists of the Irgun and the Stern Gang is to restore the single most important event in 20th century Palestinian history, an event that has been systematically distorted, diminished, and repudiated in the quest of Zionism and creation of a Jewish state.
If you know what happened at Deir Yassin, six weeks prior to the creation of Israel, then you can easily recognize the "big lie" claiming that this was "a land without people for a people without land." Palestine was not empty; indeed, Muslim, Christian, and a minority of Jewish Palestinians had lived and worked there for hundreds of years. The American, Golda Meyerson, who later became Golda Meir and Prime Minister of Israel, continued this lie claiming "There was no such thing as Palestinians; it was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestine people, and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."
If you know what happened at Deir Yassin, then you know that over 700,000 Arabs living in over 400 towns and villages were driven out or, as we say today, ethnically cleansed. They were not simply frightened out or called out by their leaders.
If you know how the civilian population of Deir Yassin fended off the attack by 120 paramilitary terrorists, succumbed to the final assault of 17 professional soldiers of the Jewish Palmach who left and allowed them to be massacred by the terrorists, then you know that Israel's claim to a "purity of arms" was another Zionist myth, one that has been even more vividly dispelled by the "targeted killings" and summary executions being carried out against the Palestinians today.
If you know the truth about the terrorism at Deir Yassin, you know that Jewish terrorism is no more or less justified than is Palestinian terrorism. Yitzak Shamir, leader of the Stern Gang (although not at the time of the Deir Yassin massacre) proclaimed, "Terrorism is a way of fighting that is acceptable under certain conditions and by certain movements." He added, "While terrorism was appropriate for Jews fighting for their homeland, it is not for Palestinians who are fighting for land that is not theirs. This is the land for the people of Israel." Most of the world would not agree.
Jewish terrorism was successful at Deir Yassin. The leader of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, who later became Prime Minister of Israel and won a Nobel Peace Prize, boasted, "The massacre was not only justified, but there would not have been a state ofIsrael without the victory at Deir Yassin." Mordechai Nisan of the Truman Research Center of the Hebrew University concurred, "Without terror it is unlikely that Jewish independence would have been achieved when it was."
To remember the depopulation, the looting, and the confiscation of property at Deir Yassin is to recognize that Palestinians are entitled to restitution. If Holocaust claims for restitution are valid, and I firmly believe they are, then Palestinian claims are no less valid. Stuart Eizenstat, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, said, "Countries that face their past honestly and learn lessons from their mistakes are inevitably stronger for having done so. For almost 50 years, victims waited for the rest of mankind to offer them some measure of justice for their suffering and nothing happened. Most of them have died by now." He was referring to Jewish claims against Switzerland; but he could just as well have been referring to Palestinian claims against Israel. The land and buildings at Deir Yassin on the west side of Jerusalem provide a prime example.
This year (because of the Jewish calendar) the anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre falls on Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day. Nowhere will this irony be more spectacular than in Jerusalem where the ceremonies at Yad Vashem, the biggest Holocaust memorial, will take place within sight of Deir Yassin. But when the horns and sirens wail all over Israel, half the people will bow their heads in memory of the Nazi Holocaust, which ended in 1945, while the other half of the population will be reminded of Deir Yassin, the terror it caused, the flight it precipitated, the tragedy of dispossession and exile that has resulted from it.
Among the dignitaries expected at Yad Vashem will be the American Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel. No single man better personifies what Norman Finkelstein calls "The Holocaust Industry" than does Elie Wiesel. Yet this survivor of the death Nazi death camps and icon of Jewish suffering also worked for the Irgun, the terrorists who committed the massacre at Deir Yassin, which lies only 1,400 meters to the north and within clear sight of Yad Vashem. Although Wiesel has written volumes "Against Silence," urging people to speak out against injustice and man's inhumanity to man, he has remained silent about Deir Yassin even when he stands in its shadow.
Wiesel often quotes Walter Benjamin who said, "In order to decipher the future, we must analyze and decipher the past." What this means for Arabs and Israelis is that the historical significance of Deir Yassin must not be flushed down the memory hole. If peace is to be achieved, the story of Deir Yassin must be acknowledged and commemorated, honestly and without ideological spin. The famous Jewish philosopher and theologian, Martin Buber, wrote in the hope of peace, "The time will come when it will be possible to conceive of some act in Deir Yassin, an act which will symbolize our people's desire for justice and brotherhood with the Arab people." The members of Deir Yassin Remembered feel that that time is long overdue.