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Deir Yassin: The Conflict as Mass Psychosis


April 9 is the anniversary of the attack by revisionist Zionists on the Arab village of Deir Yassin in 1948. This attack, which apparently resulted in the massacre of about 100 Arab inhabitants, has attracted a disproportionate amount of attention from partisans of the Palestinian cause. Deir Yassin, in more senses than one, represents the whole Palestine/Israel conflict in miniature. Palestinian advocates have made Deir Yassin a symbol of the 1948 Nakba tragedy (the flight/expulsion of refugees from Palestine), a blameless "righteous victim" at the hands of a vicious enemy.

However, there is another sense in which Deir Yassin is symbolic of the conflict. The whole conflict can be viewed as a long series of "Deir Yassin massacres," perpetrated without cause, in the minds of the protagonists, by either side, on blameless victims of the other. In each case, the facts are totally denied or ignored by partisans of one side, and exaggerated to monstrous proportions by the other side. When two peoples are condemned to continually relive the same plot with different characters and places, history and historical truths cease to be solely academic subjects. The history of the Deir Yassin massacre and the perception of that history and the psychology of that perception, can therefore give us insight into the processes that sustain the conflict.

The facts of the attack as known are presented at a Web site I created at http://www.ariga.com/peacewatch/dy. Briefly, on April 9, 1948, the dissident Jewish Irgun and Lehi underground groups attacked the village of Deir Yassin, at the entrance to Jerusalem, though the village had had a defense pact with the Jewish agency. In the attack, four of the attackers and over a hundred villagers were killed, many of them women and children. According to an affidavit provided by an Irgun commander, about 80 prisoners were shot. A number of witnesses, Jewish and Arab, reported independently that a group of about 15 persons were taken to a quarry and shot. Me'ir Pail, a Palmach (Zionist underground) officer who spied on the attack, and two or three additional witnesses, reported women children and old men shot at close range. The Zionist executive apologized for this attack, which was done by forces not under its control. The Palestinians subsequently exacted revenge by killing about 80 Jews in a convoy to Hadassah hospital, and another 50 who had surrendered at Gush Etzion.

I was surprised and dismayed at the reactions elicited by my Web site and by any discussion of Deir Yassin. On the one hand, most pro-Israel visitors insist that the massacre never took place at all, even though the Israel government decided some time ago to teach about the massacre as part of the school history curriculum. For insisting on telling the same truth that is taught in Israeli schools, I have been called "traitor," "obstacle to peace" and "self-hating Jew."

On the other hand, pro-Palestinians are insistent that this massacre, perpetrated by an inexperienced and undisciplined group of dissident soldiers, typifies all of the accomplishments of Zionism in Palestine from its inception, and was part of a Zionist plot to expel the Arabs of Palestine. Each year Palestinians and their partisans, including so-called "peace" groups, commemorate the Deir Yassin massacre and insist on turning it into a hate Israel platform. Would-be "historians" have tried to link Deir Yassin with Plan Daleth (Plan D) of the Hagannah. However, Plan D did not envisage massacring anyone, nor did it call for massive permanent expulsions, and the attack on Deir Yassin, while tolerated by the Jerusalem Hagannah commander, Shaltiel, was not part of the Hagannah plan.

It seems that no amount of proof would convince either side, and that the opinions are not susceptible to empirical evidence at all. Every irrelevant or impossible argument has been used to refute the evidence of the massacre by one side, and every possible device has been used by the other side to try to turn this one incident, an unplanned massacre perpetrated by a renegade group, into a symbol of Zionist policy.

