In mid-March, Gal (Yehoshua Goldschmidt) returned to Jerusalem and was appointed Operations Officer of the Irgun. Gal had served as Commanding Officer of the Fighting Force in Jerusalem till 1946 when, on the wanted list of the British, he was forced to leave for Tel Aviv. He was a daring fighter and had taken part in numerous actions against the British. With his arrival, Irgun activity in Jerusalem took on a new direction.
At that time, negotiations had begun between and Raanan (Mordechai Raanan-Kaufman), Irgun Commander in the city, and Lehi Commander in Jerusalem, Meir (Yehoshua Zetler), leading to close co-operation between the Irgun and Lehi. This was no mean achievement in light of the resentments and rivalry, which had developed between the two organizations since the 1940 split.
It was decided to occupy the village of Deir Yassin with a joint force of the Irgun and Lehi.
Deir Yassin lies on a hill west of Jerusalem, eight hundred meters above sea level, and seven hundred meters from the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Shaul. The Deir Yassin fortified position overlooked the westerly Jewish neighborhoods of Givat Shaul, Bet Hakerem, Yefe Nof, and the road to Bayit Vegan, as well as the section of road linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The village served as a halfway site for forces moving up from the Arab villages of Ein Karem and Malha in the south to Kastel and Kolonia, which overlooked the main Jerusalem - Tel Aviv road.
As mention before, Deir Yassin was listed among the Arab villages to be occupied during this Operation. During the fierce battle for Kastel at the beginning of April, Arab reinforcements had passed through Deir Yassin on their way to the battlefield and had helped to drive out the Jewish occupying force.
When the Haganah command learned of the plan to occupy Deir Yassin, Shaltiel asked Raanan to co-ordinate the operation with the scheduled renewed assault on Kastel. Shaltiel even dispatched identical letters to Raanan and Zetler, in which he approved the operation in advance:1
I have learned that you intend to carry out an operation against Deir Yassin. I would like to call your attention to the fact that the occupation and holding of Deir Yassin are one of the stages in our overall plan. I have no objection to your carrying out the operation on condition that you are capable of holding on to it. If you are incapable of doing so, I caution you against blowing up the village, since this will lead to the flight of the inhabitants and subsequent occupation of the ruins and the abandoned homes by enemy forces. This will make things difficult rather than contributing to the general campaign and reoccupation of the site will entail heavy casualties for our men.
An additional argument I would like to cite is that if enemy forces are drawn to the place, this will disrupt the plan to establish an aerodrome there. (Italics mine, Y.L)
When Shaltiel wrote the letter to Raanan, it was already known to the Haganah Intelligence that armed forces, including Iraqi volunteers and Palestinian guerrillas, had entered Deir Yassin. The Mukhtar (head) of the village himself had met with the Haganah liaison in order to inform him that he had no control over the armed forces in the village, and that his promise that Deir Yassin would remain peaceful was no longer biding.
Deir Yassin was never a peace-seeking village. Akiva Azuly who served as Haganah Second in Command in the Givat Shaul area testifies that shots were fired toward Givat Shaul from time to time.2 On April 3, 1948 fire was opened from Deir Yassin towards the Jewish quarters of Bet Hakerem and Yefe Nof. In addition it was found that the Arabs built fortifications in the village and that a large amount of ammunition was being stored there. A few days before the attack on Deir Yassin there were reports about the presence of foreign fighters in the village, among them Iraqi soldiers and Palestinian guerrillas.
Research carried out by the University of Bir Zeit3 reveals that Arabs from Deir Yassin participated in violent actions against Jewish targets and that during the battle for Kastel many villagers fought with Abd-el-Kadr el-Husseini. It is also stated in the above research that ditches had been dug at the various entrances to the village, and that more than l00 men had been trained and equipped with rifles and 2 Bren guns. There was also a local guard force at the entrance to the village.
The armed forces, which had taken over the village, constituted a grave threat not only to the small airfield, which was to be constructed nearby, but also to the adjacent Jewish neighborhoods and to vehicles on the main road to the coastal plain.
