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Deir Yassin massacre

Deir Yassin today, part of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, an Israeli psychiatric hospital.
Participants Irgun, Lehi, Haganah, Arab villagers
Location Deir Yassin, then part of Palestine, now part of Israel
Date April 9, 1948
Result Around 107 villagers and four militiamen killed; the village expropriated by Jewish forces.

The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Irgun and Lehi Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, a Palestinian-Arab village of roughly 600 people.[1] The invasion occurred as Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.[2]

Around 107 villagers, including women and children, were killed. Some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes.[3] Several were taken prisoner and may have been killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem, though accounts vary.[4] Four of the attackers died, with around 35 injured.[5] The killings were condemned by the leadership of the Haganah, the Jewish community's main paramilitary force, and by the area's two chief rabbis. The Jewish Agency for Israel sent King Abdullah of Jordan a letter of apology, which he rebuffed.[2]

The massacre became a pivotal event in the Arab-Israeli conflict for its demographic and military consequences. The narrative was embellished and used by various parties to attack each other—by the Palestinians to besmirch Palestine's Jewish community, and later Israel; by the Haganah to play down their own role in the affair; and later by the Israeli Left to accuse the Irgun and Lehi of violating the Jewish principle of tohar hanashek (purity of arms), thus blackening Israel's name around the world.[6] News of the killings sparked terror within the Palestinian community, encouraging them to flee from their towns and villages in the face of Jewish troop advances, and it strengthened the resolve of Arab governments to intervene, which they did five weeks later by invading Palestine, following Israel's declaration of independence on May 14.[7]




Political and military situation

The UN's Corpus Separatum proposal for Jerusalem included Deir Yassin.

The invasion of Deir Yassin took place after the United Nations proposed on November 29, 1947 (UN Resolution 181) that Palestine should be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish one. Jerusalem was to belong to neither state, but was to be administered separately; Deir Yassin lay within the boundaries of the proposed plan for Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the proposal, and civil war broke out. British rule in Palestine ended on May 14, 1948, and Israel declared its independence that day. Several Arab armies invaded at midnight on May 15, triggering the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In the months leading up to the end of British rule, in a phase of the civil war known as "The Battle of [the] Roads,"[8] the Arab League-sponsored Arab Liberation Army (ALA)—composed of Palestinians and other Arabs—attacked Jewish traffic on major roads in an effort to isolate the Jewish communities from each other. The ALA managed to seize several strategic vantage points along the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—Jerusalem's sole supply route and link to the western side of the city where 16% of all Jews in Palestine lived—and began firing on convoys traveling to the city. By March 1948, the road was cut off and Jerusalem was under siege.

In response, the Haganah launched Operation Nachshon to break the siege. On April 6, in an effort to secure strategic positions, the Haganah and its strike force, the Palmach, attacked al-Qastal, a village two kilometers north of Deir Yassin overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.[9] On April 9, Irgun and Lehi forces attacked nearby Deir Yassin.[9]

Deir Yassin

A map from the 1870s shows the location of the village.

Deir Yassin was a Palestinian-Arab village of several hundred residents, all Muslim, living in 144 houses.[10] The International Red Cross reported that there were 400 residents; Yoav Gelber writes 610, citing the British mandatory authority figures; and Menachem Begin's biographer, Eric Silver, 800 to 1,000.[1] It was situated on a hill west of Jerusalem 800 meters above sea level, overlooking the main highway entering Jerusalem.[11] The village was relatively prosperous, thanks to the excavation of limestone from the village quarries, which allowed the residents to make a good living from stone-cutting. By most accounts, they lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors in nearby villages, particularly those in Givat Shaul, an Orthodox community just across the valley, some of whom reportedly tried to help the Deir Yassin villagers during the Irgun-Lehi invasion.[12]

On January 20, 1948, the villagers met with leaders of the Givat Shaul community to form a peace pact. The Deir Yassin villagers agreed to inform Givat Shaul should Palestinian militiamen appear in the village, by hanging out certain types of laundry during the day—two white pieces with a black piece in the middle—and at night signaling three dots with a flashlight and placing three lanterns in a certain place. In return, patrols from Givat Shaul guaranteed safe passage to Deir Yassin residents, in vehicles or on foot, passing through their neighborhood on the way to Jerusalem.[13] Yoma Ben-Sasson, Haganah commander in Givat Shaul, said after the village had been captured that, "there was not even one incident between Deir Yassin and the Jews."[14]

Arab militia

Arab militiamen had tried to set up camp in the village, leading to a firefight that saw one villager killed. Just before January 28, Abd al Qadir had arrived with 400 men and tried to recruit some villagers, but the elders voiced their opposition and the men moved on. The leader of the village, the mukhtar, was summoned to Jerusalem to explain to the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the Palestinian-Arab leadership, what the village's relationship was with the Jews: he told them the villagers and the Jews lived in peace. No steps were taken against him, and he was not asked to cancel the peace pact.[15] On February 13, an armed gang of Arabs arrived to attack Givat Shaul, but the Deir Yassin villagers saw them off, the result of which was that the gang killed all the village's sheep. On March 16, the AHC sent a delegation to the village to request that it host a group of Iraqi and Syrian irregulars to guard it. The villagers said no then, and again on April 4,[16] though Irgun fighters said they did encounter at least two foreign militiamen during the April 9 invasion.

