The Battle of Deir Yassin

       Deir Yassin was a village west of Jerusalem that sat along the main highway connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. On April 9th in the midst of the 1948 war, Deir Yassin was assaulted by paramilitary groups IZL and LEHI with support from the Haganah. The fighting left approximately 110 dead. Various estimates range from as low as 46 (from an Arab source) to as high as 250 though both extremes are equally unlikely, most concluding around 110. Nothing about a battle resulting in 110 casualties in a full-fledged war is in and of itself particularly noteworthy. Relative to other wartime casualty statistics, it is a rather low number. The controversy swirling around the battle at Deir Yassin is the claim that the 110 casualties were innocent civilians murdered in cold blood by the Jewish forces.

       Deir Yassin "was an integral, inseparable episode in the battle for Jerusalem... [Arab forces] were attempting to cut the only highway linking Jerusalem with Tel Aviv and the outside world. It had cut the pipeline upon which the defenders depended for water. Palestinian Arab contingents, stiffened by men of the regular Iraqi army, had seized vantage points overlooking the Jerusalem road and from them were firing on trucks that tried to reach the beleaguered city with vital food-stuffs and supplies. Dir Yassin, like the strategic hill and village of Kastel, was one of these vantage points. In fact, the two villages were interconnected militarily, reinforcements passing from Dir Yassin to Kastel during the fierce engagement for that hill."1

       Critics of Israel have done all they can to portray the assault on Deir Yassin as a textbook case of massacre without dispute. Anti-Israeli authors will have you believe the Jews stormed into a peaceful, civilian village, lined up the inhabitants, and began systematically executing unarmed men, women, and children with machine guns. At the same time, most accounts of Deir Yassin admit there is a degree of confusion about what actually happened that day. With so much acknowledged uncertainty there is little justification for the massacre dogma that has stigmatized the assault against Deir Yassin. Massacre is defined as "individual events of deliberate and direct mass killing, especially of noncombatant civilians or other innocents that would qualify as war crimes or atrocities."2 So there is a distinct connotation when labeling an event as a massacre, implying a ruthless and unnecessary murder of many otherwise innocent or defenseless people. The next logical question would obviously then be, was Deir Yassin a village of innocent or defenseless people?

An Unpeaceful Past

       To be thorough, the answer to this question should not only consider the immediate circumstances on 9 April 1948, but what behavior characterized this village prior to the assault as well. As you will see, Arabs from Deir Yassin were notoriously aggressive in the recent past, as well as the immediate timeframe leading up to the attack.

       A factor in the controversy surrounding Deir Yassin is that it had signed peace agreements with the nearby Jewish villages. In fact, evidence is put forward that the residents of Deir Yassin prevented Syrian and Iraqi troops from using their village as a staging ground for attacks against the Jews. However, a peace agreement that is honored for only some of the time is not worth having; it is worse than no agreement at all since it exposes the opposing side to greater potential harm as they lower their guard. Deir Yassin, at best, only partially adhered to this peace agreement while its belligerent violations rendered meaningless so much as a reference to it.

       The Jews were able to get their accurate intelligence from a contact on the inside. "Some of the Haganah's information about developments in Deir Yassin was coming directly from inside the village itself. A Haganah agent code-named 'Ovadia,' working in the Jerusalem area for the Haganah's Arabic Department, met regularly with Deir Yassin residents as well as their mukhtar, or village chief, who was a paid Haganah informant."15

The Instigation

       As already mentioned, Deir Yassin sat along the road connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During the first phase of the 1948 war, the battle for Jerusalem was raging and this road was the only lifeline to its 100,000 civilian Jewish residents besieged by Arab armies, making safe passage a vital war objective. Villagers from Deir Yassin exploited its inherent strategic value to frequently attack these vulnerable Jewish convoys. As there was no other road and no sign of relenting hostility, the Jews decided to attack and neutralize the threat in order to get supplies through. In fact, "A telegram from Michael Hapt, of the Haganah's Beit Horon brigade, to the Haganah command, at 5:00 p.m. that day, urged: "In order to prevent [an attack] on lower Motza, cutting off of road to Jerusalem, and capture of position south of Tzova, Deir Yassin must be captured."16

