On a beautiful spring day, when the skies of the Holy Land are tender blue and the grass is a verdant green, air-conditioned buses ferry tourists from the City of the Plain to the City in the Mountains. A small distance past the halfway point, just beyond the reconstructed Ottoman inn of Bab al-Wad, the Gate of the Valley, the bus drives by the red-painted skeletons of armored vehicles. This is where the tour guides make their routine pitch. “These vehicles are in memory of the heroic break-through of Jews relieving the blockade of Jerusalem imposed by the aggression of nine Arab states”. The number of Arab states varies with the mood of the guide and how they size up their audience.
The battle for the road to Jerusalem was a high point of the 1948 Civil war in Palestine, and it ended with the Zionist Jews of the Plain capturing the prosperous West End of Jerusalem with its white stone mansions of Arab nobles and German, Greek and Armenian merchants. In the course of these battles they also subdued the neutral, non-Zionist Jewish neighborhoods. Zionists expelled the Gentiles in a massive sweep of ethnic cleansing and contained the local Jews in the ghetto. In order to achieve this feat, they razed to the ground the Palestinian villages on their path to the city.
The rusted junk is barely an adequate backdrop for the standard Israeli narration, and they would not qualify for a realistic film production. It is a staged scene that lacks the authentic look needed by movie directors. The story of the blockade and aggression is a theater play, not a cinema script. It is an encore performance for the tourist receiving indoctrination on the non-stop trip to the Wailing Wall and the Holocaust Museum.
The war for this road was over in April 1948, weeks before Israel declared independence on 15th of May, before the hapless rag-tag units of Arab neighbors entered Palestine and saved what remained of the native population. As T.S. Elliot observed, April is the cruellest month. And so it was on that fateful April when the Palestinians were doomed to start a journey to five decades of exile. Its apotheosis was reached near the entrance to Jerusalem, where the Sacharov gardens lead to a cemetery, to a lunatic asylum and to Deir Yassin.
Death has many names. The Czechs call it Lidice, the French word is Oradur, in Vietnamese they use My Lai, for every Palestinian, it is Deir Yassin. On the night of the ninth of April 1948, the Jewish terrorist groups Etzel and Lehi attacked the peaceful village and massacred its men, women and children. I do not want to repeat the gory tale of sliced off ears, gutted bellies, raped women, torched men, bodies dumped in stone quarries or the triumphal parade of the murderers. Existentially, all massacres are similar, from Babi Yar to Chain Gang to Deir Yassin.
Yet, the Deir Yassin massacre is special for three reasons. One, it is well documented and witnessed. Other Jewish fighters from the Hagana and Palmach, Jewish scouts, Red Cross representatives and the British police of Jerusalem left complete records of the event. It was just one of many massacres of Palestinians by the Jews during the war of 1948, but none received as much attention. This is probably due to the fact that Jerusalem, the seat of the British Mandate in Palestine, was just around the corner.
Second, Deir Yassin had dire consequences, beyond its own tragic fate. The horror of the massacre facilitated the mass flight from nearby Palestinian villages and gave the Jews full control over the western approaches to Jerusalem. The flight was a prudent and rational choice for the civilian population. As I write this, my TV glares with the image of Macedonian peasants fleeing a war zone. My mother’s family escaped from a burning Minsk on June 22, 1941, and survived. My father’s family remained and perished. After the war my parents could return like other war refugees. The Palestinians, however, have not been allowed to come back, until this very day.
Three, the careers of the murderers. The commanders of the Etzel and Lehi gangs, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir eventually became Israeli prime ministers. None of them expressed any remorse, and Menahem Begin lived the last days of his life with a panoramic view of Deir Yassin from his house. No Nuremberg judges, no vengeance, no penitence, just a path of roses all the way to a Nobel Peace prize. Menahem Begin was proud of the operation, and in his letter to killers he congratulated them for fulfilling their national duty. “You are creators of Israel’s history”, he wrote. Yitzhak Shamir was also pleased that is helped to achieve his dream: to expel the nochrim (non-Jews) from the Jewish state.