The view that the relationship between Deir Yassin and its neighbors was invariably peaceful is disputed by Yehuda Lapidot (underground name, "Nimrod"), the Irgun's second-in-command of the operation to take the village. He writes that there had been occasional skirmishes between Deir Yassin and Givat Shaul residents, and that on April 3, shots had been fired from Deir Yassin toward the Jewish villages of Bet Hakerem and Yefe Nof. He writes that the village was defended by 100 armed men, that ditches had been dug around it, that Iraqi and Palestinian guerrillas were stationed there, and that there was a guard force stationed by the village entrance.[17] Morris writes that it is possible some militiamen were stationed in the village, but the evidence is far from definitive, in his view.[18] In Gelber's view, it is unlikely that the peace pact between Deir Yassin and Givat Shaul continued to hold in April, given the intensity of hostilities between the Arab and Jewish communities elsewhere. He writes that shots had been exchanged on April 2 between Deir Yassin and several Jewish communities. Over the next few days, the Jewish community at Motza and Jewish traffic on the road to Tel Aviv came under fire from the village. On April 8, Deir Yassin youth took part in the defence of the Arab village of al-Qastal, which the Jews had invaded days earlier: the names of several Deir Yassin residents appeared on a list of wounded compiled by the British Palestine police.[19]

Irgun and Lehi

Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun at the time of the attack, though not involved in it, became Israel's sixth prime minister.

The Jewish forces that entered Deir Yassin belonged in the main to two extremist, underground, paramilitary groups, the Irgun (Etzel) (National Military Organization) and the Lehi (Freedom Fighters of Israel), also known as the Stern Gang, both aligned with the right-wing revisionist Zionist movement.

Formed in 1931, Irgun was a militant group that broke away from the mainstream Jewish militia, the Haganah. During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, in which Palestinian Arabs rose up against the British mandate authorities in protest at mass Jewish immigration into the country, Irgun's tactics had included bus and marketplace bombings, condemned by both the British and the Jewish Agency. Lehi, an Irgun splinter group, was formed in 1940, following Irgun's decision to declare a truce with the British during World War Two. Lehi subsequently carried out a series of assassinations designed to force the British out of Palestine. In April 1948, it was estimated that the Irgun had 300 fighters in Jerusalem, and Lehi around 100.[20]

A third group that took part, though to a lesser extent, was the Palmach, the armed wing of the Haganah, whose leadership was aligned with the political Left (see Mapai). Morris writes that two Palmach squads evacuated the wounded, and helped to invade and secure some of the villagers' houses. When the Irgun and Lehi fighters ran low on ammunition, they obtained thousands of rounds from the Haganah. Haganah squads also provided covering fire, and fired on villagers fleeing south towards Ayn Karim.[21]

Battle plans

Decision to attack

David Shaltiel, Haganah commander in Jerusalem, approved the attack.[22]

Lapidot writes that the attack on the village was important for two reasons. Firstly, in the view of Irgun and Lehi, Deir Yassin posed a threat to Jewish neigborhoods and the main road to the coastal plain. Secondly, he writes that it was the first time Jewish forces had gone on the offensive, as opposed to responding to attacks. It would show the Arabs that the Jews had become proactive and that they intended to fight for Jerusalem.[17]

Eric Silver writes that Irgun and Lehi commanders approached David Shaltiel, the Haganah commander in Jerusalem, for approval to attack the village. He was initially reluctant, because the villagers had signed a non-aggression pact, and suggesting attacking Ein Karem instead.[23] The Lehi and Irgun commanders complained that the proposed mission would be too hard for them, and Shaltiel ultimately yielded on condition that the attackers remained in the village rather than leaving it empty, in case it became an Arab military base.[24] His approval was met with resistance. Meir Pa'il, an intelligence officer with the Palmach, the Haganah's strike force, objected to violating the peace pact with the village, but Shaltiel maintained that he had no power to stop the guerrillas. Yitzchak Levi proposed that the inhabitants be notified, but Shaltiel refused to endanger the operation by warning them.[25]

Planning meetings

Morris writes that it was agreed during planning meetings that the residents be expelled.[18] Lehi further proposed that any villagers who failed to flee be killed in order to terrify the rest of the country's Arabs,[18] "to show what happens when the IZL [Irgun] and the Lehi set out together."[26] Most of the fighters at the meetings, from both the Irgun and Lehi, favored killing the male villagers, but the Irgun command, including Menachem Begin, rejected those proposals.[26] According to Yehuda Lapidot of the Irgun, the troops were specifically ordered not to kill women, children, or prisoners.[27] Dov Joseph, head of the Jerusalem Emergency Committee (Vaadat Hamosadot Le-Inyanai Yerusalayim), describes the motive for the attack as being "to break Arab morale." [28]

