Published in The Jewish Chronicle, London, UK, on 23 March 2001
As one of the 'new' or revisionist Israeli historians, I have followed with interest the debate about Jewish participation in the London commemoration of the Deir Yassin massacre.
Some details are still in dispute, but the broad outlines of the story are clear. It is very much to Israel's credit that it allows access to its official documents under the 30-year rule. These documents leave no room for doubt that the Irgun and Lehi units that attacked the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin on 9 April 1948 committed a massacre.
It was probably not premeditated, but a massacre it was, and it claimed the lives of over a hundred Palestinians.
Some of your correspondents would be well advised to consult Benny Morris's 1988 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. Morris makes it clear that there was a prolonged firefight followed by a massacre.
Dr. Colin Leci (JC, February 23rd) is wrong to describe Deir Yassin as 'a heavily armed Arab military post.' It was a small village that had concluded a non-aggression pact with the Haganah. Haganah forces assisted in the initial attack on the village with mortar fire but they took no part in the subsequent slaughter.
During the house-to-house fighting the Irgun and Lehi units did not save '40 women, children and elderly people who had been forced to remain.' After the fighting was over, the dissidents rounded up unarmed civilians and murdered dozens of them. There were cases of mutilation and rape. While irregular Arab forces did defend the village, there is no reliable evidence that some of them were dressed up as women.
Dr. Leci described the inhabitants of Deir Yassin as 'the victims of war'. The available evidence suggests that most of them were the victims of an atrocity committed by members of the Irgun and Lehi.
Rabbi Dr. Sidney Brichto (March 2nd) advises Jews not to join in the commemoration of this sad event. He fears this would give a propaganda coup to the Palestinian authorities. True, there is a risk that the commemoration of a human tragedy which occurred 53 years ago may be exploited for propaganda purposes today. Rabbi Brichto is not obliged to run this risk. But the position he has adopted is not exactly a shining example of moral courage.
Courage, humanity, and a sense of justice are some of the qualities displayed by Rabbis John Rayner and Jeffrey Newman. They recognise that the issue of the distribution of responsibility is a complex one. But they also note that the Palestinian tragedy is a by-product of the Zionist enterprise. Their position strikes me as eminently reasonable and I plan to follow their example by attending the Deir Yassin memorial day.
(Professor) Avi Shlaim
St. Antony's College, Oxford