First published in
There are many different accounts and interpretations of what happened on 9 April 1948 at Deir Yassin, a small village on the west side of Jerusalem. For ardent Zionists it was a battle at the beginning of Israel's War for Independence. For most historians (privately, in opinions they can no longer express without unacceptable professional consequences) it was a massacre of Arabs committed by dissident Jewish factions of the Irgun and the Stern Gang. For Palestinians it was the beginning of the Nakba or The Catastrophe, when they were stripped of 78 percent of historical Palestine.2
Despite these different interpretations, almost all will agree on the following:
- Deir Yassin was a village populated by about 750 Arabs located 3 km west of Jerusalem near the top of a hill accessible only by one road coming from the east.
- With about 120 men, the Jewish terrorist gangs known as The Irgun and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin at 4 a.m. on 9 April 1948 in their first joint ‘military operation’.
- Alerted by guards, the villagers from within their stone homes and with few weapons (including two machine guns) were able to kill four of the terrorists and wound thirty-six, bringing the attack to a standstill by late morning.
- The gangs then sought the help of soldiers from the Palmach, the elite fighters of the Haganah, or the main Jewish military force. These seventeen professional soldiers, using a 52-mm mortar, conquered the village within an hour.
- After the Palmach soldiers had left, the gangs went from house to house killing women, children, and old men.
- They paraded some of the Palestinian men through the streets of Jerusalem and then brought them back to the stone quarry on the south side of Deir Yassin. There they shot them all to death.
- The Irgun and the Stern Gang then herded the villagers who were unable to flee (down the mountain to the southwest toward Ein Karem) into the school and threatened to blow up the building with all the people inside.
- The bloodbath was finally ended when Jews from the neighboring settlement of Givat Shaul intervened, forcing the gangs to let the Palestinians out to flee to East Jerusalem.
- In the following two days the bodies of over a hundred Palestinian villagers were either thrown into cisterns or burned in the quarry.
- During the evening of 9 April at a tea and cookies party for the press, the leader of the Irgun bragged of having killed 254 Arabs. This number was reported in the New York Times on 10 and 13 April.
- Within a year, the homes of Palestinians at Deir Yassin were resettled by Jews, most of them from Romania. In 1951 the Israeli government moved them and created a mental hospital among the buildings in the center of Deir Yassin. It was called Gival Shaul Bet and later the Kfar Shaul Hospital.