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Today is the 58^th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre.

*Deir Yassin Day 2006*

Today is the 58^th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre.

Early in the morning of 9^th April, 1948, commandos of the Irgun (headed
by Menachem Begin) and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a beautiful
Arab village with cut stone houses located on the west side of
Jerusalem. It was several weeks before the end of the British Mandate
and the declaration of the State of Israel. The village lay outside the
area to be assigned by the United Nations to the Jewish state; it had a
peaceful reputation; it was even said by a Jewish newspaper to have
driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the
corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so, with the knowledge of the
mainstream Jewish defence force, the Haganah, it was to be conquered and
held.

In spite of being better armed, the two Jewish gangs were at first
unable to conquer the village. But after they elicited the help of a
small band of Palmach troops (the elite fighters of the Haganah), Deir
Yassin soon fell. The Palmach soldiers left; it was then that the
massacre began. That evening over tea and biscuits, in the neighbouring
Jewish settlement of Givat Shaul, gang members told foreign
correspondents that over 200 Arabs were killed and forty taken prisoner.
This was reported in the /New York Times/ the very next day (4/10/48,
p.6). The terrorists claimed to have lost four of their own forces. They
boasted of the “battle” but made no mention of the male Palestinians
whom they had loaded onto trucks, paraded through some Jewish sections
of Jerusalem, and then taken back to a stone quarry between Givat Shaul
and Deir Yassin and shot to death. On 13^th April the /New York Times/
reported that 254 Arab men, women, and children had been killed at Deir
Yassin; there was no mention of prisoners.

The official Zionist leaders of the Haganah denounced the dissidents of
the Irgun and the Stern Gang accusing them of massacre, robbery, looting
and barbarism. Ben Gurion even sent an apology to King Abdullah. But
this horrific act served the future state of Israel well. As Begin said,
“Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of ‘Irgun
butchery’, were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for
their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened,
uncontrollable stampede.

“The political and economic significance of this development can hardly
be over estimated.” (/The Revolt/, p.164) While modern historians argue
that Begin’s claims were exaggerated and that the actual number of Arabs
killed was closer to 100, they all agree that the massacre at Deir
Yassin marked the beginning of the depopulation of over 400 Arab
villages and the exile of over 700,000 Palestinians.

In spite of protests by Martin Buber and other noted scholars, within a
year the village was repopulated with orthodox Jewish immigrants from
Poland, Rumania and Slovakia. Its cemetery was bulldozed and its name
was wiped off the map.

*Deir Yassin Today*

Although virtually all six million Palestinians in the world know of
Deir Yassin, few have ever been there. The site is not identified on
post-1948 maps of Israel. But it is not difficult to find. The central
part of Deir Yassin is a cluster of buildings now used as a mental
hospital. To the east lies the industrial area of Givat Shaul; to the
north lies Har Hamenuchot (the Jewish cemetery), to the west, built into
the side of the mountain on which Deir Yassin is located is Har Nof, a
new settlement of orthodox Jews. To the south is a steep valley terraced
and containing part of the Jerusalem Forest. On the other side of that
valley, less than a mile from Deir Yassin, and in clear view of it, are
Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem.

While not difficult to find, Deir Yassin today is not easy to visit.
There are few places to park. Admittance to the mental hospital grounds
is understandably restricted. There are no signs, no plaques, no
memorials of any kind. The cemetery is largely gone; the ruins of the
/deir/ (monastery) are unmarked; and the quarry from which the residents
made a living and in which the bodies of those who were massacred were
piled up and burned is likely buried under a fuel storage depot on the
south side of the mountain. The orthodox Jews living in the area are not
friendly to outsiders and either do not know or refuse to acknowledge
any history of Deir Yassin. Not surprisingly, picture taking invites
suspicion and criticism.

It is unfortunate that Palestinians do not visit Yad Vashem. They argue
that they were not involved in the Holocaust and resent hearing again
about Jews as victims of Nazis when the whole world has so long failed
to recognise Palestinians as victims of Zionists. They also believe that
the Holocaust was (mis)used as a justification or rationalisation for
the creation of the state of Israel and for the conquest and
confiscation of their homes and villages. Nevertheless, it is
unfortunate because from Yad Vashem, looking north is a spectacular
panoramic view of Deir Yassin. The Holocaust museum is beautiful and the
message “never to forget man’s inhumanity to man” is timeless. The
children’s museum is particularly heart wrenching: in a dark room filled
with candles and mirrors the names of Jewish children who perished in
the Holocaust are read aloud with their places of birth. Even the most
callous person is brought to tears. Upon leaving this portion of the
museum a visitor is facing north and looking directly at Deir Yassin.
There are no markers, no plaques, no memorials, and no mention from any
tour guide. But for those who know what they are looking at, the irony
is breathtaking.

* *

*/Deir Yassin Remembered/*

Part of the struggle for self determination by Palestinians has been to
tell the truth about Palestinians as victims of Zionism. For too long
their history has been denied: a further instrument to oppress and
dehumanise Palestinians inside Israel, inside the occupied territories,
and outside in their diaspora. Some progress has been made. Westerners
now realise that Palestinians, as a people, do exist. And they have come
to acknowledge that during the creation of the state of Israel thousands
of Palestinians were killed and over 700,000 were driven or frightened
from their homes and lands on which they had lived for centuries.

