Did ‘Doc’ Evatt’s support for Israel lead to the massacre at Deir Yassin?

Dear Colleagues

I know the information below is, in all probability, known to all.

It is also extremely painful to remember.

Nevertheless, in all anniversaries such as that of Deir Yassin, we must relive the past to correct the present and ensure a better future.

The information has been sourced from books by Benny Morris, who needs no introduction, and Matthew Hogan, the historian.

In solidarity

David Albuquerque

The Historiography of Deir Yassin.

By Benny Morris.

(Benny Morris  is a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva, Israel.)

The village was attacked just before dawn on 9 April (1948). The dissident forces, mustering 130 troops, arrived from two directions, the 70-strong IZL column coming from the southeast (Beit Hakerem) and the LHI column from the northeast (Giv’at Shaul). Along a dirt track between these columns a van bearing a megaphone advanced towards the village from the east. Some 30 yards from the outskirts it halted, or overturned, at an impassable ditch, from which it broadcast to the villagers to cease resistance and to leave. It is unclear if any of the villagers actually heard the broadcasts-though, to be sure, many fled their homes to the nearby slopes at the first sound of gunfire.

The IZL troops, untrained and inexperienced in warfare (apart from terrorism), met stiff resistance and took casualties; their commander, Ben-Zion Cohen, was hit in the leg and evacuated. They then advanced slowly from house to house, clearing each objective with grenades and rifle and submachine gun-fire, and sometimes, explosives. Whole families were killed both inside buildings and in the alleyways outside, as they rushed out to try to escape or surrender.  The LHI column had an easier time and suffered fewer casualties. In the course of the battle, the dissidents ran low on ammunition and asked for and obtained thousands of rounds from the Haganah; Haganah squads also provided covering fire and fired on the refugees fleeing southward, towards “Ein Karim. Two squads of the Palmah (the elite strike force of the Haganah) also arrived on the scene and helped evacuate the wounded and take some of the houses.

By the afternoon, the battle was over. The IZL and LHI troops, who had suffered four dead and about a dozen seriously wounded (they later spoke of 30-40 wounded, surely an exaggeration), pillaged the houses and corpses and denuded the survivors of money and jewellery. Somewhat haphazardly, some set about burning the bodies31 while others loaded the survivors onto trucks and transported them, through West Jerusalem’s streets32 where some spectators jeered and even spat on and stoned them, to the border neighbourhood of Musrara, just north of 86 B. Morris the Old City walls, where they were offloaded. They then walked into East Jerusalem.

“The sight of the children and women arriving wounded, hungry and beaten” angered East Jerusalem’s Arabs.33 Apart from the villagers-combatants and noncombatants-killed in the course of the fighting, the IZL and LHI troops killed a number of prisoners in different parts of the village and inWest Jerusalem. The first, comprehensive HIS report on the incident, produced by Mordechai Gihon (“Eliezer”) on 10 April, speaks (incorrectly) of “some 200” dead, “mostly women and children.” Initially, according to Gihon, the orders were “to take prisoner the adult males and to send away the women and children . . . In the afternoon, the order was changed, to kill all the prisoners.

Gihon alleged that women prisoners were trucked to and held in Sheikh Badr, an IZL-occupied former Arab area in West Jerusalem, whereas the males were paraded around West Jerusalem and then taken back to Deir Yassin “and killed with rifle and machine-gun fire.” Gihon alleged that the mukhtar’s son was taken prisoner and executed “in front of his mother and sisters.

He described widespread beatings and curses, and looting and the stripping of jewelry and money from the prisoners.34 Follow-up reports by the head of the HIS in Jerusalem, Yitzhak Levy (“Yavneh”), written on 12 and 13 April, were similar: “The conquest of the village was carried out with great brutality, whole families [including] women, old people and children were killed and there are piles and piles of dead. Some of the prisoners taken away . . . including women and children were murdered barbarically by their captors.”35 Other HIS reports detail other killings.

On 12 April Levy reported that LHI troops had murdered a mother and child from Deir Yassin in Sheikh Badr. Seven “old men and women,” first trucked around Jerusalem, were taken back to Deir Yassin and murdered in its quarry. He also wrote of another Arab, “said to be a sniper,” who was executed and his corpse “burned in front of foreign journalists.”36 Meir Pa’il (“Avraham”), a Palmah intelligence officer who claimed to have been in Deir Yassin in late afternoon 9 April, reported the following day that he had seen “five Arabs” who had been murdered piled on top of each other in the quarry.37 Altogether about 100-110 villagers died on 9 April or, as one HIS report put it at the time: “A serious Arab summary on Deir Yassin says that there are about 100 killed.”