The field commander of the operation, Judah Lapidot, also had quite a career. His superior, Menahem Begin, appointed him to run the campaign for the right of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel. He called for compassion and family reunion; he orchestrated the demonstrations in New York and London, with that memorable slogan ‘Let My People Go’. If you supported the right of Russian Jews to immigrate to Israel, maybe you came across this man. By then the blood stains of Deir Yassin had presumably washed off. For the political indoctrination of Russian immigrants, he even published a Russian-language ‘version’ of ‘Oh Jerusalem’, a best seller by Lapierre and Collins, expurgating the story of Deir Yassin.
But there is yet another reason why this event was historically significant. Deir Yassin demonstrated the full scope of Zionist tactics. After the mass murder became known, the Jewish leadership blamed … the Arabs. David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, announced that the Arab rogue gangs perpetrated it. When this version collapsed, the Jewish leaders began the damage control procedures. They sent an apology to Emir Abdallah. Ben Gurion publicly distanced himself and his government from the bloody massacre, saying it stained the name of every honest Jew and that it was the work of dissident terrorists. His public relations techniques remain a source of pride for the good-hearted pro-Zionist ‘liberals’ abroad.
“What a horrible, dreadful story”, a humanist Jew told me when I drove him by the remaining houses of Deir Yassin, then he added “But Ben Gurion condemned the terrorists, and they were duly punished”.
“Yes”, I responded, “they were duly punished and promoted to the highest government posts”.
Just three days after the murder, the gangs were incorporated into the emerging Israeli army, the commanders received high positions, and a general amnesty forgave their crimes. The same pattern, an initial denial, followed by apologies, and a final act of clemency and promotion, was applied after the first historically verifiable atrocity committed by Prime Minister Sharon. It was at the Palestinian village of Qibya, where Sharon’s unit dynamited houses with their inhabitants and massacred some 60 men, women and children. After the murders became public, Prime Minister Ben Gurion, at first, blamed rogue Arab gangs. When that did not wash, he blamed Arab Jews, who, he said, being Arabs by their mentality, committed the unauthorized wild raid of vengeance and killed the peasants. For Sharon, it was the usual path of roses all the way to the post of Prime Minister. It sometimes appears that to become the Prime Minister of Israel, it helps to have a massacre to your name.
The same pattern was repeated after the massacre of Kafr Kasem, where the Israeli troops lined up the local peasants and machine-gunned them down. When the denial failed, and a Communist MPs disclosed the gory details, the perpetrators were court-martialed and sentenced to long prison terms. They were out before the end of the year, while the commander of the murderers became the head of Israel Bonds. If you ever purchased Israeli Bonds, maybe you met him. I am certain he washed the blood off his hands by the time he shook yours.
Now, with the passing of 50 years, the Jewish establishment had decided to, once again, take a stab at “Deir Yassin” revisionism. The Zionist Organization of America pioneered the art of denying history and published, at the expense of American taxpayer, a booklet called ‘Deir Yassin: History of a Lie’. The ZOA revisionists have utilized all the methods of their adversaries, the ‘Holocaust deniers’: they discount the eye-witness accounts of the survivors, the Red Cross, the British police, Jewish scouts and other Jewish observers, who were present at the scene of massacre. They discount even Ben Gurion’s apology, since after all, the commanders of these gangs became in turn prime ministers of the Jewish state. For ZOA, only the testimony of the murderers has any validity. That is, if the murderers are Jews.
Still, there are just people, and probably because of them the Almighty does not wipe us off the face of the earth. There is an organization called Deir Yassin Remembered, which fights all attempts to erase the memory. They publish books, organize meetings, and they are working on a project to build a memorial at the scene of the massacre, so the innocent victims will have this last comfort, their name and the memory saved forever (Isa 56:5). It will have to do, until the surviving sons of Deir Yassin and neighboring villages return from their refugee camps to the land of their fathers.
(Mr. Israel Shamir, is one of best-known and most respected Russian Israeli writer and journalist. He wrote for Haaretz, BBC, Pravda and translated Agnon, Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Tel Aviv and writes a weekly column in the Vesti, the biggest Russian-language paper in Israel.)