The Loudspeaker

       Forfeiting sound military tactics, the Jewish attackers began their assault on Deir Yassin with a loudspeaker announcing the attack was coming and completely destroying the element of surprise. The loudspeaker was attached to an armored vehicle and in native Arabic by an Iraqi-born Jew, instructions were given that anyone who wished to remove themselves from the imminent battle zone could do so via the road to Ein Karem. Much debate over whether this armored vehicle with loudspeaker made it to the village exists. Some say it never made it while others say Arab gunfire forced it into a ditch (which means the Arabs were attacking before they knew what was happening). The Arabs themselves admit, however, the loudspeaker did its job,

       The Red Cross reported that 200-250 civilians from Deir Yassin were safely escorted into Jerusalem. 19 This refutes the ridiculous claim that the IZL and LEHI soldiers "killed every Arab man, woman, and child they could find in the village."52 Over 200 people in Deir Yassin made the choice to safely leave the village, drastically increasing the ratio of hostile to non-hostile villagers choosing to remain behind and fight.

Welcome to the peaceful village of Deir Yassin

       Had Deir Yassin truly been a peaceful, civilian village, the white flags would have signaled peace rather than a sneaky tactic for tricking the Jews into letting their guards down so they could be shot more easily, there would have been no Iraqi officers running about dressed as women, the shooting would not have originated so quickly from Deir Yassin, and they never would have been involved with sniping at Jewish convoys in the first place. It is important to note other Arab villages nearby did not join the war efforts against the Jews and were completely left alone.

Not bad ... for "civilians"

       Remember that one of the main criteria for determining a massacre has taken place is that the people are defenseless. With civilians like these, who needs armies?

After the fighting

       The villagers who made the wise choice to leave as well as all of the prisoners of war were promptly turned over to Arab forces once Deir Yassin was secured. An Irgun commander led a member of the Red Cross through the village immediately after the attack. A press conference was held.33 Pictures were allowed to be taken. Villagers being warned of the attack, prisoners of war being taken and given back, humanitarian groups being toured around, press conferences given, pictures being taken ... people, this is not typical behavior in the aftermath of an authentic massacre.

Jack, the Beanstalk, and the Atrocity

       Once the Arabs caught wind of the Deir Yassin attack, a significant amount of creative energy was diverted from how to win the war into how to manufacture a lie. A Palestinian named Hussein Khalidi is attributed with starting the lie of massacre and atrocity. Khalidi's accusations were accepted as gospel by New York Times correspondent Dana Schmidt on April 12th, 1948, just a few days after the attack. Schmidt's reporting is often referred to as proof a massacre took place. The problem with this is that Khalidi's claims were contrived propaganda.

Arab sources, many of whom were living in Deir Yassin at the time of the attack, are surprisingly vocal in exposing the sham of the alleged atrocities at Deir Yassin:

       Indeed, "... the Red Cross, which was called in to assist the wounded and civilians, found no evidence of a massacre. In fact, even the most recent review of the evidence (July 1999), by Arab scholars at Beir-Zayyit university in Ramallah, indicates that there was no massacre, but rather a military conflict in which civilians were killed in the crossfire."50

       The effects of the Arabs fabricating a lie about the behavior of Jewish forces during their assault on Deir Yassin proved to be counter-productive. Instead of strengthening resolve by uniting Arabs with a sense of outrage and yet more hatred toward the Jews, it caused them to pack up and leave town. Palestinian Arabs fled cities in a panic all over Palestine after hearing of this lie and it could legitimately be viewed as a major factor causing Palestinian Arab refugees.

