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The symbol of Nakba: Deir Yassin remembered

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“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.

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(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.

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(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.

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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11 Responses

  1. tombishop
    April 10, 2012, 11:04 am

    The letter of protest to the New York Times by Albert Einstein and 25 other prominent intellectuals to the visit of Menachim Begin to New York City, published on December 2, 1948, shows the impact Deir Yassin had on the political consciousness of the time. They compared the Irgun to the the Fascist organizations in their recent past. This outrage was lost over the following sixty years.

  2. Matt Giwer
    Matt Giwer
    April 10, 2012, 1:40 pm

    If it had been a jewish village Kirk Douglas would have starred in the movie about it.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      April 10, 2012, 2:36 pm

      “If it had been a jewish village Kirk Douglas would have starred in the movie about it.”

      But then again, Kirk was a flaming bigot against non-Jews. (see: So I guess they were “unpeople” to the ragman’s son.

      • lysias
        April 10, 2012, 3:55 pm

        I’m not sure the past is the right tense to use in connection with Kirk Douglas. He’s still alive.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        April 10, 2012, 4:37 pm

        Well, he’s dead to me.

      • lysias
        April 11, 2012, 11:19 am

        Ah, but has he stopped being a bigot?

      • Matt Giwer
        Matt Giwer
        April 10, 2012, 6:15 pm

        And if it had been a Jewish village we would never hear the end of it. They would never shut up about. It would be like it happened yesterday.
        Imagine surviving Jews humiliated, marched through the streets. It would be like that little boy with his hands up in the Warsaw ghetto picture.

  3. lysias
    April 10, 2012, 2:21 pm

    Powerful re-enactment of Deir Yassin at the climax of Peter Kosminsky’s UK Channel 4 TV miniseries The Promise (which I was able to get DVD’s of from

  4. DICKERSON3870
    April 10, 2012, 4:41 pm

    RE: 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… “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…” ~ Deger

    MY COMMENT: This is somewhat similar to the way the Italian “black shirts” and the German “brown shirts” operated.


    (excerpt) The Betar Movement (בית”ר, also spelled Beitar) is a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia, by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky. Betar has been traditionally linked to the original Herut and then Likud political parties of Israel, and was closely affiliated with the pre-Israel Revisionist Zionist splinter group Irgun Zevai Leumi. It was one of many right-wing movements and youth groups arising at that time out of a worldwide emergence of fascism.[1] Some of the most prominent politicians of Israel were Betarim in their youth, most notably Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, the latter of whom idolized Jabotinsky.[2]. . .
    . . . The group initially praised Mussolini for his anti-communism and fascist principles, leading it to adopt the black uniform shirt of Italian fascism for a short period. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, however, was seen as “cowardly” by Betar and led them to break with him shortly after.[8]. . .

    SOURCE –

    P.S. ALSO SEE: The Hidden History of Zionism, Chapter 6, by Ralph Schoenman

    (excerpt) . . . Mussolini set up squadrons of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar, in black shirts in emulation of his own Fascist bands.
    When Menachem Begin became chief of Betar, he preferred the brown shirts of the Hitler gangs, a uniform Begin and Betar members wore to all meetings and rallies – at which they greeted each other and opened and closed meetings with the fascist salute. . .

    SOURCE –

    P.P.S. LASTLY SEE – Italian Fascism in Color, 2007, NR, 100 minutes
    Using period letters, secret memos, rare archival footage and expert interviews, this documentary traces the rise of Mussolini’s fascist Italian government after World War I to its violent downfall in the throes of World War II. This penetrating exploration of Il Duce’s rule reveals why his efficient administration was initially admired across the globe as well as the reasons his growing allegiance with Nazi Germany sealed his fate.
    Netflix Availability: Streaming and DVD
    The Rise of Italian Fascism
    Part 1 – missing
    Part 2 – missing
    Part 3 –
    Part 4 –
    Part 5 –
    Fascism In Color, Mussolini In Power
    Parts 1 thru 5 –…9599.18411.0.26578.

    • DICKERSON3870
      April 10, 2012, 5:12 pm

      Mussolini: The Churchill Conspiracies, 2007, NR, 96 minutes
      Examining a much-contested conspiracy theory, this intriguing documentary investigates accusations that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was assassinated by British secret agents on orders from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Though proof has never been found, theorists believe Churchill wanted to cover up the existence of secret and damaging letters from the prime minister to the dictator regarding Italy’s position in World War II.
      Netflix Availability: Streaming and DVD

      * SEE Churchill ‘Ordered Killing Of Mussolini’, By Peter Popham in Rome, The Independent – UK, 8-29-4
      LINK –

  5. yourstruly
    April 10, 2012, 7:34 pm

    deir yassein

    in czech are you spelled lidice,
    where in 1942 the nazis slaughtered all 173 men over age 16,
    carted off several hundred women and over 100 children to concentration camps,
    then erased that village from the face of the earth?*

    or are you spelled washita river,
    the site of the 1868 battle where in order to clear the land for white settlers the general george custer led 7th cavalry claimed to have killed 103 warriors (although the cheyennes said they had lost 11 warriors and 19 women and children)?*

    however your name is spelled its meaning today is the sudden mass murder of a people in an attempt to intimidate them into total submission.


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