According to Palestinian partisans, massacres like Deir Yassin, and only such massacres, were the sole cause of the flight of the Palestinian refugees in 1948, perpetrated as part of a premeditated "ethnic cleansing" plot by the evil Zionists to expel the blameless Arabs of Palestine. It does not matter to them that the Palestinians attacked the Jews originally and blockaded the roads to Jerusalem. It is useless to show that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had already fled before the events of Deir Yassin. It is no use pointing out that the Irgun/Lehi action was not sanctioned by the Zionist leadership, that Jewish evictions of Arabs followed Arab evictions of Jews, or that over 420 Jewish civilians were killed by enemy action and many more died due to starvation and illness during the Arab blockade of Jerusalem. About 30,000 Jews fled the city during or after the blockade, including several thousand who were forcibly evicted from the Jewish quarter in the old city. None of the above makes any impression. Each side claims about the suffering of the other, "it is not equivalent" "it is not the same thing," it was "justifiable revenge" or simply, "it didn't happen."

What happened in 1948 was known by both sides, but it was actively "forgotten," just as what is happening today, all around us, is known to both sides, but it is actively "forgotten." The facts are made to fit what we need to believe, for by other names and at other times, the tragedy of, Deir Yassin is revisited and replayed perpetually by Palestinians, and the equivalent tragedies are revisited by Israelis. For Deir Yassin, Jews may substitute the Hebron Massacre of 1929, or the expulsion from the Old City of Jerusalem, or the Hadassah convoy massacre or the Gush Etzion massacre or another incident in their version of the history, and the Palestinians may substitute the Jenin "massacre" any other incident in their version of history.

The story of Deir Yassin is typical of almost every other incident in the history of Palestinian-Israeli relations. There is an act of senseless brutality, that is performed in the context of revenge for other acts of senseless brutality and competition with other political groups. The deed becomes the justification for other outrages, which in turn create the need for vengeance and more such deeds. Each side remembers only one part of the story, and actively dismisses the rest, which is a threat to their own self image, as a group, and as individuals. Two peoples are living a lie. Thus, Deir Yassin is the child of many Deir Yassins, and parent to many more. Partisans claim that the brutal act, whether it is the massacre at Deir Yassin, or the massacre of Jews in Hebron, or suicide bombings, or brutality at checkpoints, is characteristic of their opponents, and proves that they are thoroughly evil and inhuman.

Critics complain that Zionists have created a "Holocaust industry" to capitalize on the suffering of the Jews in Europe. However, the same critics are among those who have created a Deir Yassin industry, to trade on the suffering of the Palestinians and to inflate an incident into a cause, and an excuse to denying legitimacy to an entire people. The "Deir Yassin Industry," like the museum of the Hebron settlers that is dedicated to the massacre in Hebron, is not intended to humanize victims or make the other side feel their pain. There is no chance that such propaganda can bring about rapprochement or peace or justice, because the other side is never going to accept a false version of history in which they are entirely wrong and delegitimized, or accept that the "punishment" for their "misdeeds" is that they have to forfeit all their rights entirely. Reconciliation cannot be built on hate-mongering.

The history of Deir Yassin, and of every other event, clear enough in itself, becomes lost or repressed in a fog of deliberate obfuscation by one side, and in a torrent of exaggeration by the other. In this way, each group has developed their own historical fictional mythology. The myths are supported by a set of obstinate defense mechanisms, that are impervious to any facts except those that support the myths. The myths provide a rationale for sustaining the conflict, which generates more Deir Yassins to create more myths. The psychological mechanisms are devastatingly effective. The events of recent years have proven that in a hundred or more years of conflict over Palestine, both sides have forgotten nothing of the myths they created, and learned nothing of the truths they have repressed. Until we are willing to learn the truths and to dispel the myths, we will all be condemned to relive the tragedy of Deir Yassin.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000350.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 13 comments

This article distort the truth and lend a hand to Arab Terrorism and lies. As a Arab I do not believe what it says here. First there was no Arab Palestinians at this time! Arab only appropriate the name Palestinian so that they can use it against the Jewish people. Dier Yassin was a terrorists nest. The Jewish people were good to us Arab in general that which never happened by the Arabs towards the Jewish people.

This site destort most of the truth about the middle east and the Arab Israeli conflict.

Indeed you are a sick person and do not help anyone!.

