What is Deir Yassin?


– If you search the internet
about the war that gave birth to the state of Israel, one little village outside of Jerusalem is sure to get a lot of
mentions, Deir Yassin. It was a tiny Arab village
of about 600 people and yet, according to many historians, what happened there on April 9th, 1948, was one of the key events of the war, usually know by Israelis
as the War of Independence and by Arabs as the Nakba or Catastrophe. Now if you’ve been playing close attention to our other videos, and if
you haven’t you should got back and watch some of them they’re great, you might of noticed something, we’re talking about an event
that happened a month before the official start of the 1948 war. That’s intense and open
warfare between Arabs and Jews was already long underway by that point, even while the British were still officially in charge of the territory. So, yes, even though
the story of Deir Yassin took place before the
war technically started, it was significant to be considered one of the key events of that war. Like many other events of the war, this story presents real challenges for anyone who wants to tell
it in a fair and honest way. Search online and you’ll
get all kinds of claims, some backed up by evidence and some not. So let’s go through those claims and pick apart what’s
substantiated by historians and what’s now acknowledged to have been propaganda on both sides. (upbeat music) In order to understand what
actually happened at Deir Yassin we need to go back to a date
five and a half months earlier, November 29th, 1947. That’s when the United
Nations voted to adopt resolution 181, partitioning
the mandate for Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. While the Zionist leaders
reluctantly accepted the result, the Arabs emphatically rejected the vote. They resented international
outsiders deciding what happened to what
they say as their land and were determined to defeat
any effort to establish a Jewish state in any part
of mandatory Palestine. A new wave of violence
between Arabs and Jews broke out right away,
initiated by Arab violence, stabbings, shootings, road
blockades and some bombings. This was the beginning of
the first phase of the war, before the entire region was engulfed in a interstate conflict in May 1948. From November 1947 to March 1948, the Arab forces continued
to increase their attacks. They had the upper hand, with thousands of volunteer fighters from surrounding Arab countries
infiltrating the region. Among other things, some of these forces organized the siege of Jerusalem, trapping the 100,000 Jewish
residents of the city and preventing shipments
of food or supplies. The effects were devastating. The main Jewish fighting
force, the Haganah, made many attempts to
break through the blockade but simple couldn’t. Nearly all of it’s armored
vehicles where destroyed and hundreds of it’s fighters were killed trying to bring supplies to Jerusalem. Israelis feared that
Arab forces would win. By the end of March 1948
the situation for the Jews was so desperate that the
U.S. seriously consider withdrawing its support
for the UN’s partition plan because they became convinced the Jews would lose against the Arabs. Meanwhile, the Arab fighters now felt they had the military strength to put a end to the partition plan and prevent a Jewish state
from being established. By April 5th the Haganah was desperate. For more on the different
strategies they tried you can check out our episode, “Weird Ways Israel Won
its War of Independence”. But ultimately they
launched Operation Nachshon, a military operation aimed at breaking the siege of Jerusalem by opening the road from Tel Aviv. The Arabs had been able to
block supplies to Jerusalem by controlling several
strategic vantage points along the highway, from
which they ambushed and fire on Israeli convoys. Deir Yassin was one of
those strategic locations. It was less than a mile
from the Jerusalem suburbs and was on a hill that overlooked a large portion of the city. So it was placed a list of Arab villages to be taken over as part
as Operation Nachshon. By the time the Jewish forces decided to advance into Deir Yassin, most of the Arab villages
to the west of Jerusalem had already been abandoned
by the residents. The battle took place on April 9th, 1948. What happened that day is the
subject of much disagreement, but here’s what seems clear. Even though the Haganah
planned Operation Nachshon the move against Deir Yassin
was actually carried out by smaller paramilitary
grounds, the Irgun and Lehi. Although these fighters
lacked the training and equipment of the Haganah, they didn’t anticipate
any major resistance and felt that they could
achieve their goals. So in the early morning of April 9th, a 120 from the Irgun and Lehi arrive at the village in two groups. They brought along a van with a bullhorn to deliver a message in Arabic, that the villagers should put
down their weapons and flee. Now, it’s not clear
whether the warning message was ever sent though, and if it was, whether it was heard by any
inhabitants of the village. According to Benny Morris, the van overturned in a ditch
and fierce fight ensued. Abu Mahmud, an Arab villager
told the BBC in 1998 that he did hear the warning from the van. Some accounts don’t
mention any warning though and instead present the
advance on Deir Yassin as a premeditated plot
to murder its residents. Former Israeli Prime
Minister, Menachem Begin, who was the leader of the Irgun
at the time of the attack, said that a substantial
number of residents actually did leave the village
before the fighting began, having heeded the warnings from
the arriving Jewish troops. So it’s not clear how
many people in Deir Yassin actually heard the
warnings, still all agreed that the Arabs who stayed
offered fierce resistance, which surprised the Irgun fighters. In response, the Jewish
troops used hand grenades, killing many, including both
armed and unarmed civilians. The question though, is why? According to Begin, the clash
was house to house battle in which the use of hand
grenades was necessary. Professor Daniel Gordis, argues that the ill prepared Irgun fighters
used the grenades in panic when there communications equipment failed and they were fired upon by residents. According to Benny Morris, the
Irgun fighters use grenades only under great pressure, having been pinned down
by fire at each house. Some sources on the other hand, view the throwing of
hand grenades into houses as a deliberate tactic
to increase causalities. Fahimeh Ali Mustafa Zeidan,
was 11 years old at the time, later reported that the Jewish forces, “blew the door down and entered “and started searching the place. “They got to the store room,