In keeping with Simon Wiesenthal’s observation that “Hope lives when
people remember,” the suffering of the Jews has been rightly
acknowledged and memorialised. But there are few memorials for
Palestinians who died in 1948. Their history, in which the massacre at
Deir Yassin is a very significant event, has been largely buried and
forgotten. And yet, like the descendants of the victims in Armenia
(1915-17), in the Soviet Union (1929-53), in Nazi Germany (1933-45), in
China (1949-52, 1957-60, and 1966-76), and in Cambodia (1975-79), the
descendants of Palestinians want the world to remember what they
suffered, what they lost and why they died. In the spirit of
reconciliation essential for the success of any peace process, the
organisers of /Deir Yassin Remembered /believe it is appropriate for the
suffering of Palestinians likewise to be acknowledged and memorialised.

But while the main purpose of /Deir Yassin Remembered/ is to build a
suitable memorial, the organisation has a broader, more humanitarian
objective. It will work to eliminate prejudice against Palestinians and
to promote the human side of a people who have been the victims of the
Zionist colonisation of their land and of the apartheid conditions under
which they now live. The organisers will publicise the building of the
memorial, through press releases and documentary presentations, in an
effort to heighten awareness, particularly on the part of the public,
concerning Palestinian grievances, and thus enhance support for a just
and durable resolution to the conflict.

*/Deir Yassin Day /** *

Since the year 2000 the Deir Yassin massacre has been commemorated
around the world. In the United States, Australia, Italy and, most
importantly, at the site of the village itself in Jerusalem, the
massacre at Deir Yassin and the resulting dispossession and exile of the
Palestine people has been remembered.

But it is in the UK that Deir Yassin has been most widely remembered. In
countless towns and villages, in small churches and draughty village
halls up and down the land, ordinary folk have gathered together to
remember. Sometimes it has been an elaborate, staged commemoration,
sometimes just a few friends gathered together to light a candle and say
a few prayers. But always there is only one purpose: to remember Deir
Yassin and the Palestinian people.

It is in London that the largest and most elaborate commemorations have
taken place. Each year since 2000, first /Deir Yassin Remembered/ and
now the special newly formed committee, /Deir Yassin Day/, has organized
large, creative commemorations which have resounded around the world.
And there was none bigger than the year 2001 at the Peacock Theatre in
London.

This, the 56^th anniversary of the massacre, was a creative evening of
readings, poems, songs and drama with many famous British and
international performers taking part and with Reem Kelani giving voice
to Palestinian experience and memory. There were two dramatic pieces:
the first, */Friday Morning /*is recreated this evening. Set in Deir
Yassin on that Friday morning in April 1948, a father is taken outside
to be shot while his wife and children sing to drown out the sounds of
his execution. The other dramatic piece was */Exodus/* in which
Palestinians, many from the London community, told their stories of
exile and dispossession.

There was weeping in the audience that night as members of the London
Palestinian community saw, for the first time ever, their story
portrayed. And Jews were moved, too. Firstly, as they, many also for the
first time, encountered Palestinian history and experience, secondly as
they witnessed the Palestinian response to what was being enacted on
stage, and finally, as they saw and heard images from a history so
reminiscent of their own. That father dragged from his home in Deir
Yassin could so easily have been a surrendered ghetto fighter in Warsaw
in 1941, and that bourgeois /Madame/, in her now-bedraggled fur coat
trudging the road out of Jaffa and into exile, was nothing if not a
Berliner boarding a train for Riga in 1942. / /

As Reem finished her last song - an affirmation of Palestinian longing
to return - Rabbi John Rayner, Fr. Michael Prior and Sheikh Zaki Badawi
– a scholarly Jewish Rabbi, a rebellious Irish priest, and a gentle
Muslim cleric - took the stage for the final moment of commemoration.
Each in turn moved forward to remember Deir Yassin. As Rabbi Rayner
affirmed, “/having looked into the tragic past, we wish to look forward
to a better future, and resolve to do what we can to bring it about”./

As Zaki concluded his remarks, they left the stage. A few seconds
passed, and the lights went up to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Sober but
uplifting, it pointed to a better future as the audience made their way
in silence to the exits. There were no curtain calls, no bows, no
bouquets. On that night at least, all eyes were on Deir Yassin and the
Palestinian people.

Five years on and there has been no better future but much has changed.
That night’s hope for reconciliation has long gone - there have been too
many disappointments and too many deaths and all that seems left is
resistance and defiance. Those three men are also gone - Michael in July
2004, John in September 2005 and Zaki in January 2006. But they are not
forgotten. We at /Deir Yassin Remembered/ and at /Deir Yassin Day/ will
remember Michael Prior, John Rayner and Zaki Badawi. We will remember
that night in April 2001 and the words they spoke, but most of all, we
will remember Deir Yassin.

God Bless the Palestinian people.

Contacts: Deir Yassin Remembered UK Contact: Paul Eisen. 020 7607-6035
paul@eisen.demon.co.uk <mailto:paul@eisen.demon.co.uk>

US Contact – Dan McGowan McGowan@HWS.edu <mailto:mcgowan@hws.edu>

Deir Yassin Day UK contact: 07946308168 dyd@gogglemail.com
<mailto:dyd@gogglemail.com>
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