Deir Yassin Remembered

First published by Uruknet
Sunday, April 8, 2007

In Memory of Deir Yassin
An Interview with Professor Daniel McGowan

By Angie Tibbs

April 9th, 2007 is the fifty-ninth anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, the slaughter by Jewish terrorists of civilians in their peaceful little village which lay outside the area that the UN bestowed upon Jews for their possible "state".

It is important that we pause to remember the dead of Deir Yassin, the young, the old, the children, the unborn. It is important that we remember the barbarism that was carried out against essentially defenceless people who were, and had been, living in peace with their Jewish neighbours in Kfar Shaul.

That Jews depopulated Deir Yassin by massacre is significant not only because of its inhumanity, but it also marked the beginning of a campaign whereby Jews wiped over 500 Palestinian towns and villages off the map, killed thousands of Palestinian people, and forced close to 800,000 to flee.

Some fifty-nine years after the crimes of Deir Yassin, lessons have not been learned. The theft of land and expulsion of Palestinian people continue unabated. East Jerusalem is being systematically cleansed of Palestinians. The fertile Jordan Valley is being depopulated in preparation for annexation by Israel. The Palestinian West Bank is ever shrinking as the terrorist state gobbles up more and more land through "colonies", the geo-politically motivated evil of the wall, the hundreds of checkpoints, electronic fences, so-called security zones. And murder.

No one has ever been brought to justice for the butchering of innocents at Deir Yassin. In fact, huge efforts have been undertaken by Zionists and their friends to erase Deir Yassin from the history books. Humanity cannot allow this to happen -- ever. It must be remembered that a terrible evil was carried out in Deir Yassin, and that 59 years later, the Palestinian people who were forced from their towns and villages by Jewish terrorism are still refugees, living in squalid refugee camps, their internationally recognized right of return denied by the occupiers.

A shining light, however, has been Deir Yassin Remembered, a non political organization founded by Professor Daniel McGowan of Geneva, New York.

I spoke with him about Deir Yassin and Deir Yassin Remembered.

Angie Tibbs: How did your interest in Deir Yassin come about and what prompted you to create Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR)?

Daniel McGowan: My interest in the struggle for Palestinian human rights began in the mid 1980's when the United States passed the Anti-Apartheid Act and when colleges and universities overwhelmingly withdrew their retirement fund investments from South Africa but refused to acknowledge that Israel helped to arm South Africa and helped it break embargos and divestment plans. The hypocrisy -- particularly among the academic left -- was breathtaking. Professors cried out for the US to ban the sale of Kruggerrands (the South African gold coin) but had nothing to say about diamonds, because the sale of South African diamonds cut in Israel accounted for over 22 percent of Israeli exports.

Americans were against apartheid in South Africa, but perfectly comfortable with it in Israel. It has taken over 20 years for "apartheid" to be associated with Israel and even today it is resisted and denied as witnessed by the outcry over the title of President Carter's book, "Palestine: Peace or Apartheid". Yet apartheid is precisely what has existed and continues to be perfected in Israel, namely a separation of "the chosen people" from "the children of a lesser god". And it is condoned, not just by Jews, but by Christians and other Zionists who continue to try to build a Jewish state on land where over half the population is not Jewish.

A year after the clash that triggered the first intifada, I went to the West Bank and Gaza to see the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people for myself. I filmed children whose hands were smashed by Israeli soldiers for making the victory sign and others whose elbows were broken for throwing stones. I collected the rubber bullets, which are really steel balls coated in plastic and which are lethal at close range. And I collected the CS gas canisters, all clearly marked "Made in the USA". I also offered Lea Tsemel, the famous Israeli attorney who has a long record of defending Palestinians, $2,000 to take me to the Israeli concentration camp at Ketziot, where even today over 5,000 Palestinians languish.

In speaking with Palestinians I often heard mention of the massacre at Deir Yassin in April 1948. Yet none of them had been there. When I asked Jewish friends about Deir Yassin and when I interviewed students at Hebrew University, they invariably knew nothing about it. The dichotomy of the perception of this pivotal event in the 1948 war was amazing. Deir Yassin lies about 3 miles west from the Old City of Jerusalem; the village is largely in tact and its buildings are today used as a mental hospital for mildly deranged people. But as Jerusalem has grown, Deir Yassin is today within the borders of the city, surrounded by the orthodox Jewish settlement of Har Nof.