Pre-attack briefing

According to the Haganah, the attack force consisted of about 120 men—80 from the Irgun and 40 from Lehi.[29] They met on April 8, a few hours before the attack began, for briefings. Lehi met at the Etz Hayim base, and the Irgun at Givat Shaul. Lapidot writes that the mood at the Irgun meeting was festive. It was the first time such a large number of underground fighters had met openly, and the collaboration between the groups increased their sense of solidarity. They chose a password to reflect the mood, "Ahdut Lohemet," "Fighters' Solidarity": this was the phrase that would signal the start of the attack. According to Lapidot, Mordechai Raanan, the Irgun commander in Jerusalem, stressed that women, children, and the elderly must not be harmed, and that the villagers were to be warned by loudspeaker to give them a chance to escape. The road to Ayn Karim would be left open so they could head there.[17]

The attack


Irgun statement in Hebrew about the attack[30]
English translation

After the briefing, the fighters were driven to their assigned positions. A Lehi unit approached Deir Yassin from the direction of Givat Shaul,[31] while one Irgun unit moved in from the east, and a second from the south. Despite their confidence, the fighters were by all accounts ill-prepared, untrained, and inexperienced.[21] The loudspeaker that was meant to encourage the villagers to leave wasn't working properly, and the truck carrying it got stuck in a ditch outside the village, though Abu Mahmoud, a villager, told the BBC in 1998 that he did hear the warning.[32]

At 04:45, a village sentry spotted them moving in. He called out in Arabic, "Mahmoud," and one of the Irgun fighters thought he had said "Ahdut." He responded with the second half of the password, "lohemet," and the Arabs opened fire.[17][33][34]

Irgun and Lehi commanders had believed the residents would flee, but the fighters encountered resistance. The residents did not realize that the point of the attack was conquest, thinking it just a raid, and failed to run while they had the chance.[35] The villagers' sniper fire from higher positions in the west, especially from the mukhtar's house, effectively contained the attack. Some Lehi units went for help from the Haganah's Camp Schneller in Jerusalem.[36] The men had no experience of attacking an Arab village in daylight, and lacked support weapons. They resorted to house-to-house attacks, throwing hand grenades through the doors and windows before entering, a couple of grenades per house, following an order from Ben Zion Cohen, the Irgun's commander.[37] Ezra Yachin recalled, "To take a house, you had either to throw a grenade or shoot your way into it. If you were foolish enough to open doors, you got shot down—sometimes by men dressed up as women, shooting out at you in a second of surprise."[38]

The Lehi forces slowly advanced house by house. Weapons failed to work, a few tossed hand grenades without pulling the pin, and a Lehi unit commander, Amos Keynan, was wounded by his own men.[39] Meanwhile, the Irgun guerrillas on the other side of the village were also having a difficult time. By 7:00 a.m., discouraged by the Arab resistance and their own increasing casualties, Irgun commanders relayed a message to the Lehi camp that they were considering retreating. Lehi commanders relayed back that they had already entered the village and expected victory soon. The large number of wounded was a problem. A Magen David Adom station was called for an ambulance. The fighters took beds out of the houses, and doors off their hinges, laid the wounded on them, and ordered villagers to carry the injured to the ambulance, forcing them to act as screens. They believed the villagers would not shoot at their own people, but they did, according to Milstein.[40]

The Irgun arranged to receive a supply of explosives from their base in Givat Shaul, and started blasting their way into house after house. In certain instances, the force of the explosions destroyed entire parts of houses, burying Arab fighters and civilians. At least two Haganah members on the scene reported the Lehi repeatedly using a loudspeaker to suggest the residents surrender; over 100 were taken prisoner by the end of the day.[41][42] At about 10:00 am, a Palmach unit from the Haganah arrived with an armored vehicle and a two-inch mortar.[43] The mortar was fired three times at the mukhtar's house, which stopped the snipers. Lehi officer David Gottlieb said the Palmach had accomplished "in one hour what we could not accomplish in several hours."[44]

The killing and the aftermath

Numbers killed

An article about the attacks in The Palestine Post, April 11, 1948.

The fighting was over by about 11:00 am. Palestinian historian Arif al-'Arif wrote in 1956 that of the 117 people he calculated had died, seven had died in combat, and 110 were killed inside their homes.[45] Sharif Kan'ana of Bir Zeit University interviewed survivors and published figures in 1988 now regarded as authoritative: 107 villagers had died, with 12 wounded. Only 11 of the villagers known to have been armed were among the dead.[46]

An Irgun fighter testified years later that Irgun and Lehi men had killed 80 prisoners after the fighting was over. Gelber writes that the figure is inflated and has not been corroborated. Kan'ana writes that 25 villagers were executed and thrown into the quarry after the battle, which Gelber regards as accurate. The only alternative to killing prisoners was to release them, according to Gelber; maintaining underground POW camps was impossible under the noses of the British authorities.[47]

Meir Pa'il account

Morris writes that the Irgun and Lehi troops began pillaging the houses and corpses, stealing money and jewellery from the survivors, and burning corpses.[21] Many of the eyewitness accounts come from Haganah officers. Eliahu Arbel, Operations Officer B of the Haganah's Etzioni Brigade, arrived at the scene on April 10: "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 gunfire, with no signs of battle and not as the result of blowing up the houses ... I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin."[48]

