The 60th Anniversary of the Deir Yassin Massacre

On April 10, 2008, at about 7 PM, our bus left Dayr Yasin at the conclusion of the memorial march. At the end of the march, we climbed the hill behind the “Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital,” a closed, fenced compound. Uniformed guards stand at the entrance, to make clear that entry is forbidden, and other guards in the same uniforms patrol the grounds and between the buildings. Anyone unfamiliar with the place would think they were guarding a secret installation, closed to the general public. A person who is familiar with the place knows they’re guarding a secret that’s not open to the public at large. Whoever decided to use the site as a hospital for the mentally ill knew that he could thereby prevent anyone from seeing its bloody history. They became the secret’s keepers.

Sixty years ago, on April 10, 1948, at about 7 PM, on the same hill, Abu Hasan managed to escape with his life. He wasn’t hospitalized. He wasn’t sick. That’s where Abu Hasan had his home. His home is still there.

At midnight, between April 9 and 10, 1948, Abu Hasan gave his old rifle to his brother, who took his place guarding the village. Abu Hasan went to sleep. During the six months preceding that night there had been gunfire and confrontations all around the village between the Jews of Giv’at Shaul and the Palestinians of Dayr Yasin. During these six months, the village of Dayr Yasin was under an almost total blockade. The road to Jerusalem passes through Giv’at Shaul. The Jews in Giv’at Shaul blocked the road. That was Dayr Yasin’s main access route. The Palestinians were forced to travel through ‘Ayn Karim. Dayr Yasin’s male inhabitants organized into guard units that patrolled day and night in order to protect their village. They had only a few old rifles and a small amount of ammunition. Abu Hasan, who was 22 at the time, was one of the guards. That same day, Abd al Qadir al Husayni, the commander of the Palestinian fighters in the Jerusalem area, was killed on al Qastal (the Kastel). His troops, who were not part of an organized army, but volunteers he had recruited from the surrounding villages, lost heart and began to return to their homes. The residents of Dayr Yasin grew increasingly anxious.

About fifty of us, men and women, marched down Kanfey Nesharim Street toward the hospital. We carried plaques with the names of the murdered victims of Dayr Yasin. Jews look on us in amazement, some of them pushing us. The police, who had granted a permit for the march, took no chances, and moved anyone who wanted to interfere out of our way. Survivors from Dayr Yasin marched with us. There weren’t many of them. They live in the Jerusalem area. Most of the village’s refugees live far away, in or even “farther”, in Ramallah and in the West Bank. They’re allowed to travel only with the permission of the Israeli army. They can’t enter Jerusalem. Zaynab and Maryam ‘Aql were with us, two sisters who fled from the village as small children, aged 6 and 7. They were disappointed not to have been able to enter the center of the village to see their family home and their father’s grave. I told them that the center of the village had been turned into a psychiatric hospital. They knew that but didn’t understand why they couldn’t visit the grave. I had no answer for them. I had to disappoint them. A few other young people, whose parents had been expelled from Dayr Yasin, marched with us. Abu Hasan, now 82, was their principal witness.

New buildings today line both sides of Kanfey Nesharim Street. The night after the march, I had a dream. Those buildings appeared to me as giant, frightening question marks. They were about to collapse. My dream could be interpreted as a response to the taste of the architects and planners who designed the new structures. But I’m sure that wasn’t the cause of my nightmares. It wasn’t a question of taste, even though that’s also relevant. It was a question of morality. Beneath those structures lies a bitter piece of recent history. Beneath one of those buildings lie the bodies of nine residents of Dayr Yasin who had been captured. Members of Etzel loaded prisoners onto trucks and other vehicles, along with dozens of village women, and paraded them proudly through the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem in April, 1948. Then they returned to Dayr Yasin. The women were sent in the direction of East Jerusalem after being robbed of their money and their jewelry. The prisoners were stood in a line and murdered next to one of the village quarries. Today there are no quarries. There are buildings, civilized representations constructed on the bodies of Palestinian prisoners.

Despite his age, Abu Hasan doesn’t falter. The cane he uses doesn’t ease the gravity of the situation. You can see the effort he makes, his excitement, his longings, his sorrow, struggling with the buildings to expose what lies beneath them, recalling painful memories, describing horrible sights, denying. His body, his mind, his heart — all active.