The bodies of the dead, were then either collected by Red Cross officials and transported for burial in East Jerusalem39 or buried on the spot by Haganah and Gadna (Haganah youth formation) troopers. Deir Yassin triggered vengefulness among the Arabs, “even among the moderates” and the “intelligentsia.”40 This was to result in the attack on the medical staff convoy to Mount Scopus on 13 April, in which, among others, dozens of doctors and nurses (and several wounded Jews, including one or two who had fought in Deir Yassin) were slaughtered by Arab irregulars. It also, among some, produced a belligerent resoluteness.41 And Deir Yassin alienated peace-prone Arab leaders, such as King Abdullah of Jordan, making it difficult for them to continue their dialogue with the Yishuv.



by Matthew Hogan (historian)

…meanwhile, villagers unable to evacuate cowered in the homes among which the guerrillas maneuvered. Attacker frustration settled upon them as they were captured.

Fahimi Zeidan, then a 12-year-old girl, remembered hiding with her own and another family when the house door was blasted open. The guerrillas took them outside. An already wounded man was shot, she said, and when one of his daughters screamed, they shot her too. They then called my brother Mahmoud and shot him in our presence, and when my mother screamed and bent over my brother (she was carrying my little sister Khadra who was still being breast fed) they shot my mother too.

The children and others were put against the wall and fired upon. She and some other children were wounded, but survived.

Villagers recall townspeople being shot as they fled or helped the injured. One guerrilla was seen at a house window with a machine gun, firing upon anyone going past. As attacker rage increased, guerrilla members produced knives they brought or found in the houses. Haleem Eid, a woman, reported seeing “a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister Salhiyeh who was nine months pregnant” and then brutally stab the body. A then eight-year-old girl named Thoraya later recalled cowering behind her aunts as they were stabbed to death. Villager accounts indicate that as many as 33 civilians were executed firing squad-style in the morning.…………….

Inside the houses, scores of villagers unable to escape earlier had sequestered themselves. Crowded into corners, residents were gunned down or blasted by hand grenades. Killings were not always quick. “You could hear the cries from within the houses of Arab women, Arab elders, Arab kids,” Pa’il remembered. Pa’il and his photographer followed “groups of men running from house to house looting and shooting, shooting and looting.” Mohammed Jaber, a village boy, hid under a bed, where he observed the guerrillas “break in, drive everybody outside, put them against the wall and shoot them.” One victim was holding a three-month-old baby. Mohammed remembered his mother screaming for a long time before she died.

Some prisoners did not survive capture. Taken alive, Fahimi Zeidan, her wounded siblings, and some women encountered a captured pair of village males. “When they reached us, the soldiers [guarding us] shot them.” When the mother of one of those killed started hitting the fighters, “one of them stabbed her with a knife a few times.”

Inside the houses, Pa’il and his partner photographed “people dead in the corners–an old man, a wife, and two children, here and there a [young adult] male.”

Irgunist Yehoshua Gorodentchik has confirmed that “about 80 prisoners were killed after some of them had opened fire.” [Male] Arabs dressed as Arab women were found, and so they started shooting the [surrendering] women also.”

Although some village men did disguise themselves as women to escape detection, those statements contain partial rationalizations, as many villagers died in different locations after capture and many were children. Journalist Dan Kurzman learned from Deir
Yassin veterans that some participants had “cold-bloodedly shot every Arab they found, man, woman, or child”

Villagers trying to run away also were gunned down.

Pa’il implied that he confronted the guerrilla commanders, but he has since admitted that the attackers’ murderous ferocity, the situation, and his predicament as an infiltrator froze him in “a psychological trap” during the massacre: “I didn’t know what to do.”

In addition to taking basic supplies like food and livestock, as originally planned, looting included direct robbery. Zeinab Akkel offered all her money (about $400) to protect her younger brother. One captor took the money and “then he just knocked my brother over and shot him in the head with five bullets.”

The violence grew more organized, and in the early afternoon, the attackers appropriated village trucks to carry prisoners in a triumphal “victory parade” through neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

A group of males went early, and the Lehi’s Yehuda Marinburg recalled that after the males were returned to Deir Yassin, “we executed the prisoners.”

Aviezer Golan, a journalist close to the Irgun, learned from them that “the 20 eldest males among [the captives] were immediately executed”

Meir Pa’il appears to have directly witnessed this, recalling photographing an estimated 25 males shot by firing squad in the town quarry.

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