and took us out one by one. “They shot the son-in-law, “and when one of his daughters
screamed, they shot her too. “We all started screaming and crying, “but were told if we did not
stop they would shot us all. “They then lined us up,
shot at us, and left.” Yehuda Avner, a future Israeli diplomat who was living in nearby
Beit HaKerem at the time, described in his diary that he
heard explosions that morning from Deir Yassin and
went over to investigate. He wrote that he saw
prisoners taken around town”, “in lorry with their hands up, “idea is bolster morale”, “rumored they were to be shot”, “walking home we saw the captured “women and children in a truck”, “they just stared”, “many Jews around”, “I felt ashamed the way they cheered”. In total, among the Jewish
forces, four were killed and 40 were wounded. And now is when we start to
get to some of false reports. At the time many sources,
including the Haganah, the Irgun, Arab reports, the head of
the Red Cross in Jerusalem and The New York Times,
said the death toll was closer to 200 or 250 Arabs. Today, these casualty numbers are regarded as highly exaggerated. The accepted figure of 107
for the Arab death toll, comes from a 1988 investigation
by a Palestinian University. But what makes the saga of
Deir Yassin so controversial isn’t just the number of people killed, there’s also the question of whether atrocities where committed by the Irgun and Lehi forces. Most importantly, how the legend
of the Deir Yassin massacre and the propaganda surrounding it led to fear among the Palestinian Arabs. Many horrific reports were spread by the Arabs in the days after the attack. There was the account
of surviving villagers being paraded through Jewish
neighborhoods of West Jerusalem before being summarily executed. And the claimed that
many women and children were brutally slaughter at Deir Yassin, publicized in a broadcast by the Arab headquarters in Ramallah. Some reports from Israelis, who were eye witnesses to fighting or arrived shortly there after, did testify to seeing some
horrible things like executions. But some of the claims of atrocities certainly appear to have been fictitious. Arab reports at the time
stated that there were multiple instances of rape,
especially of school children, which the Irgun fighters
immediately denied. Now these allegations persist to this day, despite the fact that both
Israeli and Palestinian scholars have concluded that there
is no evidence whatsoever of rape having taken place. That said, some reports do suggest that the actions of the
Irgun and Lehi fighters show an indifference to human life. And here’s where get
even more complicated. For example we have the testimony of the Lehi commander of the operation, Yehoshua Zelter, who denied that his men carried out a massacre in the village, but admitted that they put
explosives in each home causing the inhabitants to run away. In his words, within a few hours half the village isn’t there anymore. The same commander said
that he was disgusted to see that his men had burned the bodies of those who were killed. And yet, historian Eliezer Tauber, argues that Deir Yassin was
merely a poorly organized battle which led to a massacre, instead he suggests it was a myth perpetrated by the
Palestinian Arab leadership, who’s purpose was to bring the surrounding Arab armies into the battle. The exaggerated reports of
some 250 deaths at Deir Yassin, as well as the allegations
that atrocities were committed had unexpected consequences. Some Jewish leaders, who were
political rivals of the Irgun, thought that the charges of cruelty would discredit the group and did not attempt to
challenge the Arab claims. Meanwhile, Arab sources cited Deir Yassin as the impetus for carrying out the Hadassah Convoy
massacre five days later. In that attack, a convoy
bringing in supplies and personnel to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem
was ambushed by Arab forces, resulting the deaths of 78
doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members
and Haganah fighters. From the Arab perspective, they also hoped that the image of atrocities committed against the Arab population would mobilize the Arab countries to intervene in the conflict. For example, Arab leader Hussein Khalidi told a Palestinian news
editor at the time, “We must make the most of this.” Palestinian Broadcasting service
then issued a press release stating that at Deir Yassin,
“Children were murdered, “pregnant women were raped,
all sorts of atrocities.” It’s also clear that the Arab propaganda created a legend among
ordinary people and soldiers about the ferocity of the Irgun fighters, spreading panic at the mere
mention of the organization. Begin wrote, “Not what
happened at Dier 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.” And for those who wanted nothing more for than for the Arabs to just leave, these stories only prompted
more Arabs to flee their homes, ultimately making the refugees. The hyperbole surrounding
the events of that day, in which the Arabs wanted
to demonize the Jewish enemy to rile up Arabs and inflame
the entire Arab world, was so effective that it did just that. It terrified the Arabs to
the point that many fled, ultimately becoming refugees of the war. The Haganah also benefited
from spreading the story and building up the
tragedy to show the world that the Irgun was not fit
to lead the fledging state. But perhaps the biggest lesson we can draw from the story of Deir Yassin is the impact the narrative
of Deir Yassin has had on the formation of the
Palestinian identity. The events of one day
in this small village can been seen as the
beginning of the Nakba, the Catastrophe for the Palestinians. And to this day, Deir Yassin
is one of the key points in the ongoing delegitimization of Israel. At various points, it has
been weaponized, exaggerated or mythologized to make the
Jewish army’s look like demons, and the Jewish state to be born in sin. In the end, the capture of
Deir Yassin in April, 1948 was a strategic victory for the Jews trying to break the
Arab siege on Jerusalem. But the killing of civilians,
even if some were armed, makes it an undeniable tragedy. Thanks for watching,
see you guys next week. (upbeat music)

7 thoughts on “What is Deir Yassin?”

  1. We know that this is a contentious topic and that people will have differing opinions on the matter about who's "right" or "wrong". We encourage you to express and tell us what you think, feel, and believe. We just ask one thing of you – please do so respectfully. Be respectful of others, and their opinions.

    Hateful, violent, racist, sexist, and otherwise uncool comments will be REMOVED.

  2. When you attack people and start genocidal wars – you live with the consequences

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