The Truth About Deir Yassin

Today’s violence is a continuation of a long, tragic history of conflict in the Middle East. Many terrible incidents have occurred, but one that is persistently cited, particularly by anti-Israel propagandists, as an example of the Zionists’ hostility toward the Palestinians is the 1948 battle of Deir Yassin. It’s an unpleasant story, but one you should know.

In early 1948, the 150,000 Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem were under constant military pressure; the 2,500 Jews living in the Old City were victims of an Arab blockade. Jewish convoys tried to reach the city to alleviate a critical food shortage, but Arab forces, which had engaged in sporadic and unorganized ambushes since December 1947, attempted to cut off the highway linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem - the city's only supply route.

The Arabs controlled several strategic vantage points, which overlooked the highway and enabled them to fire on the convoys trying to reach the beleaguered city with supplies. Deir Yassin was situated on a hill, about 2600 feet high, which commanded a wide view of the vicinity and was located less than a mile from the suburbs of Jerusalem.

On April 6, the Haganah launched an operation to open the road to Jerusalem. The village of Deir Yassin was included on the list of Arab villages to be occupied as part of the operation. Three days later, while the Haganah was still engaged in the battle for the nearby town of Kastel, Lehi and the Irgun decided to attack Deir Yassin.

The Irgun and Lehi were underground organizations that had split from the Haganah to wage a more aggressive fight to drive the British out of Palestine. This was to be their first major attack against the Arabs.

More than 100 men from the two groups converged on Deir Yassin. Contrary to revisionist histories that the town was filled with peaceful innocents, residents and foreign troops opened fire on the attackers. One fighter described his experience:

I was among the first to enter the village....At the top of the street I saw a man in khaki clothing running ahead. I thought he was one of ours. I ran after him and told him, "advance to that house." Suddenly he turned around, aimed his rifle and shot. He was an Iraqi soldier. I was hit in the foot.

The battle was ferocious and took several hours. The Irgun suffered 41 casualties, including four dead.

Afterward, the Irgun escorted a representative of the Red Cross through the town and held a press conference, unprecedented behavior for a group that later would be accused of committing a massacre. The New York Times reported that more than 200 Arabs were killed, 40 captured and 70 women and children were released. The number of Arab dead, which was invented by an Irgun member, was accepted for 40 years. A study by Palestinian researchers from Bir Zeit University arrived at a figure of 107 Arab civilians dead and 12 wounded, in addition to 13 "fighters," evidence that the number of dead was smaller than claimed and that the village did have troops based there.

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. None of the sources specify how many women and children were killed (the Times report said it was about half the victims; their original casualty figure came from the Irgun source), but there were some among the casualties.

Some women were killed because of men who tried to disguise themselves as women. The Irgun commander reported that the attackers "found men dressed as women and therefore they began to shoot at women who did not hasten to go down to the place designated for gathering the prisoners." Another story was told by a member of the Haganah who overheard a group of Arabs from Deir Yassin who said "the Jews found out that Arab warriors had disguised themselves as women. The Jews searched the women too. One of the people being checked realized he had been caught, took out a pistol and shot the Jewish commander. His friends, crazed with anger, shot in all directions and killed the Arabs in the area."

Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi "there was no rape," but Khalidi replied, "We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews." Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, "This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror."

Unlike the reaction today of the Palestinian Authority to the murder of Jews, the Jewish Agency immediately expressed its “horror and disgust” upon learning of the civilian casualties. It also sent a letter expressing the Agency's shock and disapproval to Transjordan's King Abdullah.

Arab political leaders 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 cause Palestinians to flee.

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.

Deir Yassin remains a staple of anti-Israel propaganda because it was unique.