The most detailed report comes from Meir Pa'il, a Palmach intelligence officer who visited the village on April 9 to observe the operation on behalf of the Haganah.[49] 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 [normally] hear when they clean a house." No commanders directed the actions. Groups of guerillas were running around "full of lust for murder," he said.[12]

The dissidents [Irgun and Lehi men] 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 [the Haganah] was apparent ... In one of the houses at the centre 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.[50]

Pa'il writes that the Haredi people of Givat Shaul came to help the villagers at around 2 p.m., and were able to stop the killing:[51]

[A] crowd of people from Givat Shaul, with peyot (earlocks), most of them religious, came into the village and started yelling "gazlanim" "rozchim"—(thieves, murderers) "we had an agreement with this village. It was quiet. Why are you murdering them?" They were Chareidi (ultra-orthodox) Jews. This is one of the nicest things I can say about Hareidi [sic] Jews. These people from Givat Shaul gradually approached and entered the village, and the Lehi and Irgun people had no choice, they had to stop. It was about 2:00 or 3:00 PM. Then the Lehi and Irgun gathered about 250 people, most of them women, children and elderly people in a school house. Later the building became a "Beit Habad"—"Habad House." They were debating what to do with them. There was a great deal of yelling. The dissidents were yelling "Let's blow up the schoolhouse with everyone in it" and the Givat Shaul people were yelling "thieves and murderers—don't do it" and so on. Finally they put the prisoners from the schoolhouse on four trucks and drove them to the Arab quarter of Jerusalem near the Damascus gate. I left after the fourth truck went out.

It was Friday afternoon. It must have been about 4:00–5:00 P.M because the religious people had begun leaving to prepare for the Sabbath.[12]

Villagers taken to Jerusalem, possibly killed

Morris writes that the Irgun and Lehi troops loaded some survivors, including women and children, onto trucks, and drove them through the streets of West Jerusalem, where they were jeered, spat at, and stoned.[21] Harry Levin, a Haganah broadcaster, reported seeing "three trucks driving slowly up and down King George V Avenue bearing men, women, and children, their hand above their heads, guarded by Jews armed with sten-guns and rifles."[52] Contrary to Pa'il's account that people from Givat Shaul had helped the prisoners, Mordechai Gichon of the Haganah wrote on April 10 that they had taken part in what he called the "torture" of the prisoners, referring to their being kicked and shoved with rifle butts.[53]

Pa'il reported to Haganah intelligence on April 10 that he saw five Arab men being paraded through the streets, and later saw their bodies in a quarry near Givat Shaul. The version of his report currently available appears to be an abridged one; the IDF will not open the original to researchers[54]:

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 one of top of the other ... I saw with my own eyes several families [that had been] murdered with their women, children, and old people, their corpses were lying on top of each other ...[50]

Mordechai Gihon, a Haganah intelligence (HIS) officer in Jerusalem, reported on April 10 seeing people carry bodies to the quarry east of Deir Yassin: "We entered the village around 3:00 in the afternoon [of April 9] ... In the village there were tens of bodies. The dissidents got them out of the roads. I told them not to throw the bodies into cisterns and caves, because that was the first place that would be checked..." He described beatings, looting, and the stripping of jewelry and money from prisoners. He wrote that the initial orders were to take the men prisoner and send the women and children away, but the order was changed to kill all the prisoners. The mukhtar's son was killed in front of his mother and sisters, he said.[55]

The head of the HIS in Jerusalem, Yitzhak Levy, wrote in reports dated April 12 and 13: "The conquest of the village was carried out with great brutality, whole families [including] women, old people and children were killed and there are piles and piles of dead."[21] He wrote that a mother and child who had been moved from Deir Yassin to Sheikh Badr were killed there by Lehi fighters. Seven old men and women, who had been taken to Jerusalem, were taken back to Deir Yassin and killed in the quarry there, he wrote, and an Arab man, believed to be a sniper, was killed and his corpse burned in front of foreign journalists.[21]

Orphans left in the Old City
Fifty-five orphans from the village were left by the Jaffa Gate to fend for themselves.

Fifty-five children from the village whose parents had been killed were taken to the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, and left there. They were found by a Palestinian woman, Hind Husseini, a member of the prominent Palestinian Husseini family. She at first rented two rooms for them, bringing them food every day, before moving them to the Sahyoun convent. In July, she moved them again, this time to her family home, a large house her grandfather had built in Jerusalem in 1891. She renamed the house Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi (Arab Children's House), and set up a foundation to finance it. The orphanage continues to this day.[56]

Irgun-Lehi press conference

On the evening of April 9, the fighters invited American journalists to a house in Givat Shaul, where they served tea and cookies while explaining the attacks. A spokesman said he regretted the casualties among the women and children, but they were inevitable because every house had to be reduced by force.[34] Ten houses had been blown up entirely, he said, though Yoav Gelber writes that this is untrue.[35] He says the Irgun and Lehi forces had not been carrying explosives.[47] Other houses had had their doors blown off and hand grenades thrown inside.[34] Morris writes that the killing continued after April 9. Several residents who had either hidden or pretended to have died were apparently killed by Lehi men on April 10 or 11.[57]