That same night, Abu Hasan awoke to the sound of gunfire and screaming. He understood that the Jews had attacked and that the situation was serious. He left his father and stepmother, whose leg was broken, at home. He wouldn’t have been able to get her down the thirty steps from their house. He thought they would be safer at home. He was wrong.

He went down to the village alleys. The gunfire came from the entrance to the village. He had no gun. He and a few other young people moved among the buildings to offer help. To help people escape. “The Jews went from house to house and killed whoever was there,” he said. “Most people fled to Ein Karem. The way out through Giv’at Shaul had already been blocked for a few months. The main attack came from the direction of Giv’at Shaul. The young men of Dayr Yasin were able initially to repulse it, and even damaged the Etzel’s two vehicles. The attackers even suffered casualties. Later the Jews attacked with greater force, entered the village and carried out a massacre.” At our gathering, behind the hospital, Abu Hasan reconstructs the events of that day, sixty years earlier. His home stands a few yards away, on the other side of the hospital wall, but he’s forbidden to enter.

The attack, the defense, the gunfire, the chaos, the flight, the massacre and the capture of the village lasted from about 2 AM until 7 in the evening.

We lean the memorial plaques against the hospital’s wall. The women from Dayr Yasin read the names, seeking people they know. Sixty years have passed, but they are still agitated. “Here are some from the ‘Aql family, and these are Radwans.” Fatmah ‘Aql turns to me: “Where’s my grandmother’s name? She isn’t listed” I told her that was impossible — let’s look together. “What’s her name?”, I asked. “Sabha,” she said. “Sabha Radwan.” We look, Fatmah finds something, tells me “there’s Subhiyyeh, that must be her but you wrote it incorrectly.” Once again I disappointed her.

It’s 6 PM. A police commander, who together with a few policemen had accompanied our march, reminds me that our permit expires at 6.

Participants applauded Neta Shoshani, who did research on Dayr Yasin as part of her studies, and recently won an appeal to the High Court of Justice against the refusal of the IDF archive to grant access to documents and photographs in its possession regarding the events of Dayr Yasin in April, 1948. Eitan Bronstein, from Zochrot, concluded the commemoration.

Shlomi, the police commander, points to his watch. Reporters covering the march began interviewing the Dayr Yasin survivors. Abu Hasan, of course, was in great demand. He doesn’t speak English, the language of most of the reporters who were present; a younger Palestinian helped translate. Near the end, when I’m asking people to finish up and leave — What a job! — I overheard one of the foreign television journalists ask Abu Hasan about peace. “Is peace possible between Israelis and Palestinians?”

Abu Hasan doesn’t hesitate, and responds immediately: “There will never be peace.”

Abu Hasan’s son, who was there with his wife, tensed and said something I didn’t catch. The translator was also embarrassed, and told the reporter, apparently influenced by what Abu Hasan’s son, a doctor, had said: “When the refugees return, then there will be peace.”

Here, sixty years ago, on April 10, 1948, around seven in the evening, Abu Hasan, alive, walked out of the village toward ‘Ayn Karim. There he saw most of the Dayr Yasin villagers. They slept there one night, and the next day they scattered. Each family went off on its own. Abu Hasan went to Shu’afat, then to Bayt Hanina and finally to Jerusalem .

It’s now 6:30 PM. We disperse but not before I ask Abu Hasan, “What happened to your stepmother and to your father, whom you left at home?”

“Both of them were murdered in their house,” he said.

Umar Igbariyyeh was part of the Memorial March commemorating the 60th anniversary for the victims the Deir Yassin Massacre. Read other articles by Umar, or visit Umar's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hp said on April 23rd, 2008 at 1:09pm #

    Umar, if you expect anything but token tsk tsking, if even that, from the majority of ‘dissidents with a twist’ who post here, well…

    ‘The truth would cease to be stranger than fiction, if we were as used to it as lies.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 23rd, 2008 at 4:06pm #

    Thanx for that Menken, hp. Absolutely “spot-on” (as the language-monkeys say).