“I wish I had died before what happened in Deir Yassin,” said Zeinab Akel, a survivor of the village whose oral history is filmed by Zochrot, an Israeli group that teaches the Nakba to schoolchildren. Akel was just 20 years old when Zionist forces threw her from her home, on April 9, 1948. The building is now an Israeli hospital and part of larger mental health clinic.
Akel’s history narrates the film “Deir Yassin: Remembered,” which describes the Zionist para-military massacre of over 100 Palestinians, mostly women and children. The attack began in the early morning with the more extremist sects of the Zionist militias, the Irgun and Stern Gang, and by the afternoon, the Palmach and Haganah, had joined. There is a historical debate over Haganah’s foreknowledge of the massacre, but it is generally accepted the Zionist group and precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces knew about the attack in advance. “Deir Yassin was captured with the knowledge of the Haganah and with the approval of its commander,” said former member of the Irgun and Israel prime minister Menachem Begin, continuing, as a part a “plan for establishing an airfield.” Also, duplicate letters released from the IDF archives, dating from 1948 indicate Haganah’s approval for sacking the village, prior to the massacre. The letters are from the David Shaltiel the Jerusalem head of Haganah, to both the Jerusalem leader of the Stern Gang, Yehoshua Zetler and the Jerusalem head of the Irgun, Mordechai Raanan:
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 conquest and continued occupation of Deir Yassin is 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.
During the attack, groups of around 15 Palestinians were taken to a nearby limestone quarry, lined up, and executed. In total, between 110 and 130 were killed—systematically.
Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center built on Deir Yassin. (Photo: Dennis Fox)
Deir Yassin sits on an access point between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and is noted by scholars for its strategic location. In the film, Jeff Halper walks by the limestone houses of the villages, once home to 750 Palestinians. The buildings were constructed with stone cuts from a nearby quarry and “the Deir Yassin village is now a mental health center,” says Halper. He is juxtaposed with Akel’s story in the film. “Deir Yassin is”—like Ein Hod, another former Palestinian village, which is now an art colony, with a bar in the former mosque—”one of the few villages that remained intact after 1948,” explains Halper.
(Photo: Deir Yassin Remembered)
For Palestinian, and their supporters, the massacre is a symbol. It is often remembered as the pivotal onset of the 1948 Nabka; Deir Yassin is the “other shoe that fell,” sparking over 750,000 to flee from their homes out of a fear that they too would be massacred. And for the Zionist forces, it is also a symbol. At the time, para-military groups inflated the number of those who were killed. “They multiplied all of the numbers to 250 people who were killed […] in order to say that ‘you Arabs have to run away, if not this will happen to you,’” explains in the film Eitan Bronstein, director of Zochrot. And in fact, the April 13, 1948 New York Times coverage reported Zionist forces went “house-to-house” killing 254 Palestinians.
(Photo: Deir Yassin Remembered)
Zochrot’s film closes with Akel and supporters commemorating Deir Yassin on its 2005 anniversary. The camera follows their hands as they set yellow roses next to large plaques that list the names of the dead by winding the flower stems through a metal gate. The plaques are resting against this gate, this divider. And inside the enclosure, Deir Yassin’s original buildings stand in pristine condition, filled with Israeli psychiatric patients.