Deir Yassin Revisited
In an effort to spoil Israel's birthday celebration, Palestinians are conducting a campaign to smear the Jewish State by publicizing their distorted version of one of the singular events of the 1948 war, the battle at Deir Yassin. To combat this propaganda, it is important to know the context in which the attack occurred and what really happened.
The United Nations resolved that Jerusalem would be an international city apart from the Arab and Jewish states demarcated in the partition resolution. The 150,000 Jewish inhabitants were under constant military pressure; the 2,500 Jews living in the Old City were victims of an Arab blockade that lasted five months before they were forced to surrender on May 29, 1948. Prior to the surrender, and throughout the siege on Jerusalem, Jewish convoys tried to reach the city to alleviate the food shortage, which, by April, had become critical.
Meanwhile, the Arab forces, which had engaged in sporadic and unorganized ambushes since December 1947, began to make an organized attempt to cut off the highway linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem - the city's only supply route. The Arabs controlled several strategic vantage points, including the villages of Kastel and Deir Yassin, which overlooked the highway and enabled them to fire on the convoys trying to reach the beleaguered city with supplies.
On April 7, Haganah commander David Shaltiel wrote to the leaders of the Lehi and Irgun:
"I learn that you plan an attack on Deir Yassin. I wish to point out that the capture of Deir Yassin and its holding are one stage in our general plan. I have no objection to your carrying out the operation provided you are able to hold the village. If you are unable to do so I warn you against blowing up the village which will result in its inhabitants abandoning it and its ruins and deserted houses being occupied by foreign forces....Furthermore, if foreign forces took over, this would upset our general plan for establishing an airfield."
The Irgun decided to attack Deir Yassin on April 9, while the Haganah was still engaged in the battle for Kastel. This was the first major Irgun attack against the Arabs. Previously, the Irgun and Lehi had concentrated their attacks against the British.
According to Irgun leader Menachem Begin, the assault was carried out by 100 members of that organization; other authors say it was as many as 132 men from both groups. Begin stated that a small open truck fitted with a loudspeaker was driven to the entrance of the village before the attack and broadcast a warning to civilians to evacuate the area, which many did. Most writers say the warning was never issued because the truck with the loudspeaker rolled into a ditch before it could broadcast the warning.
Contrary to revisionist histories that the town was filled with peaceful innocents, residents opened fire on the attackers. The battle was ferocious and took several hours. The Irgun suffered 41 casualties, including four dead.
Surprisingly, after the "massacre," the Irgun escorted a representative of the Red Cross through the town and held a press conference. The New York Times' subsequent description of the battle was essentially the same as Begin's. The Times said more than 200 Arabs were killed, 40 captured and 70 women and children were released. No hint of a massacre appeared in the report. "Paradoxically," Dan Kurzman wrote in Genesis 1948, (OH: New American Library, Inc., 1970), "the Jews say about 250 out of 400 village inhabitants [were killed], while Arab survivors say only 110 of 1,000." A study by Bir Zeit University, based on discussions with each family from the village, arrived at a figure of 107 Arab casualties (Ha'aretz, September 9, 1991).
In fact, the attackers left open an escape corridor from the village and more than 200 residents left unharmed. After the remaining Arabs feigned surrender and then fired on the Jewish troops, some Jews killed Arab soldiers and civilians indiscriminately. Arab men disguised as women were found among the bodies.
The Jewish Agency, upon learning of the attack, immediately expressed its "horror and disgust." It also sent a letter expressing the Agency's shock and disapproval to Transjordan's King Abdullah.
The Arab Higher Committee hoped exaggerated reports about a "massacre" at Deir Yassin would shock the population of the Arab countries into bringing pressure on their governments to intervene in Palestine. Instead, the immediate impact was to stimulate a new Palestinian exodus.
Just four days after the reports from Deir Yassin were published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. This massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by those who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin. Moreover, despite attacks such as this against the Jewish community in Palestine, in which more than 500 Jews were killed in the first four months after the partition decision alone, Jews did not flee.
The Palestinians knew, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the Jews were not trying to annihilate them; otherwise, they would not have been allowed to evacuate Tiberias, Haifa or any of the other towns captured by the Jews. Moreover, the Palestinians could find sanctuary in nearby states. The Jews, however, had no place to run had they wanted to. They were willing to fight to the death for their country. It came to that for many, because the Arabs were interested in annihilating the Jews, as Secretary-General of the Arab League Azzam Pasha made clear in an interview with the BBC on the eve of the war (May 15, 1948): "The Arabs intend to conduct a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."
References to Deir Yassin have remained a staple of anti-Israel propaganda for decades because the incident was unique.