The following is a speech prepared by Daniel McGowan, Director of Deir Yassin Remembered, for the 51st anniversary commemoration of the massacre at Deir Yassin (on the west side of Jerusalem) where over 100 Palestinians were murdered by the Irgun and the Stern Gang on April 9, 1948. It is copied, almost verbatim, from the 50th anniversary commemoration speech in Kielce, Poland, marking the killing of 42 (and wounding of 50 other) Jewish survivors of the Holocaust on July 4, 1946, over a year after the end of World War II. The original speech was made by Nobel Prize Laureate, Elie Wiesel, on July 4, 1996 in Kielce and reported in the New York Post on July 15th. Words not said by Wiesel are in quotes.
The original speech by Wiesel asks people to remember the horror of what happened at Kielce and it asks the Prime Minister of Poland to remove Christian crosses from the site. This speech asks people to remember the horror of what happened at Deir Yassin and asks the Prime Minister of Israel to remove Jewish Stars of David from the site.
Speech in front of the White House on the 51st anniversary of the massacre, April 9, 1999
"Hope Lives When People Remember"
How could they? This question has haunted "Jews and non-Jews" for decades.
How could citizens, the ordinary citizens of this seemingly "holy land," commit such heinous crimes, commit them in broad daylight?
How could soldiers "of the Haganah" allow it to happen? How could the forces of law and order permit the maiming and butchering of "such a peaceful village as Deir Yassin? How could their neighbors in Givat Shaul have done nothing to prevent the massacre, especially of the women and children?"
Pronounce the name "Deir Yassin" and the next word that comes to your minds and lips is massacre. True, the killing was perpetrated by hoodlums "of the Irgun and apocalyptic radicals of the Stern Gang." But what about the soldiers who took part?
What about the onlookers, the bystanders? Where, moreover, were the "solid citizens" of the "Jewish settlement of Givat Shaul?" How many of them tried to stop the massacre?
The vicious "massacre," whose more than "100 innocent Palestinian" victims we commemorate today, is the truth. What happened in this place demonstrated that "the Jewish 'purity of arms' is a myth, another piece of deceptive propaganda." What happened in this place showed that ordinary people could be as cruel as the killers in any death camp.
If violent, pre-war anti-"Arab Zionism" paved the way for the "Catastrophe, the Deir Yassin massacre" confirmed its purpose. Hence the feelings of frustration, bitterness, dismay and anger that overcame compassionate people.
Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec and Chelmno were German inventions, created on Polish soil; "Deir Yassin" was not. The "Deir Yassin" murderers were "Jews." Their language was "Hebrew." Their hatred was "Jewish."
I do not believe in collective guilt. In "Israel," as in every country, there are good people—to whom we shall always be grateful—and bad people, who brought pain to "Palestinians" and shame to their native "or adopted" land. In "Israel," as everywhere, there are kindhearted people and brutal people, generous people and murderous people.
But how was it possible that frenzied "Jewish terrorist gangs were" inspired and allowed to kill "Palestinians" for almost an entire day?
I find it difficult to believe articles which report that there are today many "Israelis" who deny the unspeakable crimes that were committed here—that there are, in this "holy city of Jerusalem," men and women to whom this solemn ceremony means nothing.
Today, we ask ourselves: Where is hope to be found? As a member of the human family, I want to know: Will the "Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem" of today acknowledge and remember the "Deir Yassin" of yesterday?
The history of the "Jewish" people is filled with suffering and glory. Be worthy of that history, citizens of "Israel." And face the recent past which is also yours. To forget is to choose dishonor. Honor without memory is inconceivable.
Your conduct, Mr. Prime Minister, reassures us. We know your role in planning this commemoration. You understand our concerns; you are sensitive to our anguish. You graciously pledged to me that you would personally handle the painful problem of the dozen or so "stars of David" erected at "Deir Yassin," the site of the "most famous massacre of Palestinians and the site of the first of over 400 Palestinian villages to be depopulated in your 1948 War of Independence and the Palestinian Catastrophe"—a place where there should be no religious symbols at all.
"Deir Yassin" is its own eloquent symbol. "The Arab homes, the arches, the ruins of the cemetery." Nothing else need be there. With due respect to all religions and believers, the presence of "stars of David" on sacred soil covering the multitudes of "Palestinian" victims in "Deir Yassin" remains an insult.
The "Palestinian" victims, "who had lived at Deir Yassin for centuries, were butchered" and incinerated there in "its stone quarries." There can be no justification for placing "stars of David" over their remains. Whoever did this may have been inspired by good intentions—but the result is a blasphemy.
I feel certain that, thanks to you, Mr. Prime Minister, out of respect for the dead the "stars of David" will soon be removed.
Such a gesture will be a positive step in bringing "Palestinians and Israelis" closer together. Then, perhaps in the future, "Deir Yassin" will be remembered not only as a village identified with cruelty, but also as "part of" a city capable of penitence and compassion and hope.