Monday, April 09, 2007

April 9

The notorious massacre of Palestinian villagers at Deir Yassin began on this date in 1948, marking a turning point in the first Arab-Israeli War. During the attack, more than 130 armed combatants from the Irgun and Lehi militias killed scores of unarmed men, women and children, likely 110-120 in all. At the time of the attack, Jerusalem was besieged by neighboring Arab armies -- the major road into the city had been cut off, and on April 6 the main Israeli army (Haganah) launched a counteroffensive known as Operation Nachshon, aimed at lifting the siege. Although the residents of Deir Yassin had successfully resisted efforts by Syrian and Iraqi forces to occupy the village in the weeks prior to the massacre, and while the town itself was not strategically important, Lehi and Irgun assaulted Deir Yassin on their own initiative on the morning of April 9. The attack was led by 132 mostly young and inexperienced fighters, armed with automatic weapons and grenades.

When the irregular forces fought their way into the village -- after receiving assistance from Haganah mortar shells -- they moved from house to house, shooting everyone who remained. Prisoners and wounded villagers were liquidated as well. One group of 20-25 men was taken to a quarry and shot. Many participants and defenders of the massacre would later insist that the killings were justified by the resistance offered up by the residents of Deir Yassin. According to several accounts, some of the village men dressed as women during the battle for the village; Jewish fighters then began shooting women indiscriminately, unsure of whom they were actually shooting.

By 11:00 a.m., the village was quiet. Meir Pa’il, an intelligence agent who was on hand for the massacre, provided one of the few eyewitness accounts of the events:
The fighting was over, yet there was the sound of firing of all kinds from different houses. Sporadic firing, not like you would hear when they clear a house. I took my chap with me and went to see what was happening. We went into houses. They were typical Arab houses. Most of the houses there are one-story, though there are a few two story houses like the Mukhtar’s house and a few others. In the corners we saw dead bodies. Almost all the dead were old people, children or women, with a few men here and there. They stood them up in the corners and shot them. In another corner there were some more bodies, in the next house more bodies and so on. They also shot people running from houses, and prisoners. Mostly women and children. Most of the Arab males had run away. It is an odd thing, but when there is danger such as this, the agile ones run away first.
In 1997, one of the former residents of Deir Yassin, Um Mahmoud, recollected the events of April 9:
We were inside the house. We heard shooting outside. My mother woke us up. We knew the Jews had attacked us. My cousin and his sister came running and said the Jews were already in our garden. In the meantime, fighting became heavier and we heard lots of gunshots outside. A bomb was thrown at us and it exploded close to where we were in the yard. (...) My sister- in-law did not want to leave. She was frightened. The girl was two months old and the boy about three. I took the two and my mother said we should go to my uncle’s house. I saw how Hilweh Zeidan was killed, along with her husband, her son, her brother and Khumayyes. Hilweh Zeidan went out to collect the body of her husband. They shot her and she fell over his body (...). I also saw Hayat Bilbeissi, a nurse from Jerusalem serving in the village, as she was shot before the house door of Musa Hassan. The daughter of Abu El Abed was shot dead as she held her niece, a baby. The baby was shot too (...). Whoever tried to run away was shot dead.
After the capture of Deir Yassin, Palestinians throughout the region fled their homes by the hundreds of thousands, fearing similar atrocities.