       The success of an assault against a strategically valuable target can be measured by the improvement in circumstance afterward. It can be validated as having been necessary the same way. The next question is, after Deir Yassin was attacked and neutralized, was there any tangible gain? Remember that prior to the attack, Jewish convoys were being hammered by Arab fire and largely prevented from reaching Jerusalem to alleviate the civilian population. The very next day after the assault, "the situation improved somewhat for the beleaguered Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem. A convoy of 131 vehicles carrying five hundred tons of food finally reached the city from Tel Aviv. Two days later, 250 trucks – out of 280 that began the journey – made it through with an additional one thousand tons of supplies, including flour, sugar, milk, fruit, and vegetables.”42 Decency would agree that if 100,000 people are at risk of starving to death, something should be done to secure the way to rescue them.

       Some claim the battle of Deir Yassin was unnecessary and the Jews only attacked because they were attempting to empty the land of Arabs. Hence, they went out of their way to fight. The evidence presented above already refutes this allegation for the most part, but if any doubt remains, the issue of Latrun must be considered. Latrun had an elevated position above the road connecting Tel Aviv with Jerusalem just as Deir Yassin was. The Arabs were in control of Latrun and were using it to attack Jewish convoys attempting to re-supply Jerusalem just as was happening at Deir Yassin. A plan was in the making to take Latrun from the Arabs. However, a bypass road was discovered that allowed the Jewish convoys to travel to the south of Latrun, out of range of their weapons, which was named “Burma Road”. When Yitzhak Rabin informed Ben-Gurion they would be using this road in place of attacking Latrun, Ben-Gurion was furious. Demanding to know why he wasn’t informed of this change, Rabin replied: “I don’t know. I have been charged with submitting this proposal on behalf of Allon and Stone. Latrun is not sacred. The purpose of taking it is to safeguard our link with Jerusalem. If that purpose can be gained by other means, why must we shed blood over Latrun?”43

       This information is not intended to sweep any unnecessary killings under the rug or suggest that Jews are incapable of killing out of aggravation or anger. There is some testimony by soldiers who participated in the battle of Deir Yassin who claimed such a thing did happen, though there is no idea how many people may have been killed purely out of anger. In fact Hazem Nusseibeh cited above debunking the lie of rape in the village also said the Irgun lined up 14 villagers and shot them after the major fighting died down. Considering the ferocity of the fighting and a total dead of 110, to say these killings were very many would be a giant stab in the dark. More likely, the situation described by a LEHI fighter was closer to the truth as he admits, "It was impossible to attack the enemy without hurting their families, it was difficult. It was painful and I'm sorry we had to do it, but we had no choice."44

       Another illustrative account describes how "the Iraqis had disguised themselves as women -- it is easy to hide weapons beneath the flowing robes of the burqa -- and had hidden themselves among women and children in the village. So, when the Irgun fighters entered, they encountered fire from 'women'! ... Then, while they were in a group, still dressed as women, having surrendered and agreed to be taken prisoner, some of the Iraqis opened fire again with weapons concealed beneath their women's clothing. Irgun fighters were caught off guard, more were killed, and others opened fire into the group. Iraqis who had indeed surrendered were killed along with those who had only pretended to surrender and had then opened fire."49

       Women or children could have easily been killed considering the only way to stop the gunfire from many houses was to throw in grenades and blow off the doors with explosives. That there were dead women found at Deir Yassin could have been used as evidence of massacre had they not been lying on the ground with guns in their hands; clear evidence they were participating in the attack.45

"A total of 170 English-language history books which refer to the battle of Deir Yassin were analyzed for this study. Only 8 of the 170 raised serious doubts as to whether or not there had been a massacre. Of the 162 books which stated definitively that a massacre had occurred, 94 of them --58%-- gave no source whatsoever for their accusation, and an additional 38 -- 23.4%-- cited only secondary sources for the massacre claim. In other words, a total of 81.4% of the authors claiming a massacre did so without undertaking any original research to substantiate their claim."48