Criticism of Meir Pa'il account

Israeli military historian Uri Milstein writes that Pa'il's report is not an eyewitness account, because Pa'il was not in Deir Yassin on April 9. Milstein argues that there was no organized massacre, though he acknowledges that whole families were gunned down during the fighting. He regards the Haganah intelligence reports to have been doctored, either by the authors or later by their superiors, to exaggerate the atrocities and blacken the names of the Irgun and Lehi within the context of in-fighting within the Jewish community.[58] He argues that the killings were typical of war and that the Haganah did similar things on many occasions, even if not on such a scale. He writes that the idea of a massacre was a myth created by the Israeli Left to prevent unification of the Haganah and the Irgun, and in particular to prevent the Irgun's commander, Menahem Begin, from taking office in Israel's first national unity government under David Ben Gurion.[59]

Morris writes that part of Pa'il's account, where he reports that he saw five Arab men paraded, then later saw their bodies in the quarry, is supported by a report from Drs. Avigdori and Druyan, sent by the Jewish Agency to examine the scene (see below), who found five male bodies in a house by the village quarry.[60]

Pa'il told Yoni Mendel in 2007 that he was sent to Deir Yassin by the Haganah to assess the fighting capabilities of the Irgun and Lehi. "What I discovered there," he said, "is that they didn’t know a thing about field war. Worse, I saw that they knew how to massacre and kill ... They are angry with me that I said these things. Let them first be angry at themselves."[61]

Allegations of atrocities

Haganah report

A number of sources alleged there had been instances of rape (but see the propaganda section below). Yitzhak Levy, head of Haganah Intelligence, wrote on April 13: "LHI [Lehi] members tell of the barbaric behavior of the IZL [Irgun] toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the IZL men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward (we don't know if this is true)."[62]

Palestine Police Force report

The main source of the rape allegations was Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling of the British Palestine Police Force. He wrote one or more reports based on interviews he conducted in Silwan with some of the Deir Yassin women:

On 14th April at 10 a.m. I visited Silwan village accompanied by a doctor and a nurse from the Government Hospital in Jerusalem and a member of the Arab Women's Union. We visited many houses in this village in which approximately some two to three hundred people from Deir Yassin village are housed. I interviewed many of the women folk in order to glean some information on any atrocities committed in Deir Yassin but the majority of those women are very shy and reluctant to relate their experiences especially in matters concerning sexual assault and they need great coaxing before they will divulge any information. The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women who often break down many times whilst the statement is being recorded. There is, however, 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 old woman who gave her age as one hundred and four 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.[63]

Red Cross visit

Jacques de Reynier, head of the International Red Cross delegation in Palestine, and his assistant Dr. Alfred Engel, visited Deir Yassin on April 11. In his personal memoirs, published in 1950, Reynier wrote: "a total of more than 200 dead, men, women, and children. About 150 cadavers have not been preserved inside the village in view of the danger represented by the bodies' decomposition. They have been gathered, transported some distance, and placed in a large trough (I have not been able to establish if this is a pit, a grain silo, or a large natural excavation). ... [One body was] a 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."[64] He wrote that he had encountered a "cleaning-up team" when he arrived the village.

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 solders 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 ...[64]

After his inspection, the Irgun asked him to sign a document to say he had been received courteously and thanking them for their help. When he refused, they told him he would sign it if he valued his life. "The only course open to me was to convince them that I did not value my life in the least," he wrote.[64]

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."[65]

Jewish Agency doctors report

The Jewish Agency sent two doctors, Dr. Z. Avigdori, the chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the Palestine Physicians Association, and his deputy, Dr. A. Druyan, to examine the corpses, and to report any mutilations or other atrocities. Lapidot writes that the doctors asked to be allowed to move around the village freely. They walked from house to house, counting and examining corpses. Their report said they found 46 corpses. The cause of death had been injuries from bullets or bombs, and that, "all the bodies were dressed in their own clothes, limbs were whole and we saw no signs of mutilation."[66]


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The Arab emergency committee in Jerusalem learned of the attack around nine in the morning of April 9, including reports about the killing of women and children. They requested the help of the British, but did nothing further. In the late afternoon, they started to hear reports of women and children being paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. They sent the prisoners food and again appealed to the British army to intervene, to no avail.[35]

Gelber writes that the British were not keen to take on the Irgun and Lehi, who would have fought back if attacked, unlike the Haganah. High Commissioner Sir Allan Cunningham urged that troops be sent to Deir Yassin, but General Sir Gordon MacMillan, commander of the Palestine Forces, said he would risk British lives only in British interests. The RAF commanding officer offered to fire rockets on the Jewish forces in the village, but the light bombers had been sent to Egypt and the rockets to Iraq.[67] Cunningham later said the RAF had brought a squadron of Tempest aircraft from Iraq to bomb the village, but he cancelled the operation when he learned the Haganah had arrived there and had garrisoned it.[68]


