DEIR YASSIN - 9th APRIL 1948|
by Gerry Williams
Gerry Williams, a 57-year old English gentleman, wrote this piece for a course in occupational therapy, April 2002. Contact: [email protected]
I was just 14, proud to be at the Mukhtar's meeting alongside my father. He told us slowly, deliberately, of that day's failed attempt to free Kastel. His eyes filled with tears as he solemnly announced the death of Abdel Kadir Husseini. Our hopes, our passion, our belief in Palestine died with his words. We sat or stood there, but the room was empty.
He said they would come soon. We must be ready. We must be prepared to die. He went, exactingly, through the plan to defend. All who were there knew it. All knew of our ditches and rocks on the eastern hillside leading down to the road. All knew they would attack from there. All knew they would come at night. All knew of our few old single shot rifles. All knew of our two ancient Bren guns. All knew of our small supply of ammunition. All knew of Kastel, 5 kilometres away. All knew of our agreement with Haganah in Jerusalem. We had all taken our prayer mats and we prayed for Allah's strength.
The men made their preparations. My father and I lay together on the roof of a house overlooking the road. Darkness fell, a starlight night with a crescent moon, a good omen. He had one of the rifles and I had ten bullets. I had to pass him one the correct way round after each shot he fired. We lay there in silence, listening, hearing nothing but the night sounds of our village. We waited. It grew colder. We waited and waited. Soon it would be dawn. Perhaps they wouldn't come tonight. My father whispered, "Go and make some tea for us and the others nearby". I returned home. My mother was awake but Sahar was asleep.
A single shot rang out echoing from house to house. Ringing on and on almost drowning my father's shout of, "Mahmoud!" I ran to him with all my speed but already there was answering fire from below and around. "Down, pass me a bullet", he ordered. He must have fired the shot and the flash had given them a target. Bullets whistled and whined around us, flying bits of stonework stinging us, as we lay unified in terror. No one in the village fired a shot. Slowly the shooting died away. We could hear the engine of a vehicle coming up the hill. We nervously raised our heads. The first streaks of day outlined an armoured car struggling in the first of our ditches. We watched in horror as it climbed out. Upward and onward it came. Our work was no match for its power. The rocks stopped it. A dim shape got out and tried to move one of the rocks. My father shot him. Answering fire seemed to surround us before I could pass him another bullet. I heard the Bren guns on the Mukhtar's roof give short bursts of fire, shots from roofs, shots from the ground, shots from below, shots from the right, shots from the left, unending flashes of lightning from a storm in the half light.
A rasping, crackling, unreal Arab voice started ordering, "Stop the fighting, retreat, run for your lives, put down your weapons". It repeated and repeated, on and on, like the firing. Our village was still secure. I still had bullets for my father's rifle and I knew that the other men would follow the plan. Shoot only when you can kill.
The voice stopped. The firing rose and fell like a vulture in the sky. The Jews were trying to enter the village from the East, the North and South. The escarpment to the West made attack from that direction very difficult. The Bren guns' placement was critical. In the centre of the village they could cover attack from all three sides, assisted by men on roofs. As Jews tried to enter the village, they were either shot or instantly repelled. They knew where my father and I lay, but we seemed to draw little fire. It was a sniping battle, but we were getting shorter and shorter of ammunition. Perhaps they didn't realise. I heard a muffled explosion from the hillside below. I heard a noise like the sighing of the wind through a crack in the door. It passed over my head and the Mosque exploded. Two more explosions and the Mukhtar's house lay in ruins. My father screamed, "Get your mother and Sahar out to the West. Go!"
I jumped from the roof and ran down the back street towards home. There was a Jew some way in front of me. I saw him reach Zahran's family house next door to mine. He kicked in the door and threw in a bomb. He ducked down. The explosion blew out the door and shutters with smoke and flame. He was up, facing the doorway. He fired across the room with his Sten gun. Off again, he reached my house. I could think only of my mother and Sahar. My legs would not carry me quickly enough. I was screaming at him, "No, no, no". Unhearing, he did as before. He murdered my family. He was poised in the doorway ready to fire. He heard my scream as I launched myself at him. With no time to turn, he smashed the stock of his weapon into my face. I saw a light that blinded. I heard my bones crushing. I felt white-hot coals sear me.