About a week before the operation, I was summoned to a meeting at regional HQ, attended by Raanan, Gal and Giora (Ben-Zion Cohen), who had been appointed commander of the operation. I was assigned to act as his deputy. Raanan explained that the capture of Deir Yassin had both military and political objectives. Militarily speaking, the aim was not only to free the western suburbs of Jerusalem from the threat of Deir Yassin, but also to clearly seize the initiative for once. Occupation of the village would demonstrate to the Arabs that the attacker could also be attacked. It would elevate the morale of the people of Jerusalem and restore their self-confidence.
Politically speaking, the operation would mark a change in conception and would alter the direction of the war. Action would no longer be reactive, but proactive, with the intention of holding onto battle gains. The world would see that the Jews were not willing to relinquish Jerusalem, but prepared to fight for it.
I was obliged to curtail my participation in the course then taking place at the villa in Kiryat Shmuel in order to devote my time to preparations for the operation. At a meeting held in Gandhi's home, where the Irgun's regional command was housed, we had a great surprise: Raanan opened a parcel containing new home-made Sten guns which had arrived from Tel Aviv. The fact that the Irgun had progressed to the point where it was capable of manufacturing its own weapons was considered a significant development. Living in Jerusalem under the shadow of the British occupation, we found it hard to grasp that the coastal plain had been enjoying autonomy for the past few months (in accordance with the UN resolution, the British had left the area on February 1, 1948). Gandhi immediately organized wineglasses, and Mother Gandhi opened a barrel of homemade pickled cucumbers. We drank a toast and gorged ourselves on the delicacies laid out before us. Merry from the wine, we asked permission to fire a few rounds from one of the new Stens. Raanan feared that the firing would place us at risk (Gandhi's apartment was in the center of town), but he succumbed to the pressure and eventually allowed us to fire three shots. I was awarded the great honor: we went out onto the balcony and I fired a single shot. When I then set it to fire rounds, it once again emitted a single bullet. This malfunctioning was to recur often, causing us great frustration.
Returning to the villa late at night, I thought to what a pity it was that they hadn't sent us Bren guns instead of the Stens. Didn't they understand that the underground days, when the submachine-gun was our chosen weapon, were long gone, and that we now needed heavy machine-guns?
Two days before the Operation we held a daytime briefing with all the section commanders, and later went out on a night patrol. At the first meeting, I made the acquaintance of Avni (Yosef Avni-Danoch), who had recently been released from the Latrun detention camp. His courage in actions against the British had earned him the nickname Abu Jilda, after a notorious Arab brigand of the 1930s. At the briefing location, at the far end of Bet Hakerem, Giora explained the plan of action and the role assigned to each of us. That night we patrolled the route we were to take during the operation, coming very close to the village without attracting attention. We halted only when the dogs began barking, since we feared that they would rouse the guards and we wanted to avoid an exchange of gunfire. The fact that we had succeeded in coming so close to the houses of the village inspired us with confidence and convinced us that the battle would be brief and uncomplicated.
GOING INTO BATTLE
On Thursday, April 8, about 80 Irgun fighters assembled at the Etz Hayim base (the Lehi met separately at Givat Shaul). This was the first time that so large a number of underground fighters had gathered openly, without fear of British policemen or soldiers. The atmosphere was festive and our spirits were high; at last we were on the offensive. The fact that two underground movements were collaborating increased our sense of security and solidarity, and in honor of the event we chose the password 'Fighters' Solidarity' (Ahdut Lohemet).
Raanan, Commander of the Irgun in Jerusalem, opened the meeting. Raanan, tall and impressive, had come to Jerusalem from Petah Tikva, where he was on the wanted list. Raanan surveyed the strategic plan, aimed at liberating the whole of Jerusalem and annexing it to the Jewish state. He emphasized that this was not a punitive action, but the conquest of an enemy target, and that we must avoid causing unnecessary injury. He stressed repeatedly that we must not harm old people, women or children. Moreover, any Arabs who surrendered, including fighters, were to be taken prisoner and not hurt in any way. Raanan related that in order to prevent superfluous casualties, it had been decided that an armored car equipped with a loudspeaker, which would enter the village ahead of the troops before they opened fire, would launch the operation. By this means the villagers would be informed that the village was surrounded by Irgun and Lehi fighters, and would be exhorted to leave for Ein Karem or to surrender. They would also be informed that the road to Ein Karem was open and safe.
