‘On This Day’ 1948: Jewish Militias Massacre more than 100 Men, Women & Children in Palestinian Village of Deir Yassin
Whenever today’s Israelis rail against the barbarism of Palestinian terrorism, it merits noting that it was the fathers and grandfathers, the mothers and the grandmothers of these same Israelis who often resorted to unspeakable acts of terrorism in service of their ultimate goal of establishing an independent Jewish state– the state of Israel– on Palestinian land. The only people who deny that Israel was not built upon a foundation of terrorism are those who are ignorant of the Jewish state’s history.
Key to the establishment of Israel was getting the undesirables to leave Palestine. This meant the British, colonial rulers of the territory, as well as the indigenous Palestinian population. To deal with the British, right-wing Zionist militant groups like the Irgun and the Lehi (better known as the Stern Gang) engaged in a vicious terror campaign against the colonial rulers. Letter bombings, car bombings, hostage taking (with captives sometimes abused), and assassinations were all carried out with the goal of forcing the British to quit Palestine. Lord Moyne, the British Secretary of State, was assassinated by the Stern Gang in Cairo in 1944.
At the time, the Stern Gang was under the command of Yitzhak Shamir, who would one day become the Prime Minister of Israel. But the most horrific act of Jewish terrorism against British rule occurred on July 22, 1946 when an Irgun leader and another future Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, masterminded and carried out the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, an attack that killed 91 people and wounded 46 more.
The terrorism worked. By 1948, the British had withdrawn from Palestine. All that stood between the Zionists and the realization of their dream of an independent homeland were a million or so Palestinians living on land the Jews called Israel. “Among ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both people in this country,” said Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Land Fund in 1940, “and there is no way besides trasferring the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village, a single tribe.”
As it became more and more obvious that the British would soon withdraw, the United Nations proposed in UN Resolution 181 that Palestine be divided into two states– one Jewish, the other Arab. The city of Jerusalem, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, was to belong to neither side. When the Arabs rejected Resolution 181, war erupted.
Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village populated by several hundred Arabs. It was strategically located on a hill overlooking the main highway to Jerusalem; at that time there was fierce fighting to control roads and highways. But Deir Yassin residents enjoyed friendly relations with their Jewish neighbors, especially those in the Orthodox settlement of Givat Shaul, located across a valley from their village. In fact, the people of Deir Yassin even had a peace agreement with Givat Shaul in which both villages looked out for the other, notifying them in case their enemies approached. Moreover, Deir Yassin residents resisted– once with deadly results– whenever Arab fighters tried to set up camp there.
But during the first week of April, 1948, Jewish vehicles traveling along the road to Tel Aviv came under attack from Deir Yassin. It was a common Arab tactic at the time to attack traffic on the highways that were the lifelines of the Zionist war effort. In a bid to secure the strategic position that Deir Yassin occupied, the Haganah– later to become the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)– authorized an Irgun/Stern Gang attack on the village, with the condition that the attackers occupied it and did not kill women, children or prisoners. As you will soon see, the last part of this order was completely disregarded.
On April 8, 1948, the day before the assault on Deir Yassin, the attackers gathered for a festive briefing at Givat Shaul. There, Irgun commander Mordechai Raanan once again reiterated that women, children, and the elderly were not to be killed and that the village was to be warned of the impending attack by loudspeaker so as to provide an opportunity for residents to flee. A road leading to the Arab village of Ayn Karim was to be left open for the express purpose of allowing such an escape.
But when the assault on Deir Yassin began on Tuesday, April 9, things initially unraveled for the attackers. The loudspeaker truck that was supposed to warn the villagers to flee didn’t work. Instead of evacuating, villagers stood their ground and resisted the assault. They were unaware that the Jews meant to drive them from their homes and occupy the village; they thought the attack was merely a routine raid. Arab snipers made the Zionist advance extremely difficult. Many of the Jews’ weaponry also failed to properly function.
The troops themselves were largely green as well. It was this lack of experience, combined with the absence of heavy support, that caused the Jews to resort to fierce house-to-house attacks. Knowing that storming into homes through the front door amounted to suicide, they tossed grenades into houses, killing whoever was inside.
Sometimes the attackers did enter homes. One 11-year-old survivor recalled:
“As soon as the sun rose, there was knocking at the door, but we did not answer. They blew the door down, entered and stated searching the place; they got to the store room, and took us out one by one. They shot the son-in-law, and when one of his daughters screamed, they shot her too. They then called my brother Mahmoud and shot him in our presence, and when my mother screamed and bent over my brother, carrying my little sister Khadra, who was still being breast fed, they shot my mother too. We all started screaming and crying, but were told that if we did not stop, they would shoot us all. They then lined us up, shot as us, and left.”
Some of the Jewish attackers also allegedly raped women and girls in the village. Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling of the British Palestine Police Force wrote:
There is… no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one woman who gave her age as 104 who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts. Women had bracelets torn from their arms and rings from their fingers and parts of some of the women’s ears were severed in order to remove earrings.
By noon that day, the fighting was over and the Jews emerged victorious. More than 100 villagers surrendered and were taken prisoner. These survivors, among whom were many women and children, were loaded onto trucks and driven through the streets of West Jerusalem. Jews viciously mocked and jeered them, stoning them and spitting at them.