They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin.—Mohammad Radwan, survivor[69]

The Jordanian newspaper Al Urdun published a survivor's account in 1955, in which he said that the Palestinians had deliberately exaggerated horror stories about atrocities in Deir Yassin to encourage others to fight, but unwittingly had caused them to flee instead. Everyone had reason to spread the atrocity narrative. The Irgun and Lehi wanted to frighten Arabs into fleeing; the Arabs wanted to provoke an international response;[70] the Haganah wanted to tarnish the Irgun and Lehi; and the Arabs and the British wanted to malign the Jews.[71] In addition, Milstein writes that the left-wing Mapai party and David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel's first prime minister on May 14, deliberately exploited Deir Yassin to stop a power-sharing agreement with the right-wing Revisionists—who were associated with Irgun and Lehi—a proposal that was being debated at that time in Tel Aviv.[72]

Mordechai Ra'anan, the Irgun commander in Jerusalem, told reporters on April 10 that, "so far, 254 Arab bodies have been counted."[73] He later said: "I told the reporters that 254 were killed so that a big figure would be published, and so that Arabs would panic."[74] That figure was published by The New York Times on April 13, and it stuck until 1987, when Sharif Kan'ana of Bir Zeit University interviewed survivors and concluded that 107 had died, with 12 wounded. Only 11 of the 100 armed villagers were among the dead.[46]

Hazam Nusseibeh, the news editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service at the time, gave an interview to the BBC in 1998. He spoke about a discussion he had with Hussayn Khalidi, the deputy chairman of the Higher Arab Executive in Jerusalem, shortly after the killings: "I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story. He said, 'We must make the most of this.' So he wrote a press release, stating that at Deir Yassin, children were murdered, pregnant women were raped, all sorts of atrocities."[75] Gelber writes that Khalidi told journalists on April 11 that the village's dead included 25 pregnant women, 52 mothers of babies, and 60 girls.[70]

The stories of rape angered the villagers, who complained to the Arab emergency committee that their wives and daughters were being exploited in the service of propaganda.[76] Abu Mahmud, who lived in Deir Yassin in 1948, was one of those who complained. He told the BBC: "We said, 'There was no rape.' He [Hussayn Khalidi] said, 'We have to say this so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews'."[75]

"This was our biggest mistake," said Nusseibeh. "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. They ran away from all our villages."[75][77] He told Larry Collins in 1968: "We committed a fatal error, and set the stage for the refugee problem."[78] Mohammed Radwan, one of the villagers who fought the attackers, said: "There were no rapes. It's all lies. There were no pregnant women who were slit open. It was propaganda that ... Arabs put out so Arab armies would invade," he said. "They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin."[69]

Exodus and invasion

Mapam's leaders later concluded that the fall of Deir Yassin and Haifa were the two pivotal events of the Palestinian exodus.[79]

Golda Meir, disguised as an Arab, appealed to King Abdullah not to invade.

On April 14, Irgun radio broadcast that villages around Deir Yassin and elsewhere were being evacuated. HIS intelligence reported that the residents of Beit Iksa and Al Maliha had fled. The village of Fureidis appealed for arms. The villages of Fajja and Mansura reached a peace agreement with their Jewish neighbors. Arabs fled from Haifa and Khirbet Azzun. A Haganah attack on Saris encountered no resistance, because of the fear of Deir Yassin, in the view of the British.[80]

Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun at the time of the attack, though he played no role in it, wrote in 1977:

The enemy propaganda was designed to besmirch our name. In the result it helped us. Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel. Kolonia village, which had previously repulsed every attack of the Haganah, was evacuated overnight and fell without further fighting. Beit-Iksa was also evacuated. These two places overlooked the main road; and their fall, together with the capture of al-Qastal by the Haganah, made it possible to keep open the road to Jerusalem. In the rest of the country, too, the Arabs began to flee in terror, even before they clashed with Jewish forces. Not what happened at Deir Yassin, but what was invented about Deir Yassin, helped to carve the way to our decisive victories on the battlefield ... The legend was worth half a dozen battalions to the forces of Israel.[81]

Abdullah said that Deir Yassin had changed things, and invasion was now unavoidable.

The Deir Yassin attack, along with attacks on Tiberias, Haifa, and Jaffa, put pressure on Arab governments to invade Palestine. News of the killings had aroused public anger in the Arab world, which the governments felt unable to ignore.[82] Syria's foreign minister remarked that the Arab public's desire for war was irresistible. The arrival of tens of thousands of refugees further convinced them to act. A consensus favoring invasion began to emerge the day after Deir Yassin, at a meeting on April 10 in Cairo of the Arab League Political Committee.[83]

Golda Meir, disguised in an Arab robe, met King Abdullah in Amman on May 10-11, the second such meeting between them. During their first, Abdullah had agreed to a partition of Palestine to include a Jewish state. Now, he retracted, suggesting instead a Jewish canton within a Hashemite kingdom. Deir Yassin had changed things, he said. Meir reported later that Abdullah was approaching war "as a person who is in a trap and can't get out." The Arab invasion began at midnight on May 14, when Abdullah fired a symbolic shot in the air and shouted the word "forward."[84]

Deir Yassin today

The remains of the village inside the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center.