Gal, Irgun Operations Officer in Jerusalem, spoke after Raanan. He explained that the objective was to occupy the village and to hold the position. The plan was to attack in two spearheads: a force of two Irgun platoons would attack from the Bet Hakerem direction, and a platoon of Lehi would attack from Givat Shaul. Another small force, consisting of a section commanded by Menashe (Yehuda Treibish) was assigned to capture the fortified position south of the village (mount Herzl direction), with the aim of preventing Arab reinforcements from Ein Karem and Malha arriving.
At 2 a.m. the Irgun fighters were driven from the Etz Hayim base to Bet Hakerem. The force moved into the wadi, where the platoons split up, each platoon climbing up the terraced slope to its assigned area of action.
The Lehi unit assembled at Givat Shaul and proceeded from there towards the target. Some of the force advanced behind the armored car, which was proceeding along the path towards the center of the village.
Close to 04:45, the village guards spotted suspicious movement. One of them called out in Arabic: 'Mahmoud', and an Irgun fighter, who thought that someone had shouted the password 'ahdut' (solidarity), responded with the second half of the password in Hebrew 'lohemet'. The Arabs opened fire and shots were fired from all sides.
The armored car advanced along the path to the outskirts of the village, where it encountered a trench and was forced to come to a halt. A message was read out over loudspeaker at the entrance to the village, whilst shots were fired at the car from the adjacent houses. Injuries inside the vehicle were reported and a first-aid unit set out from Givat Shaul. Dvora Simchon, one of the rescue team, was wounded in the arm while attending to the injured.
The other units launched an onslaught, accompanied by explosions and gunfire. Arab resistance was strong and every house became an armed fortress. Many fighters were injured in the first onslaught, including a number of commanders who had been advancing ahead of their units.
When the center of the village had been occupied, we concentrated all the wounded in a courtyard and sought ways to evacuate them. Among them was Yiftah (Yehuda Segal), who had been hit in the stomach, but remained fully conscious. When I asked how he was, his reply was unambiguous: "Please do me a favor and shoot me in the head. I can't bear the pain any more." We laid him on a makeshift stretcher (a door which had been ripped from its hinges) and four fighters carried him towards Givat Shaul. It turned out that the road was impassable because of gunfire from the Mukhtar's hilltop house and we were forced to take a roundabout route. Yiftah reached Givat Shaul safely, and was evacuated to hospital from there. Another casualty was Giora, commander of the operation, who was hit in the leg by a bullet fired from one of the houses.
The pace of the battle was slow because we were fighting in a built-up area, and both sides suffered heavy losses. In order to silence the source of fire, our fighters were forced to use hand-grenades, and in some cases even to blow up houses. Shots were fired from all sides and we rapidly half our fighters, and our ammunition was seriously depleted.
A report on the course of the battle was transmitted by courier to headquarters at Givat Shaul (neither the Irgun nor the Lehi had wireless equipment). When news of the steadily growing number of casualties and the shortage of ammunition became known, several Lehi people went to the Schneller camp and asked a Palmach unit to come to our aid. The troops set out in an armored car, equipped with a machine-gun and a 2" mortar. On arrival at the village they fired several shells and machine-gun rounds at the Mukhtar's house. At that very moment and without prior co-ordination with the Palmach, Avni charged and occupied the Mukhtar's house. All firing ceased and occupation of the village was complete. Avni, who had been wounded, was bandaged and evacuated to hospital.
After the Mukhtar's house had been taken, I went out to patrol the village. I climbed to the top of one of the two-storey houses to survey the surroundings. On the roof I was greeted by the sight of the corpse of an Arab fighter, an Iraqi judging from his uniform, with a rifle beside him and an ammunition belt on his body. I stood there, hypnotized. A vision passed before me of comrades who had been killed and injured in a war, which we had never wanted in the first place and for which we (and the Arabs) were paying heavily in terms of human life. Could we really not settle the dispute without bloodshed? The whistle of a bullet passing nears my head, which buried itself in the wall opposite. I snatched the rifle from the ground and jumped down into the courtyard. The sniping continued well into the evening.
