Sunday, May 4, 2003
By SUZANNE TRAVERS
For Palestinians whose parents were forced to flee their villages as the state of Israel was created in 1948, Deir Yassin is a name they have known all their lives.
Early on the morning of April 9, 1948, two groups of Jewish fighters attacked the village, killing more than 100 of its 700 inhabitants. Families were lined up against walls and shot; women were beaten and raped.
Abbas Hamideh's father, who was 12 and lived in Deir Yassin at the time, lost 34 members of his immediate family that day. Hamideh, who lives in Yonkers, was one of about 50 Palestinians who commemorated the massacre at Toros Restaurant in Clifton Saturday.
"I think it's the single most important piece of 20th-century Palestinian history. It's something that virtually 100 percent of Palestinians know about," said Daniel McGowan, executive director of the parent organization, Deir Yassin Remembered, and a professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.
The destruction of Deir Yassin marked the beginning of the depopulation of some 400 Arab villages and the exile of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their lands to make room for Jews fleeing Eastern Europe after World War II. For many it is a symbol of the price Palestinians paid in the formation of the Israeli state.
Yet few markers exist to memorialize the village and the people who died there. Though the site rests in what is now western Jerusalem, within sight of the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, no commemorative markers exist for Deir Yassin. The sturdy limestone buildings that once comprised the tiny village now house a mental hospital, McGowan said.
Led by Summer Sharaf of North Brunswick, who is working to create a New Jersey chapter of the nonprofit group Deir Yassin Remembered, the dinner was a fund-raiser for a Deir Yassin memorial in South Paterson, home to one of the largest Palestinian populations in the United States.
Sharaf said she recently sent a proposal to Paterson Mayor Jose "Joey" Torres about asking that a Deir Yassin memorial site be allowed in Paterson, and is awaiting a response.
The commemoration at the restaurant on Hazel Street in Clifton, bordering the heavily Arab neighborhood of South Paterson, was one of 30 to take place this year. Representatives of local Arab-American organizations were among the 50 attendees, who dined on platters of eggplant and hummus appetizers and chicken and lamb kebabs. Pipecleaners of red, white, black and green, the colors of the Palestinian flag, were twisted into a muted decoration at each place setting.
Wayne residents Dr. Saleh Khaddash and his wife, Duha, also a doctor, attended with their sons.
Now that 55 years have passed since his parents were forced to leave their village, Saleh Khaddash said it's time for a permanent memorial.
"It's very important. For us, we know the thing. But for our kids ... it's important we keep it in their minds what's Deir Yassin."
Normal Finklestein, DePaul University professor of political science and a son of Holocaust survivors who also spoke at the dinner, said, "I think there's a valuing to honoring the dead. I don't think anyone's suffering should be forgotten or in vain. It's not a dead issue. The fundamental injustice has not been acknowledged."
As for Hamideh's father, he survived Deir Yassin, "but he couldn't survive the second intifadah," his son said.
The elder Hamideh died at an Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah on the way to the hospital for kidney dialysis in February 2001.
Reach Suzanne Travers at (973) 569-7167.