There are no memorials at Deir Yassin. There is not even a signpost with the name of the village. The graveyard that Jews promised to maintain has been bulldozed for a settlement road; what remains of it has been desecrated. (Imagine the outrage and the news coverage if these were Jewish graves desecrated by hate-filled neighbors.) Since 1998 Deir Yassin Remembered holds annual commemorations there to clean the gravesites and lay flowers on the fence surrounding the hospital. We are often harassed by local hooligans who destroy what we have cleaned up and who have even dug into the graves and removed bones as souvenirs.

Angie: What are the goals of DYR and how are they being achieved?

Daniel: In the beginning the goal of Deir Yassin Remembered was very simple. It was like the single-bullet approach to protesting South African apartheid by freeing Nelson Mandella. Like "Free Mandela" our slogan was "Remember Deir Yassin". They simply wanted to let Mandella out of jail after 26 years; we simply wanted to erect a memorial at Deir Yassin after more than 50 years.

We held commemoration ceremonies every April 9th. Sometimes they would take the form of silent vigils; sometimes the form of marches; sometimes the form of a formal theater production or formal lectures with honored speakers such as Marc Ellis, Salma Jayyusi, Uri Davis, and Edward Said. We wrote two books, hundreds of articles, and maintained an extensive website.

But as the years passed two things became evident: first, the Arab American community was lukewarm in its support, especially in its financial support, and second, the Jewish community and the public at large ignored our calls for recognition of Palestinian history and Palestinian human rights. The mainstream press ignored our work. In part it was because we did not bleed ("if it bleeds, it leads"), although the blood of other activists, like Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall also generated minimal, and then only muted, media response.

So the organization has moved from remembrance to resistance. We no longer demand a memorial at Deir Yassin, but rather the return of all of the buildings to their rightful owners or to the Palestinian people for a truth and reconciliation center. The village lies within sight of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum where the world is taught to "Never Forget". We believe that Deir Yassin should be the site where the world is taught of the dispossession and discrimination suffered by the Palestinian people, with the aid of the United States and Europe, and the longest occupation in modern history.

Like Edward Said, our first Board member, we believe in equal rights for all people in the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. With over a half million "settlers" in the West Bank, there will never be a Palestinian state along the 1967 Green line border. The whole area has always been integrated and should remain so, except that all people should be treated as equal citizens (a very American concept but one that is totally ignored by American politicians and presidents from both parties).

Angie: What can the people of the world do to help realize the aspirations of DYR?

Daniel: The key to the success of establishing Israel as a Jewish state has always been the ability to organize around that common goal and to be willing to fund and work for it. Jews have always been very generous, especially for Jewish causes. They put their money for projects they want and they do it repeatedly. Most Palestinians, and Arab in general, do not. As a result their organizations and those that work on their behalf often wither and die. Without money and dedication "justice" does not evolve.

The hopes and dreams of DYR and organizations like it will only be achieved when people who share these hopes and dreams work and fund initiatives to achieve them. At least a third of our financial support comes from Jews; another third comes from those who are neither Jewish nor Arab, and a distant third comes from Arabs and Arab Americans.

Beyond financial support, the best way to achieve the goals of DYR is by speaking truth to power and by not being afraid of charges of anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial or racism or some other epithet du jour. Stand up and shine the light on Keziot, Israel's largest concentration camp. Label the racial laws of Israel apartheid, which is what they constitute and promote. Demand that Israel sign the non-proliferation treaty and declare and reduce its nuclear arsenal. Petition the Knesset for the return of the buildings at Deir Yassin and the return of other stolen Palestinian lands. Demand the "right of return" for Palestinians who lived in Palestine and not just for Jews who never lived there. Pay for candidates who denounce Israel's separation wall. Oppose the ideology of the "uniqueness" of Jewish suffering as it is taught in every school and in Holocaust museums across the country.

Angie: Thank you so much, Professor McGowan.

Professor Daniel McGowan has been a professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, since 1973. He received a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.A. from Stanford University, an M.B.A. from Bucknell University, and a Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University.

Angie Tibbs is a writer/social activist living on the east coast of Canada. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]

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