Towards evening a unit arrived from town to take over the duty of guarding the village. From Givat Shaul I went by motorbike to visit the wounded in hospital. To my shock, I discovered that I had forgotten to remove the rifle from my shoulder. This was the first time that I had driven through the City Street openly armed. It was Friday evening, and Jews in festive attire were making their way to synagogue. The crowds cheered as I passed a clear expression of solidarity with the underground movements fighting for the city. When I reached our provisional hospital, I was happy to meet Nurit who had come to nurse the wounded. I gave her a souvenir, a handsome 'shabariyeh' (the dagger the Arabs wear in their belts), which I had brought from the battle.
After the battle we learned what had happened to Menashe's unit. On reaching the fortified position overlooking the road to Ein Karem, they had encountered heavy fire. One of the fighters was killed and two were wounded, and after their ammunition had run out they had withdrawn to Bet Hakerem. On their way to the battle, they had met a Haganah unit, which had received prior word of the action and wished them success.
Only years later was permission given to publicize the report written at the time by the Haganah Intelligence Officer, describing the role of the Haganah in the battle for Deir Yassin. It reads, in part, as follows:4
In the morning hours, it was decided to extend fire support. This support took two forms:
a) Blocking the way to Arab reinforcements coming up from Malha and Ein Karem.
b) A rear attack on Arabs dug in on the western slope of the village.
The two actions were carried out from the Masrafa (Mt Herzl) positions. In order to enable the forces to attack from the rear, a Spandau machine-gun was brought. The Arabs were taken by surprise by the gunfire and suffered considerable losses when forced to reveal themselves to our positions. (Italics mine Y.L.)
When the fighting ended, it was discovered that hundreds of villagers had retreated to Ein Karem, exploiting the fact that the road was open. Those who remained in the village surrendered and were taken prisoner. The prisoners, mostly women and children, were loaded onto trucks and taken to East Jerusalem, where they were handed over to their Arab brethren.
On Friday evening it was brought to Raanan's attention that foreign journalists were roaming the village seeking information about what had happened. He asked Dan (Kalman Bergman), a member of the Irgun H.Q. in Jerusalem, to call an improvised press conference, at which he described the course of the battle. He said that the action had been carried out with the knowledge of the Haganah, and that stringent instructions had been given to the fighters not to harm women and children. Dan reported that heavy losses had been incurred because the fighting had been conducted in a built-up area, and said that those inhabitants who surrendered had been taken prisoner and transferred to East Jerusalem. He concluded by saying:5
The capture of Deir Yassin is the first stage. We intend to attack, to occupy and to hold fast until all of Eretz Israel belongs to the Jewish State... and if the British come to the village, we will fight them.
The last comment reflected the fear that the British would take advantage of the fact that a large number of Irgun and Lehi fighters were concentrated in the village to try to attack them. In fact, it later transpired that the High Commissioner had consulted with the British commander and had indeed decided to bomb the village. However, by the time technical arrangements had been made for the air attack (RAF planes had already been transferred to neighboring countries), the Irgun and Lehi forces had left the village. The British considered using ground forces, but rejected the idea for fear of incurring heavy losses.
Fear of a RAF bombardment led Raanan to inform Shaltiel that the Irgun could no longer hold on to the village. They withdrew three days later and were replaced by the Haganah.
The day after Deir Yassin was taken, enemy guns positioned at Nebi Samuel shelled Givat Shaul. This was the first bombardment of Jerusalem and it caused great panic. Some residents packed their belongings and moved in with relatives in other parts of the city. This was the first of a series of bombardments, which intensified when the Arab Legion entered Jerusalem. They were to claim many casualties and cause great disruption to life in the city. On that first Saturday, however, we made the important discovery that Jerusalem's stone houses were impervious to shelling and that the city could not be subdued by that means alone.
Word of the occupation of Deir Yassin spread through the city and the Jews of Jerusalem greeted it joyfully. Not only were the western neighborhoods safe, but also the Jews had taken initiative. The capture of the village marked the completion of the breakthrough of Operation Nachshon, and instilled New Hope in the hearts of Jerusalemites. The fighting force that returned from the battle was cheered by a large crowd, which thronged the streets. The slogan 'Ahdut Lohemet' (Fighters Solidarity) came to symbolize the new offensive stance against the Arabs and the Irgun became a focus of renewed pride for Jerusalemites.
