Following five years of research, Prof. Eliezer Tauber of the Dept. of Middle East Studies at Bar Ilan University has concluded there was no massacre in Deir Yassin, but the false rumors circulated by the Arab leadership at the time about massacres, rapes and other horrors caused the Arabs of Eretz Israel to flee, with the story becoming one of the most important factors in the creation of the refugee problem.
A fierce battle that lasted ten hours on April 9, 1948, in the Arab village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, and involved the civilian population, ended with the victory of the Jewish underground forces of Etzel and Lehi. Prof. Tauber’s investigation shows there was no massacre in the village. When the battle was over and the killing stopped, a head count by the victors showed 101 enemy dead, a quarter of them actual fighters and most of the rest civilians who were caught by the battle.
Tauber quotes the testimony of one Arab survivor who said, “I think that most of those killed were among the fighters and women and children who helped the fighters.”
The Arab villagers received early warning to evacuate the village, Tauber reports, noting that, indeed, 700 of them heeded the warning and left. 200 of them were captured by the attackers and were later released unharmed in eastern Jerusalem.
The Jewish fighters also suffered casualties.
At that point or shortly thereafter, for reasons of psychological warfare, the Irgun reported that 200 Arabs had been killed, double the real number. This figure was soon embraced enthusiastically by the Arab leadership in Jerusalem, which even increased it to 254 and added stories of rape and other atrocities.
Tauber cites Hussein Khalidi, the senior Arab authority in Jerusalem at the time, who was of the opinion that “we must make the most of it, you have to give it as much propaganda power as possible. Since the Arab states do not seem interested in helping us, and we are facing a catastrophe, therefore, we must present a picture not of what is really happening, but we must exaggerate.”
Khalidi may have wanted to prevent a catastrophe (Nakba), but in many ways caused one with his decision.
Tauber’s account contradicts contemporary reports by Hebrew papers as well as the BBC and the NY Times of a press conference in Givat Shaul in which Mordechai Ranaan, the Irgun’s district commander in Jerusalem, claimed that 240 Arabs had been killed. Consequently, the New York Times on April 13, 1948, reported that 254 Arabs were killed at Deir Yassin.
Sharif Kan’ana of Bir Zeit University interviewed survivors and published his own figures in 1988, of 107 villagers being killed, 11 of them armed.