November 17, 2004

Deir Yassin revisited

This is a letter published in Jewish News about Deir Yassin, it is an extract from Memoir of an anti-Zionist Jew by Hanna Braun:

Early one morning in April 1948, a friend burst into my room with tears streaming down her face: "they are butchering everyone in Deir Yassin!" It took some time to sink in - we had been repeatedly told that the village's inhabitants were entirely peaceful and the senseless brutality of such slaughter was incomprehensible. Equally despicably was the parading of some of the male villagers in an open van through the streets of Jerusalem prior to being shot. Our only comfort, if such it could be called, was that the atrocity was perpetrated by the Stern gang, forerunners of "Likud". That fig leaf was torn away when, a few months later, Stern and Etzel members were incorporated into the regular army and their commanders became our officers. Complaints fell on deaf ears; we now had one state with one army, we were told. At this perilous time, everyone was needed in the defence of the fledgling state and meting out punishment would be counterproductive. Nowadays it is of course widely known that Deir Yassin happened with the full knowledge and cooperation of Ben Gurion, our first prime minister.

That summer there was a brief cease-fire and I returned to Haifa for a week. During my absence the "liberation" of Haifa and of many other towns and villages had occurred: Jaffa, Afula, Safad, Lydda and many more. We had been unaware of any of this in Jerusalem, being cut off by the siege. The inhabitants had been driven out, sometimes by straightforward attacks, at other times by different means, often by deliberately terrorising people. In Haifa, for example, Palestinian Arabs had been given 24 hours to leave; armed soldiers ensured they complied. The predominantly Arab downtown business area was cleared as well as purely residential areas: our neighbours as well as the owners of the two other Arab houses in the street shared this fate. My mother recounted the story with tears, my father with pride. The term "ethnic cleansing" was as yet unknown, it certainly was a very apt description of what was, and indeed still is, happening.

The large shops and business premises downtown were now "liberated" and in Israeli hands. Only one Arab quarter remained, as it still does today: Wadi Nisnas, a small, largely poor, ghetto-like part of Haifa. What had become of our Arab neighbours, indeed of all Haifa's large Arab population many of whose families had been settled in that city for hundreds of years? It was a nagging doubt that refused to go away.

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