How the Deir Yassin Libel Helped Create the Palestinian Refugee Problem

(Israel from the Inside) Daniel Gordis - In March 1948, Arab forces successfully cut off Jerusalem. Menachem Begin's Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir's Lehi, two underground paramilitary groups, decided to help relieve the siege. With the knowledge of the Haganah, the "official" military force of the pre-state Jewish community of Palestine, they planned to take the town of Deir Yassin, from which Arab forces were shooting at the road to Jerusalem. On April 9, the fighters encountered far more resistance than expected. The local Palestinians claimed that the Jews were butchering them and hoped to convince surrounding Arab countries to enter the fray, which they did after May 14. Later, both Israeli and Palestinian historians concluded that there was a heavy battle with heavy losses, but the horror stories of rape and hundreds dead were untrue. A new book by Eliezer Tauber, a former dean at Bar Ilan University and an expert on the formation of Arab nationalism, has taken on the Deir Yassin story with painstaking attention to detail in The Massacre that Never Was: The Myth of Deir Yassin and the Creation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. There was no massacre, he argues, but a hard-fought battle in which Palestinian combatants stationed themselves in residences and among family. Using both Arab and Jewish testimony, he was able to account for the circumstances of almost every Palestinian death in the village. With a handful of exceptions, virtually all those killed were killed as part of the fighting. The Palestine Broadcast Service, Tauber shows, was instructed to say that there had been rapes, mutilation of bodies, murders and more. Many people believed the claims without question. That was what led the Arab population from across the land to flee. Hazim Nusayba, the Arabic news editor of the PBS, later reflected: "This particular strong communique... was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the armed resistance in Palestine. We did not understand the mentality of our own Palestinian people....This turned [out] to be the highest, most expensive mistake that we made." They fled as a result of accusations that Palestinians themselves had concocted. The writer is a fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem and author of 12 books.

2022-01-13 00:00:00

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