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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 1995 pgs. 48, 96

Special Report

U.S.-Based Group Planning Memorial at Site of Deir Yassin Massacre

By Daniel McGowan

Early in the morning of April 9, 1948 commandos of the Irgun (headed by Menachem Begin) and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 400 Palestinian residents. It was several weeks before the end of the British Mandate. The village lay outside of the area to be assigned by the United Nations to the Jewish state; it had a peaceful reputation; it had cooperated with the Jewish Agency and was even said by a Jewish newspaper to have driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and according to Plan Dalet, it was to be destroyed and the residents evacuated.

By noon over 100 men, women, and children had been systematically murdered. Four commandos died from the old Mausers and muskets owned by some of the Palestinians. Twenty-five male villagers were loaded onto trucks, paraded through the Zakhron Yosef quarter in Jerusalem, and then taken to a stone quarry between Giv'at Sha'ul and Deir Yassin and shot to death. The remaining residents were driven into Arab East Jerusalem.

The official Zionist leaders denounced the dissidents of Irgun and the Stern Gang just as they had after the terrorist attack on the King David Hotel. Ben-Gurion even sent an apology to Jordan's King Abdullah. But this horrific act served the future state of Israel well. As Begin said, "Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of 'Irgun butchery,' were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated" (Begin, The Revolt, page 164). The Palestinian exodus from Haifa and Jaffa is likely to have been stimulated by this massacre.

Many houses in the village were dynamited; its cemetery was bulldozed, and like hundreds of other Palestinian villages, Deir Yassin was wiped off the map.

Commemorating Deir Yassin

Ever since that tragic massacre, Palestinians have been fighting for their basic human rights of self-determination as acknowledged in U.N. Resolution 181. But somehow, most observers do not see it this way. For years Palestinians have been characterized as terrorists and their history has been virtually ignored. Their very existence has been called into question as Americans supported the Zionist claim to "the land without people, for a people without land."

Westerners now realize that Palestinians do exist and that, while there are virtues to Zionism, there are victims as well. The glory of expansionism of "Jew by Jew, aliyah [wave of immigration] after aliyah, acre by acre, goat by goat" has a very dark side for Palestinians who have been subjected to the iron fist policy of "might, power, and beatings," who have been driven from their homes, and who have been denied education and equality. Demonized by the media in general, and particularly by television and movie producers, Palestinians want the world to know the truth of what former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged years ago: "There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population" (Ha'aretz, April 4, 1969). To deny their history is to further oppress and deliberately dehumanize Palestinians inside Israel, inside the occupied territories, and outside in their diaspora.

In the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and especially in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, there are numerous memorials for Jews who died in the 1948 War of Independence. In keeping with Simon Wiesenthal's observation that "hope lives when people remember," the suffering of Jews has been rightly acknowledged and memorialized. But there are few memorials for Palestinians who died in The Catastrophe, the Palestinian name for that same war. Their history has been largely buried and forgotten. And yet, like the descendants of the victims in Armenia (1915-17), in the Soviet Union (1929-53), in Nazi Germany (1933-45), in China (1949-52, 1957-60, and 1966-76), and in Cambodia (1975-79), the Palestinians and their descendants want the world to remember what they suffered, what they lost, and why they died. Today, Israelis and Palestinians are involved in what has been called the "Middle East Peace Process." In the spirit of reconciliation essential for the success of that process, the organizers of Deir Yassin Remembered believe it is appropriate for the suffering of Palestinians likewise to be acknowledged and memorialized.

While the main purpose of Deir Yassin Remembered is to build a suitable memorial, the organization has a broader, more humanitarian objective. It will work to eliminate prejudice against Palestinians and to promote the human side of a people who have been the victims of the Zionist colonization of their land and of the apartheid conditions under which they now live. The organizers will publicize the building of the memorial, through press releases and documentary presentations, in an effort to heighten awareness, particularly on the part of the American public, concerning Palestinian grievances, and thus enhance support for a just and durable resolution to the conflict.

Deir Yassin Remembered will raise a minimum of $100,000 toward the purchase of a site at Deir Yassin where we shall erect a public sculpture listing an account of the massacre and a list of the names of its victims. We expect that the memorial statue will be endorsed by the Israeli government, by compassionate Jews from all over the world, and by the Palestinians living in Palestine and in the diaspora.

The Board of Advisers

Balanced leadership for this project is important. When fully constituted, the members of the board of advisers of Deir Yassin Remembered will consist of equal numbers of Jews and non-Jews, and of men and women. It includes significant scholars (e.g., Edward Said and Cheryl Rubenberg), human rights activists (e.g., Lea Tsemel and Mubarak Awad), and those in Israel and in the occupied territories (e.g., Nabilia Espanioly and Sahan Ghosheh) who can really make things happen. It can be, should be, and will be a multipartisan effort.

The revered Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, once wrote to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, "The time will come when it will be possible to conceive of some act in Deir Yassin, an act which will symbolize our people's desire for justice and brotherhood with the Arab people." Almost half a century has passed; the time to recognize the injustice toward and victimization of the Palestinian people is overdue. Standing invitations to join the board have been sent to Elie Wiesel and Shimon Peres; regrettably, like Buber's letter to Ben-Gurion, they have gone unanswered. But this shunning silence, which can be so deafening and so maddening, continues to be shattered by the enthusiastic support of others like Marc Ellis, Ayala Gabriel, and Stanley Sheinbaum.

We are under no illusion about the difficulties of raising funds. Yet the road seemed shorter on the day a check for $250 arrived from a Jewish woman in South Carolina with a note asking for one of our T-shirts emblazoned with a map of Jerusalem showing the location of Deir Yassin. Like many others she had not realized how close Deir Yassin is to the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and, in a deliberate understatement, she found that "rather chilling."

In addition to lending support in the fund-raising, the board will work to secure a site at Deir Yassin and will judge the most suitable sculpture or memorial from those proposed by artists and sculptors working in Israel, in the occupied territories, and in the diaspora. It will be an international competition for which several contestants already have applied.

Contributions and Support

Persons interested in supporting Deir Yassin Remembered, becoming a member of the organization, and receiving its newsletter, are invited to contact the writer and/or send their tax-deductible contributions, payable to MECCS/DYR (Middle East Cultural and Charitable Society/Deir Yassin Remembered), to Deir Yassin Remembered, c/o Daniel McGowan, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456, phone (315) 781-3418, fax (315) 781-3422, e-mail [email protected]

Daniel McGowan is a professor of economics at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. His article "Teaching About Palestinians: A Lesson About America" appears on page 19 of the September 1995 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.