Posted by Samira Mahmoud @ 04/10/2005 08:12 AM CST

Dear Samira,
I am not sure that you read the article very carefully. It is about people who misuse the Deir Yassin attack to spread hate. On the other hand, whether or not there was a Palestinian people in 1948, there were certainly Arabs in Israel, and there were certainly people in Deir Yassin, and it seems that many of them got killed, including many women and children.

Ami Isseroff

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 04/10/2005 12:20 PM CST

Well I don't know what truth you are talking about exactly, Just to be more precise (though numbers are not very important in this case....what is important is that people where killed for no reason....and as a part of a big plan)...
I want to remind you that the Palmach wasn't a part of the (Zionist underground) movement but the striking force of the Haganah....and that the Leaders of Irgun (itsel ) and Lehi in 1948 became both of them (Begin and Shamir) prime ministers of Israel,
I suppose that the writer never spoke with Palestinian refugees who were living in the palestinain villages around jerusalem (some 23 villages) for these villagers the horror of the war was all summed up in the Deir Yassin massacre....and he is right the flee of the palestinains didn't start with deir yassin, but before, just when zionist terrorism started, of which the Haganah was not exepted (the massacre and deportation of Lod palestinians was supervised by the x peace hero Yitzhak Rabin himself....
anyway I would like to forget all that an step for the future....
and suppose that it wasn't a part of a supposed "ethnic cleansing" program in the Delta plan or whatever, so why Israel still refuses even thinking about allowing these refugees of going back to their Homeland...
This is supposed to be a website for promoting peace, and without justice there will be no peace, and as we should have an objective regard for our past, we should have it for ower present and futur as well, wether Zionists like it or not, without the return of palestinian refugees to their cities and villages, I think that we'll never be able to reach peace, we'll reach truces and seize-fires, but no peace,
History teaches us that in cases similiar to our case there are two solutions: either one of the two peoples annihalating the other (and luckily in our case no one succedeed in accomplishing that), or mixing up together and ending up in a new ordre, I hope it wouldn't take us a long time to reach there.

Posted by Han @ 04/11/2005 09:21 PM CST

Han suggests the route to peace is where the two peoples merge together to create a "new order" on the basis of wider historical experience. IMO the last 2000 years of history teaches us the exact opposite with a few exceptions. For the last 2000 years there has been consistent polarisation amongst peoples and the assertion of sectarian, ethnic, or linguistic / cultural distinctions. Only in a few developed democratic states has the merging of peoples occurred in relative peace, and even there prejudice still causes violent conflict.
In the Palestinian / Israeli conflict there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the merging of the two national groups and the return of the expatriate Palestinian communities would result in peace. IMO there is every indication that it would soon descend into a civil war in which the levels of brutality would far exceed those of the 1948 war and most likely result in the absolute destruction of the Palestinian nation.
Any merger of the two nations into a single entity must be predicated upon the average Israeli being willing to offer up at least 50% of their wealth to the Palestinians - quite frankly this will not happen.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 04/12/2005 09:17 PM CST

Dear Han,
You say this website is not promoting peace, but the 'peace' you are promoting denies the Jews any right to self-determination. This has as little to do with peace and justice as denying the Palestinians their right to statehood.
You demand that Israel takes in millions of refugees and their descendants (you should take into account that the UNRWA uses a very inclusive definition of 'refugee' and that only a tiny amount of the current refugees fled in 1948 themselves), but you certainly think it entirely just to demand that all settlements outside the 1967 borders will be dismantled, also on places were Jews lived for centuries. Well, you can't have it all. Peace means concessions on both sides.

You do exactly what Ami Isseroff described partisan Palestinian supporters as doing: taking Deir Yassin unrightly as an example of all the Zionists wanted and did from the very beginning till today and denying the massacres perpetuated by the Palestinians. This is not so different from right-wing Zionists claiming Deir Yassin didn't happen and the Palestinians were the only evil warmongers.

I think peace is impossible as long as both sides keep only blaming the other and denying the wrongs of their own side.

