April 9. 1948 was a date in pre-Israel history that, like Roosevelt’s remark of the Pearl Harbor attack, was “a day that will live in infamy” Most Israelis born after 1948 have probably never heard of the massacre in Deir Yassin and I doubt that it was ever taught in history classes in Israeli schools.
Deir Yassin was an Arab Muslim village of some 600 families near Jerusalem. Relations between the Arab villagers and the Jewish communities nearby had generally been peaceful and friendly. The elders of the village had refused to cooperate with the Mufti of Jerusalem who urged them to attack the Jews.
But at 4:30 in the morning of April 9, 1948, one month prior to the independence of the State of Israel, Deir Yassin was attacked by 120 members of the Zionist underground groups, the Irgun and the Lehi (Stern gang).
They broke down doors of Arab homes and threw grenades inside. Any inhabitants caught trying to flee were shot on the spot.
It had begun as a surprise pre-dawn attack on the village. No one has determined if the plan was a priori intended to slaughter the residents. How then did it happen?
A village sentry spotted the attackers approaching the village and he fired a shot. The Lehi and the Irgun returned the shot with full force killing 107 villagers, men, women, children and babies. That number was later determined to be questionable.
The Lehi leaders claimed that there were 254 dead and the International Red Cross stated that it had found 117 corpses on the ground and an additional 150 corpses, heads cut off and bellies cut open, in a nearby cistern.
Later, the Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote of many cases of rape and mutilation committed by the 120 fighters of the Zionist underground movements.
The massacre at Deir Yassin was condemned publicly by the Haganah and by the 2 Chief Rabbis in Palestine.
The general Jewish public, reading of the massacre the next day in the Hebrew press, was shocked and bewildered. Few had ever heard of the Arab village. Many could not understand the reason for the slaughter in a village which had basically been friendly to Jews over the years.
The Lehi and the Irgun justified the attack as a need to clear Arab strongholds on the road to Jerusalem.
It was definitely the attack on Deir Yassin which ultimately created the mass exodus of more than a half-million Palestinians fleeing to the safety of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, abandoning their homes, property and possessions behind them.
Within three days after the massacre in Deir Yassin, nearby Arab villages were emptied of their inhabitants and the undeclared war of the Mufti’s supporters began. Arab inhabitants, friendly or unfriendly to the Jews, now became refugees. And the abandoned property passed into non-Arab hands.
The British Mandate was still in force at the time but was never able to find the Jewish attackers. It was the formal beginning of the pre-Israel-Palestine war, begun in 1948 and which has never ended.
It is vitally important to realize that the massacre in Deir Yassin was not known beforehand to the leaders of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine. No responsible Jewish leader would have suggested or supported such a tragic event. This was the act of two underground movements acting independently of Jewish communal orders.
It led to hostilities between the elected leaders of the Jewish community and the leaders of the two underground “armies”. It led soon after to the Tel-Aviv government’s orders to sink the ship, Altalena, which was carrying weapons for the underground forces.
These pre-State days were filled with bitterness. Families taking opposite sides became alienated, fathers and sons not agreeing and not speaking with one another. The Jews of Palestine had not witnessed such rival hatreds among fellow Jews before.
Only foolish people believe that time heals all wounds. It most certainly does not !
Through all the bloodshed and the slaughters of both Arabs and Jews, a child was born. And at its bris on 14 May 1948, the child was given the blessed name of Israel.
We are a strong and proud nation. And with the blessings of God and the might of our brave and courageous military forces, may future victories always be ours.