In 1949, despite protests, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul Bet was built on what had been Deir Yassin's land, now considered part of Har Nof, an Orthodox area.[85]

Four Jewish scholars, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, Werner Senator, and Cecil Roth, wrote to Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asking that Deir Yassin be left uninhabited, or that its settlement be postponed. They wrote that it had become "infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world and the whole world." Settling the land so soon after the killings would amount to an endorsement of them. Ben-Gurion failed to respond, though the correspondents sent him copy after copy. Eventually his secretary replied that he had been too busy to read their letter.[86]

Two of the village residents' descendants outside the hospital's perimeter fence. The hospital grounds are closed to the public and the refugees.[87]

In 1951, construction of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center began, using some of the village's houses, now hidden behind the hospital's fence, with entry closely restricted.[88]Har HaMenuchot, a Jewish cemetery, lies to the north. To the south is a valley containing part of the Jerusalem Forest, and on the other side of the valley, a mile and a half away, lie Mount Herzl and the Holocaust memorial museum, Yad Vashem.[89]

Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi wrote in 1992:

Many of the village houses on the hill are still standing and have been incorporated into an Israeli hospital for the mentally ill that was established on the site. Some houses outside the fence of the hospital grounds are used for residential and commercial purposes, or as warehouses. Outside the fence, there are carob and almond trees and the stumps of olive trees. Several wells are located at the southwestern edge of the site. The old village cemetery, southeast of the site, is unkempt and threatened by debris from a ring road that has been constructed around the village hill. One tall cypress tree still stands at the center of the cemetery.[90]