I awoke lying face down in the glowing embers of a night-time fire. I tried to move out of the fire. As I tried, it followed me. I remembered the bomb. I wanted to die. Another pain, in my back, a distant voice saying, "Get up Arab scum". Kill me. A sharp pain in my side and the same voice, "I said, get up scum". Please kill me. A hand grabbed my hair and pulled me to my knees, my face screaming at me, "Please die". Eyes open, I could see a blurred picture of my street. Smoke black doorways and windows became clearer. I remember the bomb. I strained to move my head to the right and saw my home. Please let me die. The hand let go of my hair and I fell again into the smashing Sten gun stock of the street. A foot on my neck ground my face further into the dust. I wanted the blackness of before. I wanted Allah. Two voices, speaking Hebrew, laughing; each arm grabbed, I was dragged, unseeing, then dropped.
I could feel the tension. I could hear the laughing and rejoicing. I forced myself up, extending my arms until I could roll over onto my back. The blood running from my face started to choke me. I pushed with all my strength until I was sitting. I was in the clearing by the quarry. Alongside me were a small number of village women and children. Silently sobbing, holding themselves tightly. My eyes searched for my mother and Sahar, my mother's mother, my aunt. But I knew. Separated from them by a line of Jewish soldiers, was a group of village men. They stretched out along the quarry edge, some young, some old. I counted 25. I saw my father's father, Abu Tawfik and my uncle Karim, but I knew them all. They were all looking at the ground. Dishonoured and disgraced. Where was my father? Had he died a martyr like my mother and sister? Why not me too?
Other soldiers were chanting 'Lehi, Lehi' as they sorted through piles of heirlooms, looted from the houses. Things they valued thrown into one pile, others discarded into the quarry. A jeep drove into the clearing and a smartly dressed Jewish soldier slowly got out. The chanting stopped. They stood respectfully. He spoke sharply in Hebrew, an order. The line of soldiers opened fire on the men. The women and children screamed and wailed. Some sank to the ground. My Uncle Karim was still moving as they kicked his body with the others into the quarry. I couldn't cry. My hate overcame every other emotion. The pain of my broken face spurred me. I would kill them all, one by one until all the Jews in Palestine were dead, as Allah is my Witness.
Two lorries drove in and stopped. One was empty; the other was full of men. Some were wounded, some looked uninjured. I could see my father. He was looking at the floor, like the others. I counted 27 men that I could see. I knew them all. Perhaps there were others lying on the floor. Another order from the smart Jew and the soldiers approached the group of women and children to which I seemed to belong. I tried to stand but fell over. Jibara came to help me but was hit in the stomach with a rifle butt. She fell. "Get up you Arab whore" shouted as the kick was delivered. She slowly struggled to her feet. Bent, she staggered to the lorry. I was picked up by two soldiers and thrown in to join the rest, my face exploding. But I no longer wanted to die.
A train was made. The armoured car at the front, a jeep full of soldiers, the lorry carrying the men, another jeep of soldiers, our lorry and a jeep of soldiers at the back. The road was rough and slow. Every jolt of the lorry making my face burst. But my real pain was in my mind. I saw the sign for Jerusalem and, soon after, the train stopped. Jibara helped me to stand up on my trembling legs. The officer got out of the leading jeep and others ran to join him. A discussion took place with much pointing. I could see my father and the village men. Still looking down, still feeling the disgrace. I wanted to touch him. I wanted him to touch me.
Discussions over, the soldiers rejoined their vehicles. The armoured car and two jeeps surrounded the lorry of men. They set off. My father looked up and our eyes met. I felt their blackness and fire. It would always stay with me. The train drove slowly out of sight.
With one jeep at the front, we were driven to the Damascus Gate. Waving guns and shouts ordered us out of the lorry. We were told to walk to Syria or we would be shot. The soldiers left, their work done; just their spoils to share out.
We stayed there, nowhere to go, just another group of refugees, normality to the local people. That evening someone brought us some bread and water. I had stopped bleeding and Jibara helped me try to drink. She said my face was so swollen I was unrecognisable. In the night a passer by stopped and spoke to us. He said Deir Yassin was on everyone's lips. The Arab radio was giving news broadcasts about a major massacre that had taken place. There had been a lorry full of male villagers paraded with an armed escort through the main streets of Jerusalem before they were taken away and shot.
Copyright © 2002 Gerry Williams. All Rights Reserved.