Photo Credit: File Photo
Deir Yassin today, part of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, an Israeli psy-chiatric hospital.

On April 9, 1948, the Irgun and Lehi attacked Deir Yassin, an Arab village west of Jerusalem. For almost seven decades, an anti-Israeli biased literature has described this attack as a deliberate massacre of 254 defenseless Arab villagers, accompanied by rape and other atrocities.

What really happened?

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For the past five years, I have examined a large number of testimonies and records from 21 archives (including Israeli, Palestinian, British, American, UN, and Red Cross), many of them not yet released to the public, and hundreds of other sources. The evidence is clear: No massacre occurred Deir Yassin, no rape was committed.

But there was propaganda. And this propaganda about alleged atrocities, spread by the Palestinian leadership, caused many Palestinians to run away, which led to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

 

No Massacre

Deir Yassin was not the peaceful village many later claimed it to be, but a fortified village with scores of armed combatants. Its relations with adjacent Jewish neighborhoods were troubled for decades, and the Jews believed it endangered the only road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, thus bolstering the Arab siege of Jewish Jerusalem. Therefore, although it later denied doing so for political reasons, the Jewish main militia in 1948, the Haganah, actually sanctioned the attack and later took part in it by means of its striking force, the Palmach.

A 10-hour fierce battle, in the presence of a civilian population, ended in the victory of the Jewish forces. No massacre took place. When the battle ended, the killing stopped. “Most of those who were killed were among the fighters and the women and children who helped the fighters,” one of the Arab survivors later testified.

Furthermore, the Arab villagers got advance warning to evacuate the village, which 700 of them heeded. The attackers took 200 villagers prisoner and safely released them in Arab Jerusalem. Only 101 Arabs were killed, a quarter of them active combatants and most of the rest in combat conditions. The assailants also suffered casualties.

 

The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem

For psychological warfare considerations, the Irgun reported 200 Arabs killed, twice the actual number – a number that was nevertheless enthusiastically adopted by the Palestinian leadership in Jerusalem, which increased it to 254 and added rape to the account. Hussein Khalidi, the senior Arab authority in 1948 Jerusalem, believed the Arabs “must make the most of this.”

“We should give this the utmost propaganda possible because the Arab countries apparently are not interested in assisting us and we are facing a catastrophe,” he said. “So we are forced to give a picture – not what is actually happening – but we had to exaggerate.”

But Khalidi’s plan to pressure Arab states to send their armies to fight the Jews backfired. “Dr. Khalidi was the one who caused the catastrophe,” one of the Arab survivors said. “Instead of working in our favor, the propaganda worked in favor of the Jews. Whole villages and towns fled because what they heard had happened in Deir Yassin.” Following the rule that women’s honor comes before land, Palestinians ran away the moment they heard about the alleged rapes.

 

Horror Propaganda

I investigated the propaganda that spread about the affair from 1948 to the present. The following is a typical story, repeated recently by the exiled Muslim preacher Yusuf Qaradawi: “As a climax of cruelty, certain Jewish terrorists laid wagers on the sex of the unborn babies of expectant mothers. The wretched women were cruelly disemboweled alive, their wombs drawn out and searched for the evidence which would determine the winner.”

Westerners have also promoted the massacre narrative. Deir Yassin Remembered was founded in the United States and is interested in building a memorial to commemorate the “massacre” in a location overlooking Yad Vashem – apparently in order to draw some analogy between it and the Holocaust. Indeed, disputing that a massacre occurred at Deir Yassin has been called equivalent to denying the Holocaust.

But my research puts the to rest any serious questioning of whether there was, or was not, a massacre at Deir Yassin. There wasn’t. Period.

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Professor Eliezer Tauber, a former dean in Bar-Ilan University, Israel, is an expert on the emergence of Arab nationalism, the formation of the Arab states, and the early phases of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is now looking for a publisher for his newest book, “The Massacre That Never Was: The Myth of Deir Yassin and the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem.”