Posted by Ratna @ 04/14/2005 03:39 AM CST

Deir Yassin has indeed acquired a mythic importance. In fact it was not the biggest Israeli massacre of Palestinians, if Benny Morris is to be believed.

But the point really is that while the incident may not have been part of some formal plan worked out by the Zionists, the ethnic cleansing of at least some Palestinians from Israel was an essential part of the Zionist project. Without removing the Palestinians, how could there be a Jewish state? Only by depriving Palestinians of the right to vote, unacceptable for several reasons.

Herzl's idea was that the Arabs would be 'gently persuaded' to leave, which seems a little unrealistic. Even now this is a live issue as members of the Israeli cabinet have called for the Palestinian minority within Israel (20% and growing) to be expelled.

I think this is why the view that Deir Yassin is of symbolic importance has remained. It's one of the more extreme examples of the logic of setting up a sectarian state in a multicultural region.

Posted by Chris @ 04/23/2005 06:33 PM CST

I don't understand that "Palestinain partisan" so what do you suggest Ratna that those miserable creatures who were expelled by force from their towns and villages and who (most of them) live an hour or so from their homes stay where they are whilst "Israel" takes in anyone who claimes he's jew even if he came from Australia or Argentina...is that your justice, where is the logic in that???? How do you expect to have peace with such atrocities......and justto let you know I wouldn't mind that settlers stay in their settelments if they removed all these walls stopped using bypass raods and using 7 times more water than their neighbouring palestinians....the meaning of peace for me is not separtion it's cooperation and integration....why do you think till now after almost 30 years of the camp david accords there isn't the least sentiment of peace between egyptiens and jews, and why do you think the Oslo accords failed as well..is it because people in the holyland "enjoy" war and bucheries.....and chris thanks for admitting the existance of exceptions in the history...I will not look through history now, and even if there were no new orders in Human history that mustn't stop us of being the first, of giving a model for the world, all what are you defending is nothing but the racist face of Israel "the jewish nature of Israel" so is that the peace you are looking for??

Posted by han @ 04/26/2005 09:01 PM CST

Your version of the 1948 / 49 omits that the war aims of the Palestinians was the eradication of the Jewish population in what was then the Palestinian Mandate territory. In the areas they held after 1949 the Jewish population was expelled in its entirity, regardless of whether or not they had participated in the conflict or supported the concept of the Israeli state. It was not until the mid-1960's that the Palestinians conceded that Jews that had lived in "Palestine" prior to 1917 could have a right of abode. They did not apply any such constraint upon a non-Jew. It is my understanding that in 1947 the Palestinian leadership determined that a Palestinian was any non-Jew who had lived within the Mandate for more than 2 years prior to 1947.
It should not be forgotten that the very Palestinians whom quite happily sold land to Jews, also sought to drive them from those lands in 1948 and then seize the land back with no attempt at compensation.
There is no purpose singling out some far right Israeli politician and condemning them for their extremist views if you you don't apply the same criteria to the Palestinians. Hamas, which commands a far greater constituency than extremist Likudniks, promotes the idea of the expulsion by force of the Jews.
Throughout the Middle East there are countries that define themselves as Muslim even though they have non-Muslim communities within them. They assert that by virtue of majority within those states that application of Muslim identity and values is acceptable. Yet no one criticises them. Why then should Israel be criticised if it applies the same criteria as a Jewish state? In light of the persecution that Jews have experienced at the hands of Christians and Muslims over the centuries, is it not reasonable that they should have a land in which they are free of that persecution?