FACTS AND COMMENTARIES
So much has been written and said about what happened at Deir Yassin, that the battle waged on the morning of April 9 has taken on mythological proportions. Careful analysis of the events is necessary in order to distinguish between fact and fiction.
The first issue needing clarification concerns the number of Arab casualties in the battle.
On Saturday night, April 10, the Irgun radio station 'Kol Zion Halohemet' broadcasting from Tel Aviv announced that, according to a wireless report from the Irgun HQ in Jerusalem, the attackers had suffered four dead (the number later rose to five, when Yiftah died) and 32 wounded. According to the report 240 Arabs had been killed 6
This news item was in fact inaccurate: the Irgun commander in Jerusalem had deliberately exaggerated the number to undermine the enemy. In his testimony, Raanan related that when he radioed HQ in Tel Aviv, he had been unaware of the precise number of casualties. He had invented a number, and had been aware that the true figure was much lower. Exaggerated reports of enemy casualties, he argued, would instill fear in Palestine's Arabs and deter them from attacking Jews. 7 It is interesting to note that the Supreme Arab Committee, in its turn, believed that claims of a large number of Arab casualties would lead them to seek vengeance and only render them more militant. Hence the Committee further exaggerated the story and reported 254 Arabs killed.
Research conducted some time later, based on Arab sources, reveals that the number of Arab dead did not exceed one hundred.8 An accurate body count of the Arab victims was conducted after the battle by two physicians, Dr. Z.Avigdori (who was Chairman of the Palestine Physicians Association, Jerusalem branch), and his deputy, Dr. A. Druyan. These physicians came to the village and asked permission to examine the corpses. They told the Irgun commander that they had been sent by the Jewish Agency to report on any mutilations or other atrocities perpetrated by Irgun and Lehi fighters on the Arabs. They asked to be able to move freely about the village so that they could report only what they saw with their own eyes. They went from house to house, unimpeded, counting the corpses and checking the cause of death. The report, which is filed in the IDF Archives, attests that there were no more than 46 corpses in total. In addition, they reported that bullets or bombs had caused the deaths, and that "all the bodies were dressed in their own clothes, limbs were whole and we saw no signs of mutilation." 9
However, all publications reporting on the Deir Yassin affair quoted the initial Irgun figure of 240. Those who knew the truth preferred not to reveal it, since their propaganda needs were better served by the inflated figure.
The enhanced prestige of the Irgun was anathema to the leaders of the Yishuv. The occupation of the village as such, and the Irgun report that such actions would continue, were irreconcilable with the treaty with King Abdullah and with Ben-Gurion's plans for the future of Jerusalem. It should be recalled that the Zionist Executive was then discussing the possibility of an accord with the Irgun, to which the Mapai leaders were vehemently opposed.
This was the background to the smear campaign launched by the Jewish Agency in the wake of the occupation of Deir Yassin. Three days after the battle, David Shaltiel published a damning leaflet in which he ignored the physicians' report and that of the Haganah unit, which had taken part in the battle. The leaflet overlooked the fact that Shaltiel had known of, and even approved, the action and had claimed in a letter to Raanan that the conquest of Deir Yassin was part of the Haganah's plan. It described the Irgun and Lehi fighters as a band of robbers, whose aim was murder and looting. He declared, among other things, that: 10
The Irgun and Lehi were not aiming at a military operation when they set out on Friday morning, although in their whispered propaganda they broadcast the falsehood that they were going to save Kastel. If they had had real military objectives and not mere propaganda aims, they would have moved against the nests of marauders in the Jerusalem district, where they could have helped ease the heavy pressure on the capital. But they chose one of the quiet villages nearby... and for an entire day Irgun and Lehi troops slaughtered women, children and men, not in the course of a military action, but deliberately and directly for purposes of butchery and murder alone....
The Irgun hastened to reply, and issued a leaflet, denying the Haganah charges one by one. The leaflet states that: 11
Deir Yassin was captured after heavy fighting. Our fighters were shot at from almost every house with rifles and machine-guns. The large number of our casualties, several dozen, bears witness to this, as does the quantity of arms which fell into our hands and the number of Syrian and Iraqi dead, who were part of the regular army force there. Our troops conducted themselves, as no other military force would have done: they waived the element of surprise. Before the actual battle began, they cautioned the villagers by loudspeaker and appealed to women and children to leave at once and find shelter on the slope of the hill...
