Deir Yassin: Sof Hamitos [Deir Yassin: The End of the Myth]. By Eliezer Tauber. Modi’in, Is.: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir Publishing, 2017. 379 pp. 96 Israeli NS.
Of all the canards associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, one stands out: the events that took place on April 9, 1948, in the village of Deir Yassin. Located in a strategic corridor west of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul, Deir Yassin has become synonymous with “massacre” and “ethnic cleansing.” These false Palestinian accusations have shaped attitudes toward Israel until today. Tauber has now produced a methodical, meticulously researched account, which examines all aspects of the episode on the basis of Arab, Jewish, and British testimonies, and which follows the battle minute by minute.
Three points underpin the Deir Yassin myth. First is the number of fatalities: Tauber generates a detailed list of the dead and injured individuals, their clans and families, and discovers no more than 101 dead. Second, and central to the myth, is the charge that the Jewish forces raped scores of women and paraded them naked in the streets of Jerusalem. Jews were also accused of cutting open pregnant women. Based on Tauber’s sources, there is no evidence whatsoever for any of this. He shows that the Jewish forces only attacked the village’s combatants and that women and children were killed only when the buildings where they had taken cover, and which were used for shooting at the Jewish forces, collapsed. Moreover, Tauber shows the total disconnect between eyewitnesses and those Arab voices that intentionally circulated these myths. As he incontrovertibly proves on the basis of Arabic sources, once the story hit the Arab street and press propaganda became fact.
The third point relates to the military operation and the participants. According to the conventional wisdom, the Irgun and Lohamei Herut Israel (LEHI, derided by the British as “the Stern gang”), right-wing Jewish militia groups, acted separately from the Hagana in planning the attack, which was beset by operational mistakes and miscommunication. But Tauber shows that the operation had the full backing of David Shaltiel, the Hagana’s Jerusalem district commander. Shaltiel later denied this, until an exchange of letters between the groups was publicized. In fact, the Hagana in Jerusalem provided support and arms, moves that angered David Ben-Gurion.
Fatalities are an inevitable corollary of war, yet there is a fundamental difference between combat deaths and mass slaughter, which did not occur at Deir Yassin. Still, debunking the Deir Yassin myth, which has become a central plank of the Palestinian Nakba narrative, is a Sisyphean task. But facts and history do matter, and Tauber is to be congratulated for setting the record straight on all counts.
Asaf Romirowsky, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East