Deir Yassin Remembered

Jewish journalist response to our FAQ and another view

Walter Ruby, who operates Jewish Communication Network discussion forum and, I believe, is on editorial board of LI Weekly wrote at

Now in the area of self-criticism�let me take up Deir Yassin. My first impulse was to avoid the whole discussion of this subject that popped up here in the past 24 hours. I told myself, "I don't know exactly what happened there, and neither for that matter, do the people giving the various accounts here, pro and con. I wasn't even alive yet and neither, as far as I know, were Michael, Matthew or Ari."

We are all basing our beliefs on what happened there on what fits our various political agendas. But then I had a chilling thought I couldn't dismiss, though believe me, I tried. That thought was; "I'm sure that's exactly the mental process that so many younger Germans use when confronted with the Holocaust or Japanese re: the Rape of Nanking. They know something hideous happened initiated by their own people and they just prefer not to think about it and if forced to do so, they say, 'Well, I don't really know what happened. I wasn't born yet.'" So having seen that connection and realizing that we Jews are as human as the next people and capable of the same sort of self-delusion, I asked myself, "What do you, Walter, really believe happened at Deir Yassin?" And what came out was something between the scenarios laid out here by Michael and Matthew and the absurd whitewash put forth by Morton Klein.

I believe that the Irgun and Lechi guys massacred 250-odd Palestinian civilians there. But I can't bring myself to believe that the whole thing was coldly premeditated. My sense of what really happened (without, I admit, any evidence, and without having bothered to investigate it) is something like the following; the Jewish side, in a desperate effort to break the siege of West Jerusalem, that was threatening 200,000 Jews there with the spectre of starvation, decided that Deir Yassin was a bottleneck and had to go, even if it had to be done roughly. So they sent in the revisionist forces, who were not known for their tender mercies re: Arab civilians. What ensued was a military battle in which the mindset of the Jewish forces was to wipe out the bottleneck of Deir Yassin and not to worry much about who was a combatant and who a civilian. It was ruthless and nasty and shameful from our side, but it was something less than the premeditated massacre that Matthew and Michael put forth. And something in me has a hard time believing the bit about the sexual assaults and the other gratuitous acts of savagery. To my mind's eye, those sound out of character and, if you will, un-Jewish.

Now the evidence put forth by Michael James and Matthew is quite powerful and reading it, something tells me that my own mental picture of what happened at Deir Yassin is probably much too benign. In other words, I suspect I too am engaging in a personal form of whitewashing my people�so now I'm saying the truth probably lays not halfway between Morton Klein and Michael James, but halfway between my mental image and Michael James. Again, my mental image is not a serious historical position, and I'm not putting it up here, BTW, to seriously defend it, but rather as an example of something all peoples do; that of not wanting to believe his or her own people are capable of such horrific acts of savagery and even if persuaded, not wanting to think about it very much. But of course, I know My Lai happened, that American soldiers wantonly and sadistically slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese villagers and that doesn't make me say, "I am breaking with America. I cannot be an American because of Lt. Calley." And I repeat for the record that neither Deir Yassin or My Lai equals the Holocaust even remotely. But was Deir Yassin the Holocaust in miniature? Was it in the same spirit?

Well, that's the key question and that's where I must honestly say that I am still ambivalent. I want to cling to the slightly redeeming concept that Deir Yassin was a horrible massacre that nevertheless was at least partly due to the "heat of battle" and was not premeditated in the same way as the Holocaust. I want to believe that, but must acknowledge that I don't know, because I've never bothered to investigate it. It is just too painful and too threatening for me to want to contemplate it. And in that reaction, I am no different than the young Germans or Japanese who don't want to look at what their people did during the 1930's and 40's. As long as Deir Yassin happened (and it definitely happened), then we as a people cannot afford to get smug and self-righteous when dealing with the Germans, Japanese or with Hamas. All people are capable of acts of appalling savagery and cruelty�including Jews.


Deir Yassin Remembered

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