The Irgun published Shaltiel's letter to Raanan, which revealed that Shaltiel had not only known about the operation and sanctioned it, but had even considered it part of the Haganah plan. The publication of the letter caused great embarrassment to the Haganah leadership and severely undermined Shaltiel's credibility.
We would like to express our deep regret at the fact that there were women and children among the casualties, but this is not the fault of our fighters. They did their humanitarian duty and even more...
The Jewish Agency went even further when; in addition to the leaflet it also sent condolences to King Abdullah.
This cable from the Jewish Agency to King Abdullah was unprecedented and is worthy of deeper scrutiny. Kirkbride, the British Minister in Amman, in his cable to London, expressed his surprise at the message since Jordan was part of the Arab League, which had declared war on Israel even before its establishment. Moreover, Arab Legion soldiers stationed in Palestine had often taken part in acts of hostility perpetrated against Jews. Jordan had even allowed Iraqi troops to pass through her territory to join Arab forces fighting the Jews. In Deir Yassin itself, Iraqi soldiers had fought alongside the Palestinians. Jordan, Kirkbride felt, ought rightfully be regarded as an enemy or at least a potential foe.
The fact that Abdullah's friendship was of strategic importance to the Jews might explain why the Jewish Agency sent him such a conciliatory cable. It was their way of indicating to him that they did not consider him an enemy, and that they continued to honor the agreement made with him in November1947 (see: POLITICAL MOVES) Furthermore, although Abdullah was monarch of Transjordan, he was also the uncrowned leader of Palestine's Arabs. Thus Abdullah was the person to whom to address any apology concerning the 'barbaric acts' committed against the Arabs of Deir Yassin who were not Jordanian subjects. It seems that the Jewish Agency wanted to make it clear that it dissociated itself not only from the acts of the 'dissidents' at Deir Yassin, but also from their declaration concerning the liberation of Jerusalem and the entire country.
King Abdullah, not easily appeased, rejected the apology. In his reply, he noted that it was generally accepted that the Jewish Agency was responsible for all Zionist activities everywhere and that no Jew would act in such a way as to flout its policies. Abdullah concluded his cable by leaving open the option for dialogue, and wrote that "the Jewish Agency will do all that is necessary with regard to such atrocities..." and that the Irgun and others " must take careful note of the possible consequences of their savage acts and their inevitable outcome, if they continue in this manner."12
Deir Yassin, rightly or wrongly, became synonymous with Jewish atrocities against Arabs, and It is important to ascertain whether in fact a massacre took place at Deir Yassin and whether or not Arab corpses were mutilated.
'Massacre' means the premeditated slaughter of defenseless human beings. The unprovoked Arab attack on the Jews of Hebron in 1929 and their indiscriminate murder was a massacre. The murder in February 1948 of more than forty Jews by their Arab co-workers at the Haifa Refineries was a massacre. In both cases, the massacre had been planned and the murders were premeditated. The murder of the Etzion Bloc settlers by Arab Legion troops after the defenders had surrendered and were unarmed was another massacre. But Deir Yassin?
Firstly, one should recall the strict orders given to the fighters before the battle not to harm women, children and old people. It was also explicitly stated that Arabs who surrendered were to be taken captive
Secondly, and unprecedented in battle, the villagers were informed by loudspeaker that the road to Ein Karem was open and secure and that those who left would not be harmed. The commander of the Irgun in Jerusalem was willing to forfeit the surprise element of the attack in order to minimize Arab civilian casualties. The Arabs have never denied that a loudspeaker was used, and an Arab League publication on Israeli aggression notes, inter alia: 13
On the night of April 9, 1948, the quiet Arab village of Deir Yassin was taken by surprise when a loudspeaker called the inhabitants to evacuate the village immediately.
Thirdly, it is universally conceded that a fierce battle raged at Deir Yassin. In the research carried out at Bir Zeit University, it was stated that more than 100 Arab fighters equipped with rifles and 2 Bren guns and plenty of ammunition did battle with the Irgun and Lehi. The Arabs were holed up in stone buildings whilst the attackers were exposed to enemy fire. The fierce gunfire directed from the houses forced the attackers to use grenades and in several cases to blow up houses in order to advance. Thus, women and children were among the victims.
