Remembering Deir Yassin as We Remember the Holocaust

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As Jews around world prepare to remember the Holocaust (Yom HaShoah) on April 16th, they too should pause a week earlier to remember the massacre at Deir Yassin on April 9th, exactly sixty-seven years ago. In both cases, Jews should shout, loud and clear: “Nie wieder!” Never again!

Deir Yassin was a tiny Palestinian village outside the area assigned by the UN for the future Jewish state. Being on the high ground between Jerusalem and Jaffa, it was of strategic military value. The villagers had sought to stay neutral in the fighting around it, when it was stormed early in the morning of April 9th, 1948, by 130 Jewish militiamen of the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stem Gang, one of whose three commanders was Yitzhak Shamir. The assault by the two “Jewish Underground” militias received artillery support from Haganah, the future Israeli army. The resulting massacre, in which more that 200 Palestinian men, women, and children were killed, is considered a turning point in Palestinian history.

When the story of how virtually the entire population of a Palestinian village was wiped out echoed across the towns and villages and olive groves of Palestine, thousands of families took flight at the approach of Jewish forces to escape a similar fate. In fact, Deir Yassin was only the first of several massacres that led to the dispossession in 1948 of some 750,000 Palestinians who were barred by Israeli forces from returning to their homes after the fighting ended.

Nowadays, “Islamic terrorism” has become a cliché in a world that, unconsciously or deliberately, refuses to acknowledge the many acts of “Jewish terrorism” and their victims as if there is worldwide conspiracy of silence concerning such terrorism. Writer Noam Chomsky has said: “the Deir Yassin massacre is a bitter symbol of a long history of terror and repression, to which — to our shame — we have contributed in many substantial ways, and still do. We should not only remember, but also rethink and understand, and more important, act to bring some measure of justice to people who have suffered gravely.”

Other Jewish leaders who have publicly denounced the massacre include Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, Werner Senator and Cecil Roth. A year after the massacre they wrote to Israeli Prime Minister David BenGurion, charging that Deir Yassin had become “infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world, and the whole world. In Deir Yassin, hundreds of innocent men, women, and children were massacred. The Deir Yassin affair is a black stain on the honor of the Jewish nation.” On both of these days let us honor all who have died by not perpetuating fear and hatred, by overcoming mutual suspicions and reaching out to “the Other,” by using civic engagement and social action to resist the forces of hatred but most of all let the facts set us free.

On Yom HaShoah, this year, and every year, let us make a moral choice, pausing to remember Deir Yassin as we appeal to one another to seek peace, justice and reconciliation between the survivors of Deir Yassin and the survivors of the Holocaust. Let our action be a lasting memorial.

Gary Yarus is an editor at The Beacon.