Posted by Rod Davies @ 04/28/2005 09:06 PM CST

I can't undestand why everybody treat Palestinian refugee problem totally separatly from Jewish refuges from Arab countries? 700K Arabs left Israel but 700K Jews were kick out of Arab Countries. And if there were 300K Arabs left in Israel, the only handfull Jews left in Bagdad, Damask or Cairo or other Arabs countries were they lieve for thousands of years. The only difference was attitude of Arabs to their brother's: If Jews exepted their brouthers, Arabs treat Palestinian Arabs worse than dogs. And again, it was Jews fault too. Again, movement of population from one country to other happend a lot after WWII.
I can count following presedents:
German population was expalled from East Prussia
German population was expelled from Sudet area of Chech Repablic
German population was expelled from Areas that went to Poland
Poland population was expelled from areas that went to Russia
Japanise population were expelled from Kuril Ilands
Ten thousand millions of Muslims left India for Pakistan.
Ten thousand millions of Hundus left Pakistan for India.
Germany and Japan begun WWII and they lost territories after they loose a war.
They lost territories and new owners expelled population of Germans and Japanise.
Arabs also begun war in 1948.
But they want to speak about result of this war like something that did not have pretendent. Yes, sure.
Yes, Dar Yasin was bad. It was bad when population was targeted.
But is it not something that YOU ARABS do for all 57 years?
Did you ever hide what you do if Jews loose a war?
And you speak about Fairness?

Posted by Sol Schwartz @ 05/02/2005 06:31 AM CST

Shalom Ami:

An excellent article and analysis of a tragic mindset. Very balanced and in my opinion right on the mark. Both sides need political and spiritual leaders willing to accept the pain and suffering of the other. Regrettably, there are few of them in the region with any influence. Articles and web sites like yours are a vital contribution to helping bring out a new way of thinking.
Thanks for your efforts.....

Brian Freund

Posted by Brian Freund @ 05/12/2005 09:40 PM CST

Mr. Isseroff, this is the most beautiful and honest thing I have ever read, except maybe the words of Jesus himself. I am not a typical Jew. I'm very reform. I'm a liberal Christian.

And now 911 has become America's Deir Yassin. But for me 911 had the opposite effect. It caused me to examine the history that began with the Balfour Declaration and eventually resulted in planes flying into the World Trade Center. Most Americans merely reacted the way the Jews and Palestinians have for so many years.

I also have become painfully aware of the fact that the vast majority of Americans are not at all familiar with this history. They simply see the Palestinians as the bad guys and the Israelis as the good guys. Part of this ignorance is due to the subconscious racist class system that rules the American system. The Israelis look white and the Palestinians are sand blacks.

As long as this ignorance in America is not corrected the war in your country will continue until your country and the world is destroyed.

Posted by scott oppenheim @ 01/11/2006 07:59 AM CST

Mr. Isseroff:

If I had a time machine I would go back in time and tell the first Zionists who came to Palestine not to kick the Palestinians off of the land they purchased from the Ottomans who stole the land centuries before.

Indeed, Montigu was very prophetic to make the British and the other Zionists include a statement of concern for the rights of the Palestinians. If the Zionists had actually followed that statement, much blood would have been spared.

But, the racist caste system that exists in America also exists in the world. The British and most of the white Zionists did not feel the need to consult with or be concerned about the feelings of a bunch of sand blacks.

I must admit that I do lean more toward the Palestinians than I do toward my own people. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because of guilt.

But I feel like the nation of Israel, unlike America and the other nations of the world, cannot be trully born with blood and theft. For Israel to trully be resurrected, it must be the first nation of the world to adopt the moral repentence and forgiveness that should be expected from a nation of God.

Perhaps Israel will be the first true nation of God by doing what Jesus would ask it to do, to repent and ask for the forgiveness of the Palestinians.

Someone once told me that forgiveness is the hardest thing for people to do. Perhaps it's the hardest thing because it is the closest thing to God.

Your article brought a stream of tears to my eyes. I'm crying again as I conclude this. Israel should not have been born on the blood of so many Palestinians and Jews and upon the land of the Palestinians.

The great experiment of Israel must be born on the tears of compassion and the rock of repentence.

Posted by scott oppenheim @ 01/11/2006 08:48 AM CST


Posted by scott oppenheim @ 01/11/2006 08:55 AM CST

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