The number of dead is a determining factor in considering whether Deir Yassin should be termed a battle or a slaughter. According to all extant documents and testimony, it is now clear that the number of Arabs killed was less than one hundred, and not 240 as published. Moreover, the battle was the first in the War of Independence to be waged in a built-up area, a feature known to make warfare extremely difficult and costly in human terms. Thus 35% of the Irgun and Lehi forces were injured or killed by enemy fire during the battle.
All the Arab victims at Deir Yassin were killed in battle and all killing ceased when the battle ended. Those villagers who surrendered were taken prisoner and no harm came to them. When the fighting was over, they were conveyed by car to East Jerusalem and handed over to their Arab brethren.
In the light of the facts surrounding the battle for Deir Yassin, one cannot escape the conclusion that in condemning the Irgun and Lehi, the Jewish Agency leaders were acting out of purely political considerations. They were concerned by the growing sympathy for the Irgun in the country at large and in Jerusalem in particular. An increasing proportion of the Yishuv now recognized the justice of the Irgun cause and believed that the end of the British Mandate was the outcome of the protracted struggle of the underground against the foreign rulers.
The unique situation in Jerusalem had intensified support for the Irgun in that city. The city was outside the borders of the Jewish State and Jerusalemites felt orphaned. The growing number of Arab onslaughts and escalating casualties (more than anywhere else in the country), isolation from the coastal plain and food shortages had evoked disillusionment among them with the Haganah and the Zionist Executive. Establishment leaders who had remained in Jerusalem were deeply concerned about the underground's rising popularity, and they emphasized this in their reports to Ben-Gurion. Thus, for example, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in a document describing the grave plight of Jerusalem at the beginning of April writes: 14
[...] Let us not forget that half of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are Oriental Jews, among whom the Irgun has found a home...
Ben-Gurion feared that the rise in the Irgun's strength in Jerusalem would disrupt his political plans for the city, and hoped that the charges against the Irgun and Lehi would reduce public sympathy for them.
In its smear campaign against the Irgun and Lehi, the Zionist leadership tried to create the impression that they were marginal groups with no influence, and that their actions and declarations were not representative of the nation as a whole. The leadership wanted to isolate the two movements, both within theYishuv and vis a vis the outside world. In this it failed. Sympathy for the movements among Jerusalemites was growing steadily and foreign diplomats recognized the Irgun as a factor to be reckoned with in discussions on the future of Jerusalem.
The Deir Yassin affair had a strong impact on the course of the War of Independence, and was summed up as follows in the "History of the War of Independence" produced by the History Division of the IDF:
The Deir Yassin affair, known throughout the world as the 'Deir Yassin Massacre', damaged the reputation of theYishuv at the time. All the Arab propaganda channels disseminated the story at the time and continue to do so to this day. But it indubitably also served as a contributory factor to the collapse of the Arab hinterland in the period, which followed. More than the act itself, it was the publicity it received from Arab spokesmen, which achieved this aim. Their intention was to convince their people of the savagery of the Jews and to rouse their militant religious instincts. But, in actual fact, they succeeded only in intimidating them. Today they admit the error themselves. (Italics mine, Y.L.)
Hazen Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news in 1948, was interviewed for the BBC television series, "Israel and the Arabs: the 50-year conflict." He describes an encounter with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi, the secretary of the Arab Higher Committee, at the Jafa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.
I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story," recalled Nusseibah, now living in Amman. He said, "We must make the most of this." So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped. All sorts of atrocities."
A Deir Yassin survivor, identified as Abu Mahmud, said the villagers protested at the time.
"We said, 'there was no rape.' Khalidi said,' we have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews."
In an arlicle "Deir Yassin a casualty of guns and propaganda", by Paul Holmes (Reuters) 15, he interviewing Mohammed Radwan, who was a resident of Deir Yassi in 1948, and fought for several hours before ruing out of bullets.