1  Background Notes on Current Themes - No.6: Dir Yassin (Jerusalem: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Information Division, 16 March 1969), pp. 2-3
3  Bernard Wasserstein, The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict 1917-1929, Second Edition, 1991, pg. 69.
4  Ibid.
5  Ibid.
6  Yitshaq Ben-Ami, Years of Wrath, Days of Glory (New York: Shengold, 1983), p.439.
7 (Internet Archive confirms accuracy of quote as of April 24, 2006)
8 citing Milstein, p.257 (interview with Mordechai Gihon). Milstein found the report in the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence Collection 83/17, Reports of "Teneh," 9 April 1948.
9  Davar, Sunday 4 April 1948, Pg. 2
10 citing Milstein, p. 257, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence Collection 88/17, "From Hashmonai," 4 April 1948, 10:00 A.M.
11 citing Milstein, p. 257, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence Collection 88/17, "From Sa'ar," 4 April 1948, 10:00 A.M.
12 citing Testimony of David Gottlieb, MZ; Milstein, pp.257-258, citing the Israel Defense Forces Archives, War of Independence Collection 21/17, "From Hashmonai," 4 April 1948.
13 citing Milstein, p.258 (interview with Mordechai Gihon).
14 citing Milstein, p.258, citing Israel Defense Forces Archive, War of Independence Collection, 228/3, Operation Log, 9 April 1948, 2:40 a.m.
15 citing Milstein interview with Haganah agent Yona Ben-Sasson, 12 November 1980; also, Milstein, citing the Ben-Nur Report in the David Shaltiel Archives.
16 citing Milstein, p. 258, citing "Operations Log - Arza," 4 April 1948, 17:00 hours, Broadcast #562, Israel Defense Forces Archive, War of Independence Collection, 88/17.
17  Arab League publication entitled "Israeli Aggression", page 10.
18  Quote from Abu Mahmoud, resident of Deir Yassin, 50 Years War, PBS Disc 1 of 2
19  Jewish Historical Revisionists by Middle East Analyst Emanuel A. Winston
20  The Revolt, Begin, Menachem.
21  Jewish Historical Revisionists by Middle East Analyst Emanuel A. Winston
22  Milstein, interview with Harif, p. 262
23  Ibid, p. 263
24  Quote from Raid Commander Ben Zion Cohen, 50 Years War, PBS, Disc 1 of 2
25 citing Yachin's testimony is quoted at length in Lynne Reid Banks, A Torn Country: An Oral History of the Israeli War of Independence (New York: Franklin Watts, 1982), pp. 58-65.
26  Testimony of Reuven Greenberg.
27 which cites Out of Crisis Comes Decision, p.262-265, Milstein
28  Testimony of Reuven Greenberg
29  Lynne Reid Banks, A Torn Country and An Oral History of the Israeli War of Independence, New York: Franklin Watts, 1982, p. 62
30  A Jewish Eyewitness: An Interview with Meir Pa'il, McGowan.
31  Milstein, interview with Harif, p. 262
32  Milstein, p.264, (interview with Mordechai Gihon and "Report of Etzioni intelligence officer").
33 (Internet Archive confirms citation as of May 18, 2007)
34  50 Years War, PBS, Disc 1 of 2
35  Deir Yassin a casualty of guns and propaganda, by Paul Holmes (Reuters)
36  The Daily Telegraph, April 8, 1998
37  The Revolt, Begin, Menachem.
38  Al Urdun (Jordanian newspaper) April 9th, 1953
39  50 Years War, PBS, Disc 1 of 2
40  The Revolt, Begin, Menachem.
41  War Without End, by Anton La Guardia (Thomas Dunne Books, N.Y. 2000)
42  Jerusalem Besieged, pg. 272
43  The Rabin Memoirs, pg. 33.
44  Quote from Ezra Yakhin, a LEHI fighter, 50 Years War, PBS, Disc 1 of 2
45  Testimony of Yehoshua Gorodenchick, MZ.
46  [Cites Lorch 1968, 123-24; Syrkin 1974, 63; Herzog 1984, 38-40; Gilbert 1996, 203-5; Wasserstein 2001, 144.] - “Jerusalem Besieged” by Eric H. Cline, pp 270-272.
47  The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz, pg. 79, cites Morris, p. 214, 205.
49  "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel" by David Meir-Levi, Pp. 18-19
50  "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel" by David Meir-Levi, Pg. 19
51  "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel" by David Meir-Levi, Pg. 20
52  "Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947-1974" by Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, Pg. 35