Morton A. Klein
March 18, 1998
During his recent visit to Jerusalem, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook went out of his way to lay a wreath at an Arab-erected memorial for Arabs who were killed in an alleged "massacre" by Jewish soldiers in 1948. It was a great photo-op, moving and dramatic. The only problem is that the alleged "massacre" never happened.
For five decades, critics of Israel have used the battle of Deir Yassin to blacken the image of the Jewish State, falsely alleging that Jewish fighters massacred 250-300 Arab civilians during a battle in that Arab village near Jerusalem in April 1948. This spring, on the 50th anniversary of the alleged massacre, Arabs will hold numerous public activities, including a major public conference in Jerusalem and a protest-vigil outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, in Los Angeles. But despite all the propaganda and protests, this is just another case of Arab historical revisionism.
Deir Yassin was a strategically located Arab village, overlooking the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Large numbers of Arab soldiers --Iraqis and others-- were stationed amidst the civilians in the village (the same tactic that Arab terrorists in Lebanon have used in our own time). The Arab soldiers in Deir Yassin repeatedly shot at neighboring Jewish villages and attacked Jewish traffic on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, effectively cutting off western Jerusalem from much of the rest of the country. In order to put an end to such attacks, the Haganah --the Labor Zionist militia-- agreed that soldiers from the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Group should conquer Deir Yassin in April 1948. The soldiers were given strict instructions by Irgun commander Menachem Begin, and other Irgun officials, to refrain from harming civilians, and indeed the Jewish fighters first sent in a truck with a loudspeaker, warning the villagers in Arabic to leave, since Jewish forces were approaching. Hundreds of the townspeople fled to safety. But others remained, and the Jewish fighters encountered long hours of heavy gunfire from both the well-armed villagers and Arab soldiers based there. In addition, large amounts of weapons and ammunition were found in the village by the Jewish forces.
Interviews with participants in the battle, and documents located in Israeli archives, reveal that the civilians who died were killed unintentionally during the fierce house-to-house fighting. The Jewish fighters have all consistently denied a massacre, and the fact that they took several dozen Arab prisoners and released them, unharmed, in an Arab part of Jerusalem further demonstrates they had no interest in massacring Deir Yassin's residents. Arab accounts of the battle are biased, contradictory, and unreliable. The "massacre" charge began to gain credence when a British police official announced that some Arab women from the village had claimed there were atrocities; but the official later admitted he engaged in "great coaxing" of the women to get them to say the Jews had carried out atrocities. The "massacre" allegation was also propagated by a Red Cross official who visited Deir Yassin two days after the battle--escorted by Irgun and Stern Group leaders, which shows they had nothing to hide. But the Red Cross official, arriving after the battle, had no way of knowing how the Arabs died and no basis on which to claim there was a massacre. A Jewish doctor who accompanied the Red Cross official, and two other Jewish doctors sent by the Labor Zionists to investigate, rejected the atrocity claims as false.
For decades, critics of Israel claimed that 250-300 Arabs were killed in Deir Yassin, while the Jewish participants in the battle have said the number was around 100. In a little-known study in 1987, researchers from Bir Zeit University, an Arab university in Palestinian Authority territory, interviewed every Arab survivor of the battle and concluded that the number of civilians who died in Deir Yassin could not have been more than 120. Since those who claimed there was a massacre were so far off the actual number killed (claiming the number was more than double the real figure), what does that say about the reliability of their other claims--of rape, mutilation, and intentional massacre of civilians?
Labor Zionist leaders initially claimed, in 1948, that there was a massacre, in order to reduce public support for Labor's political rivals, the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Group, who conquered Deir Yassin. But Israel's Labor-led governments subsequently rescinded the massacre accusation. A little-known 1952 Defense Ministry judicial court ruled that Deir Yassin was a legitimate military target. Official Israeli government statements about Deir Yassin, in 1960 and 1969 (under Foreign Ministers Golda Meir and Abba Eban), formally rebuked the Labor Zionist officials who had made the false massacre accusation in 1948, saying the "massacre" charge is a "fairy-tale" and an example of the "big lie" technique.
Arab propagandists have circulated the "massacre" claim so frequently over the years that most historians have accepted the allegation without investigating it. We at the ZOA recently spent several months analyzing over 160 history books which claim there was a massacre at Deir Yassin. We found that almost none of them cited original sources for the "massacre" claim; and the few that did, relied upon original sources that were biased, such as the Red Cross and the British. We found that some historians have even fallen prey to an outright hoax--using a fabricated statement claiming Irgun leader Menachem Begin allegedly "boasted" of having carried out a massacre. The Arab professor Edward Said and others have claimed that Begin made that statement in Begin's book, The Revolt--but in fact, Begin's book strongly denies there was any massacre. Several historians have even made an outrageous comparison of the Deir Yassin battle to Nazi atrocities, including Auschwitz.
But no matter how many times a lie is repeated, it is still a lie. And the claim that Jews massacred Arabs in Deir Yassin is just that, a lie, intended to demonize Israel and establish a false moral equivalence between Israel and the Arabs.