"I know when I speak that God is up there and God knows the truth and God will not forgive the liars", said Radwan, who puts the number of villagers killed at 93, listed in his own handwriting. "There were no rapes. It's all lies. There were no pregnant women who were slit open. It was propaganda that... Arabs put out so Arab the armies would invade", he said. "They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin."
In the book "War Without End", by Anton La Guardia (Thomas Dunne Books, N.Y. 2000) we find the following:
"Just before Israel's 50th anniversary celebration, I went to Deir Yassin with Ayish Zeidan, known as Haj Ayish, who had lived in the village as a teenager.
The Deir Yassin affair remained in the headlines for many years, and Menahem Begin never evaded responsibility for the events. He consistently claimed that occupation of the village was the logical response to Arab aggression, whose objective was to exterminate the Yishuv. Whilst expressing regret at the casualties, he argued that they were an unavoidable fact of war. Historians have accepted the view that Begin knew in advance of the attack, ordered the use of the loudspeaker and gave orders not to harm women and children.
'We heard shooting. My mother did not want us to look out of the window. I fled with my sister, but my mother and my other sisters could not make it. They hid in the cellar for four days and then ran away.'
He said he never believed that more than 110 people had died at Deir Yassin, and accused Arab leaders of exaggerating the atrocities.
'There had been no rape', he said. 'The Arab radio at the time talked of women being killed and raped, but this is not true. I believe that most of those who were killed were among the fighters and the women and children who helped the fighters.'
This was not in fact the case, as the following story clearly demonstrates: Menahem Begin was elected Prime Minister in 1977 and three years later signed the peace treaty with Egypt. Operation Peace in Galilee was launched in 1982, when the IDF was forced to enter Lebanon to root out the terrorist organizations there. During that war, Christian forces entered the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and slaughtered Palestinian Arabs. The horrific scenes were filmed by television crews and broadcast throughout the world. The IDF was accused of not having prevented the Christians from entering the refugee camps, and was held responsible for the pogrom. As soon as the New Year's festival had ended, a special cabinet meeting was held at Begin's home to discuss Sabra and Shatila.
I was advisor to the Prime Minister at that time and was due to meet Begin the following day. Naturally, our conversation focused on the Sabra and Shatila events. Begin told me that before the previous evening's cabinet meeting, Yosef Burg, the Minister of the Interior, had asked why he, Burg, was being held responsible when he had known nothing of what was going on in the refugee camps. Begin replied that the government bore collective responsibility, and that ministers bore responsibility for actions of which they might have been ignorant. As an example, he cited the Deir Yassin affair: although he had not been cognizant of the plan to occupy the village, as Irgun commander he took full responsibility for the outcome of the battle.
Begin's admission was a revelation to me. Only then did I realize that during the War of Independence, Raanan had been given authority to act without requesting permission from HQ for every operation. There was radio contact between the Irgun District Command in Jerusalem and HQ in Tel Aviv, but Raanan feared that the broadcasts were monitored, and refrained from radioing details of the attack or naming the village. The planning was carried out in Jerusalem, and it was Raanan who decided to use the loudspeaker to prevent unnecessary loss of life. The press conference after the battle, and the exaggerated report of the number of Arab casualties, were also Raanan's initiative. Begin had complete confidence in the Irgun fighters, and his reactions after the operation were based on reports he had received from Jerusalem. As Irgun commander, he accepted full responsibility for all operations and never used the excuse that he had not known about to attack Dier Yassin.
1. IDF Archives, Deir Yassin, File 3/281
2. Akiva Azuly a Man of Jerusalem, p. 70
3. Knaana Sharif, The Palestinian Villages Destroyed in 1948 - Deir Yassin, Bir-Zeit University, 1987.
4. David Shaltiel, Jerusalem 1948, p. 141
5. Public Records, London, CO 733 477/5
6. Menachem Begin, in the Underground, 4, p. 247
7. Interview with Mordechai Raanan
8. Dan Kurzman, GENESIS 1948, p. 148
9. IDF Archives, 500/48-54
10. Yoshua Ofir, On The Walls, p. 63-64
11. Menachem Begin, in the Underground, 4, p. 276
12. Central Zionist Archives, S 25/1704. English Translation S 25/4150
13. Deir Yassin, Publication by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, March 1969.
14. State of Israel, Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel, Dec. 1947 - May 1948, p. 559.