Frequently Asked Questions About
The Massacre at Deir Yassin
The following is general information about the Deir Yassin massacre according to our continuing research. Much credit for updating the state of the research belongs to Dr. Ami Isseroff of Rehovoth, Israel who, independently and skeptically proceeding from his own viewpoint as a Zionist and Jewish Israeli, researched the
issue in detail and placed his findings on the World Wide Web at: http://www.ariga.com/peacewatch/dy/
1. What happened at Deir Yassin beginning April 9, 1948?
About 100-120 of its residents, a great number of whom were women and children, were massacred. The village was a Palestinian Arab town of about 750 located west of Jerusalem. The "massacre" actually occurred in three distinct phases to be discussed below.
2. Who perpetrated the massacre?
Members of the two Revisionist ("right-wing") Zionist paramilitaries, the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Irgun) and Lochamei Herut Yisrael (Lehi or Stern Gang).
3. Why do we hear that 254 were killed?
On the evening of April 9th, the Irgun leader publicly exaggerated the death toll in order to terrorize Arabs in Palestine. This was near the end of the British Mandate
as Arab-Jewish fighting escalated. The 254 figure is almost certainly an exaggeration, but not an Arab exaggeration.
4. Why did they attack that village?
Probably because they knew it would be easy as it was a village that had stayed out of the escalating fighting in Palestine. The Irgun and Lehi had never fought a
regular military operation before, or combined their forces before, preferring separate guerrilla and terrorist activities. They also wanted to take part in a new Zionist offensive near Jerusalem but rejected joining in an attack on other villages alongside regular Zionist forces.
5. What were their plans for the village?
Their top consideration was economic as this was during Abdul Khader al-Husseini's cutoff of supplies to Jewish West Jerusalem. As attack plans grew, however, they discussed massacring all the villagers or just the males and any other resisters. The purpose was to frighten Palestine's Arab residents into flight and defeat and to take revenge for attacks and previous atrocities perpetrated against Jewish forces. An order from Irgun Commander-in-Chief Menachem Begin reportedly told them to observe the Geneva Convention. Whether this order was
taken seriously or passed along effectively is unclear. It is clear that the night before the attack some were still talking about inflicting large casualties to send a
message of fear to the Arabs of Palestine.
6. When exactly was the village attacked?
About 4:45 a.m. on Friday morning April 9, 1948. The attackers numbered 120-130. They came from two or three directions. They had a loudspeaker to warn the villagers to flee, but the small truck carrying it got stuck on the road from Givat Shaul and its broadcast was not heard widely or perhaps at all.
7. Did the villagers of Deir Yassin fight back?
Yes. There was a village watch that was armed and some men of the village began to stand their ground when the initial attack faltered. The village had an agreement
with the Zionist Haganah militia to avoid mutual attacks, but the Haganah felt unable or unwilling to stop the other Zionists from attacking.
8. When did the massacre occur?
The massacre occurred in three phases: the "hot blood" massacre, the "warm blood" massacre (the main massacre), and the "cold blood" massacre. The first occurred
during the initial fighting; the second occurred after the village resistance was defeated, and the third occurred after captured villagers were paraded in Jerusalem.
9. How quickly did the Irgun and Lehi capture the village?
Actually they did not capture Deir Yassin. Their attack was so badly executed that the villagers drove them off important high ground, forced the Irgun to retreat, and
forced the whole attack to stop after they had seized a portion of the village east of the main square. A Haganah unit first used machine gun fire to cover the Irgun retreat, and also to block villagers and other help from coming back to Deir Yassin from Ein Kerem where many had fled. The Irgun and Lehi were so untrained and
uncoordinated that they began throwing grenades without removing the pins and many could not operate their guns. They suffered 36 wounded and four killed. It is possible many of their casualties were caused by their own people or by the Haganah. Finally about 10:00 a.m., a unit of Palmach (the elite forces of the Haganah) arrived with a mortar and fired at the mukhtar's house where a few Arab
men had taken up a strong position. These elite troops quickly drove the Arabs out and moved through the village to silence all further resistance.
10. When did the massacre begin?
The "hot-blooded" aspect of the massacre began in the initial morning combat. Frustrated and angry at the village resistance, many of the guerilla's began shooting at anyone they saw; some simply shot or stabbed people that they found or caused to surrender.
11. Did the Haganah participate in the massacre?
It appears some of their forces may have shot a captured man they assumed to be an Arab irregular soldier. But their forces quickly left apparently not wanting to entangle themselves with Irgun and the Lehi.
12. How did the main massacre proceed?
After the Palmach left, the Irgun and Lehi units began to "clean out" the houses where many people of the village were hiding. Enraged at the village resistance, humiliated in front of the Haganah, traumatized by the casualties they took which seemed large in their first combat, and energized by an ideology of ethnic warfare,
they forced those in the houses--mostly women, children, and old people--against walls and gunned them down. Sometimes they threw hand grenades at them. This is the "warm blood" massacre, as a witness described it. It was not "hot blood" because they were no longer in combat, but they were still enraged by combat.
13. Were there other killings of prisoners?
Yes. Sometime after this, about 10-25 captured Arab men were executed by firing squad in a quarry near the village. They appear to have been "paraded", i.e., exhibited as prisoners, on trucks prior to their execution. Other women, children, and elderly were also paraded before the population of west Jerusalem.
14. Were there other atrocities?
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 village's sense of community and family honor.
15. How did Deir Yassin affect history?
This also is still very debatable. It is generally agreed that the massacre had some, if not great, effect in causing Palestinian Arabs to flee during the 1948 war, thereby causing or aggravating the Palestinian refugee problem. News of the massacre also increased the level of demands in the Arab world for military action in support of the Palestinian Arabs in 1948. It has to some degree affected relationships between Israeli political parties, as the massacre at Deir Yassin has been cited as grounds for criticizing the Likud movement which is the political descendant of the guerrilla groups which took part in the massacre.
Click here to see Deir Yassin Remembered's recent op-ed in the New York Times.
NEW on the main DYR web site: "Semitic Blood Feud" by Gregory M. DeSylva