See also


  1. ^ a b Gelber 2006, p. 309.
  2. ^ a b Morris 2008, pp. 126–128.
  3. ^ Kana'ana and Zeitawi, 1987.
  4. ^ Yavne to HIS-ID, April 12, 1948, IDFA 5254/49//372 in Morris 2008, p. 127.
  5. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 310. Morris 2008, p. 126 says "several dozen"; Morris 2005 says, "a dozen seriously wounded (they later spoke of 30-40 wounded, surely an exaggeration)."
  6. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 307.
  7. ^ Morris 2008, p. 127.
  8. ^ Kagan 1966, p. 52.
  9. ^ a b Silver 1984, p. 91.
  10. ^ Khalidi 1992, p. 290
  11. ^ Pappe 2006, p. 90.
  12. ^ a b c Pa'il and Isseroff 1998.
  13. ^ Morris 2004, p. 91, and Gelber 2006, p. 308.
  14. ^ Milstein 1999, p. 351
  15. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 308.
  16. ^ Morris 2004, p. 97.
  17. ^ a b c d Lapidot 1992
  18. ^ a b c Morris 2001, p. 207.
  19. ^ Gelber 2006, pp. 308–309.
  20. ^ Silver 1984, p. 89.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Morris 2005.
  22. ^ Shaltiel 1981, p. 139.
  23. ^ Kfir, Ilan, Yediot Ahronot 4.4.72; Levi, p. 341
  24. ^ Silver 1984, pp. 90–91; Shaltiel 1981, p. 139.
  25. ^ Pa'il and Isseroff, p. 341.
  26. ^ a b Statement of Yehuda Lapidot [Irgun], file 1/10 4-K, Jabotinsky Archives, Tel Aviv, cited in Silver 1984, p. 90; see Silver pp. 90–91.
  27. ^ Lapidot, p. 160 and Milstein 1989–1991, vol 4, p. 258, cited in Morris 2001, p. 207.
  28. ^ Dov Joseph, "The Faithful City. The Seige of Jerusalem, 1948". 1960. Congress Card Number 60-10976. Page 173. "That act of inhumanity and violence, which had been carried out by the dissident Jewish factions to break Arab morale..."
  29. ^ Khalidi, 1992, p. 290, though the The New York Times correspondent reported at the time that the force was made up of "45 Irgunists and 45 Sternists" reinforced by 20 men from the Haganah.
  30. ^ Lapidot 1992. Lapidot cites "Menachem Begin, in the Underground, 4, p. 276," though it's unclear what that refers to.
  31. ^ Milstein 1999
  32. ^ Morris 2005; Milstein 1989, p. 262; Begin 1977; Levi p. 342; Bell 1977; for Abu Mahmoud's statement, see BBC 1998.
  33. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 262 (Hebrew version)
  34. ^ a b c Schmidt 1948.
  35. ^ a b c Gelber 2006, p. 310.
  36. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 262-265 (Hebrew version)
  37. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 310; for the reference to Ben Zion Cohen, see BBC 1998.
  38. ^ Banks 1982, p. 62.
  39. ^ "Milstein 1999: McGowan 1998, chap. 4: ""A Jewish Eyewitness: An Interview with Meir Pa'il."
  40. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 265 (Hebrew version)
  41. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 263 (Hebrew version)
  42. ^ Daniel Spicehandler's testimony, cited in Martin 1988, p. 329
  43. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 265-266 (Hebrew version)
  44. ^ Lorch p. 450.
  45. ^ Al-Arif 1956; Laurens 2007, p. 75.
  46. ^ a b Kan'ana & Zaytuni 1988, p. 5 and p. 57. The findings were published in Arabic as the fourth booklet in the university's "Destroyed Arab Villages" series, part of its Destroyed Palestinian Villages Documentation Project. Gelber writes that these are authoritative figures (Gelber 2006, p. 311).
  47. ^ a b Gelber 2006, p. 312.
  48. ^ Yediot Ahronot, February 5, 1972.
  49. ^ Milstein 1999, p. 378.
  50. ^ a b "Avraham" (Pa'il) to Jerusalem District OC, April 10, 1948, in HGS Operations/Intelligence to Haganah corps, "Lessons from the Dissidents' Operation in Deir Yassin," "12.2.48" [sic, should probably be 12.5.48 or 12.6.48], HA/20/253 in Morris 2004, p. 238, footnote 564, p. 294.
  51. ^ Interview with Meir Pa'il, BBC 1998.
  52. ^ Statement of Ben-Zion Cohen, file 1/10 4-K, Jabotinsky Archives; Milstein 1989, p. 276 (Hebrew version); Kananah & Zaytuni 1988, p. 56; Levin, "Jerusalem Embattled", p. 5.
  53. ^ Morris 2004, p. 236.
  54. ^ Morris 2004, footnote 564, p. 294.
  55. ^ Morris 2005; Milstein 1989, p. 274 (Hebrew); Levi, p. 343.
  56. ^ The Legacy of Hind Husseini, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, accessed June 13, 2009.
  57. ^ Morris 2004, p. 238.
  58. ^ Milstein 1999. p. 366 and 378, and in an interview with Benny Morris, August 18, 2001, cited in Morris 2004, footnote 564, p. 294.
  59. ^ Milstein 2007.
  60. ^ Dr. Z Avigdori and Dr A. Druyan. "Report on Visit to Deir Yassin on 12.4.1948," April 18, 1948, ODFA 500/48//54, cited in Morris 2004, footnote 564, p. 294.
  61. ^ Mendel 2007
  62. ^ "Yavne" to HIS, April 13, 1948, IDFA 5254/49/372 in Morris 2004, p. 238, and Morris 2008, p. 127.
  63. ^ Forwarded to the Chief Secretary of the Palestine government, Sir Henry Gurney, by Richard C. Catling, Assistant Inspector General of the Criminal Investigation Division, on April 13, 14 and 16, 1948, dossier no. 179/110/17/GS, cited in Lapierre and Collins (1972), this edition 2000, Simon & Schuster, footnote, p. 276.
  64. ^ a b c de Reynier, pp. 71–76, cited in Hirst 2003, p. 252 (Hirst 1977 first edition, pp. 127–128).
  65. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 279 (Hebrew version)
  66. ^ Dr Avigdori and Dr Droyan's report on their visit to Deir Yassin on 12 April, 18 April 1948, IDFA 500/48/35; cf. also David Shealtiel, Jerusalem 1948 (Hebrew), Tel Aviv 1981, pp. 139–141, cited in Gelber 2006, p. 314. Also see Lapidot 1992, who cites IDF Archives, 500/48-54.
  67. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 316.
  68. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 317.
  69. ^ a b Holmes 1998
  70. ^ a b Gelber 2006, p. 315.
  71. ^ Morris 2001, p. 209.
  72. ^ Milstein 1989–1991, vol. 4, pp. 277–80, cited in Morris 2001, footnote 208, p. 706.
  73. ^ Morris 2004, footnote 566, p. 294.
  74. ^ Milstein 1989, p. 269 (Hebrew version).
  75. ^ a b c Interview with Hazam Nusseibeh, Fifty Years' War, BBC, 1998.
  76. ^ Gelber 2006, p. 314.
  77. ^ Silver 1998.
  78. ^ Larry Collins interview with Hazem Nusseibeh, May 1968, Larry Collins papers, Georgetown University library, cited in Morris 2004, footnote 572, p. 295.
  79. ^ Morris 2004, p. 240.
  80. ^ Morris 2004, pp. 239–240.
  81. ^ Begin 1977, pp. 225–227; footnote to pp. 226-7.
  82. ^ Morris 2004, p. 239.
  83. ^ Morris 2008, p. 127, 182.
  84. ^ Morris 2008, p. 193, 209.
  85. ^ Segev 1998, pp. 87-88.
  86. ^ Ellis 1999, p. 32; Letter of Buber, Simon, Senator, Roth to David Ben-Gurion, Israel State Archives, Pmo 5559/Gimel.
  87. ^ Khalidi 1992, p. 292
  88. ^ Moreno 1959, p. 279; Khalidi 1992, p. 292.
  89. ^ McGowan 1998
  90. ^ Khalidi 1992, p. 292.


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Further reading

Coordinates: 31°47′11.31″N 35°10′40.92″E / 31.786475°N 35.1780333°E / 31.786475; 35.1780333


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