Meir Pa’il, an intelligence officer with the Palmach, an elite Haganah unit, was in Deir Yassin on April 9, just after the fighting ended. He wrote that he “started hearing shooting in the village. The fighting was over, yet there was the sound of firing of all kinds from different houses… sporadic firing, not like you would hear when they clean a house.” Pa’il said his fellow Jews were “full of lust for murder”:
“[They] were going about the village robbing and stealing everything: Chickens, radio sets, sugar, money, gold and more… Each dissident walked about the village dirty with blood and proud of the number of persons he had killed. Their lack of education and intelligence as compared to our soldiers [Haganah] was apparent… In one of the houses at the center of the village were assembled some 200 women and small children. The women sat quietly and didn’t utter a word. When I arrived, the “commander” explained that they intended to kill all of them. [But] in the evening I heard that the women and children had been transported and released in Musrara.”
The Orthodox Jews of Givat Shaul were largely responsible for saving the lives of many of Deir Yassin’s survivors. Still, many unarmed, innocent civilians were executed along with Arab fighters who had surrendered. Meir Pa’il recounted that “in the quarry near Givat Shaul I saw the five Arabs they had paraded in the streets of the city. They had been murdered and were lying on top of the other… I saw with my own eyes several families murdered with their women, children, and old people, their corpses were lying on top of each other.”
Eliahu Arbel, a Haganah officer, arrived in Deir Yassin on April 10:
“On the following day, after the operation, I inspected the village, in accordance with the order of General Shaltiel. Accompanied by an officer of the attacking unit, I saw the horrors that the fighters had created. I saw bodies of women and children, who were murdered in their houses in cold blood by gun fire, with no signs of battle and not as the result of blowing up the houses. “From my experience I know well that there is no war without killing, and that not only combatants get killed. I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin and therefore I cannot forget what happened there.”
Even after the battle for Deir Yassin, survivors who had hidden or pretended to be dead were killed by Stern Gang members. Some survivors fared better– 55 children orphaned by the Jewish massacre who were abandoned at the gates of Old Jerusalem were taken under the wing of Hind Husseini, a prominent Palestinian matriarch. Husseini converted her large family home into an orphanage and established a foundation to fund it. It still exists today.
On April 11, 1948, Jacques de Reynier, who headed the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine, visited Deir Yassin with his German assistant, Dr. Alfred Engel. De Reynier recounted the horrors he witnessed in the village, including a dead woman “who must have been eight months pregnant, hit in the stomach, with powder burns on her dress indicating she’d been shot point-blank.” The Frenchman ran into an Irgun “cleaning-up team” hard at work when he arrived:
“The gang [the Irgun detachment] was wearing country uniforms with helmets. All of them were young, some even adolescents, men and women, armed to the teeth: revolvers, machine-guns, hand grenades, and also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the “cleaning up” team, that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously.
I tried to go into a house. A dozen soldiers surrounded me, their machine-guns aimed at my body, and their officer forbade me to move … I then flew into one of the most towering rages of my life, telling these criminals what I thought of their conduct, threatening them with everything I could think of, and then pushed them aside and went into the house
…I found some bodies, cold. Here the “cleaning up” had been done with machine-guns, then hand grenades. It had been finished off with knives, anyone could see that … as I was about to leave, I heard something like a sigh. I looked everywhere, turned over all the bodies, and eventually found a little foot, still warm. It was a little girl of ten, mutilated by a hand grenade, but still alive.”
Dr. Engel wrote:
“In the houses there were dead, in all about a hundred men, women and children. It was terrible. I did not see any signs of defilement, mutilation, or rape. … It was clear that they (the attackers) had gone from house to house and shot the people at close range. I was a doctor in the German army for five years, in World War I, but I had not seen such a horrifying spectacle.”
All told, 107 Deir Yassin villagers were massacred in the Zionist attack. A dozen more were wounded. Only four of the attackers were killed, with 35 more wounded.
The Deir Yassin massacre, and attacks on other Arab towns and villages in Palestine, succeeded in terrorizing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into fleeing their homes, never to return. This is exactly what the Zionists wanted. Haganah loudspeakers mounted on vehicles played recordings of screaming Arab women along with exhortations for Arabs to flee for their lives or face a similar fate as the villagers of Deir Yassin.
Ultimately, some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled either by force or fear of force. This fact is conveniently ignored by today’s apologists for continued Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. But David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, was much more honest. He once admitted:
“When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves– that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves… But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
Ben-Gurion also presciently noted that “a people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.”
By 1949, the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Shaul Bet was built where Deir Yassin once stood, one of 418 Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. Even some Jews found this reprehensible. Scholars Martin Buber, Cecil Roth, Werner Senator and Ernst Simon wrote to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, asking him to leave Deir Yassin uninhabited. The village, they said, was “infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world, and the whole world.”
But outside of the Arab world, Deir Yassin has been almost completely forgotten, as has the fact that Israel was founded on terrorism and ethnic cleansing– for what else can you call the expulsion of three quarters of a million people from their homeland but ethnic cleansing? The irony of a people who just barely survived the horrors of the Holocaust committing their own campaign of ethnic cleansing was apparently lost upon the perpetrators of Deir Yassin and the many, many other Zionist crimes against humanity.
Of course, many prominent Zionists and their American apologists have worked hard to deny the horrific reality of Deir Yassin and countless other Israeli crimes against humanity. But they will not succeed. The historical record is pregnant with evidence of Zionist atrocities. Try as they may to erase this record, it stands as a testament to the brutality and barbarism inherent in the creation of the Jewish state, lending credibility to those who argue against its legitimacy.
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