Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

A response to the Independent re Deir Yassin

DEIR YASSIN - startling evidence
About Maurice Ostroff
and the BBC video clip
Response by Maurice Ostroff to the Independent article
in the right hand column
Essential facts about Deir Yassin
as told by the originator of the massacre story to the BBC

As a responsible newspaper, the Independent will no doubt be anxious to publish some little-known, but historically important factual material to correct wrong impressions created by a previous article, albeit unintentionally.

I refer to the accusing headline "A massacre of Arabs masked by a state of national amnesia" in the May 10, 2010 issue of the Independent.

The sub-heading "Sixty years on, the true story of the slaughter of Palestinians at Deir Yassin may finally come out" assumes that in fact a slaughter took place, but in the interests of journalistic integrity readers of the Independent are entitled to be told that Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news in 1948, admitted  in an interview with the BBC, that he fabricated claims of atrocities at Deir Yassin on the instructions of Hussein Khalidi, a prominent Palestinian Arab leader.

In a video interview with the BBC in 1998, Nusseibeh, a member of one of Jerusalem's most prominent Arab families, said "I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story,.. He said, 'We must make the most of this'. So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped, all sorts of atrocities" 

Although no longer available on the BBC web site, the interview may be viewed at

This false press statement was released to New York Times correspondent, Dana Schmidt leading to an article in the New York Times on April 12, 1948, claiming that a massacre took place at Deir Yassin. 

True to Winston Churchill's quip "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on", Schmidt's story was reprinted worldwide and cited, even in Israel, as proof of Israeli atrocities. And all stories about atrocities at Deir Yassin that circulate to this day, are based on Nusseibeh's admitted fabrication.

In the video clip Abu Mahmud, who was a Deir Yassin resident in 1948, told the BBC that the villagers protested against the atrocity claims: We said, "There was no rape. But Khalidi said, We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews."

The fact that stories of a massacre and rapes were fabricated, does not in any way negate the historical fact that a heavy battle did indeed take place at Deir Yassin. In April, 1948 there was sniping from Dir Yassin into nearby Jewish villages. Foreign fighters in Deir Yassin, included Iraqis and irregular forces. Even an Arab research study conducted at Bir Zeit University relates that the men of Dir Yassin took an active part in violent acts against Jewish targets and that many of the men of the village fought in the battle for Kastel.
On April 6, Operation Nachshon was launched by the Haganah in cooperation with Lehi and Irgun with the aim of opening up the road to Jerusalem. A loudspeaker mounted on an armored car warned the residents to evacuate their women and children. Hundreds left, but hundreds stayed and a pitched battle ensued.

The use of the loudsepaker to warn the civilians to evacuate is a key point, certainly not the action of soldiers planning to murder the population. The loudspeaker is not in dispute. A publication of the Arab League titled Israeli Aggression states: "On the night of April 9, 1948, the peaceful Arab village of Deir Yassin was surprised by a loudspeaker, which called on the population to evacuate it immediately". 

Israel continues to repeat the mea culpa error, hastily admitting guilt before examining the facts, as for example in the notorious Al Dura affair in which the young boy and his father were caught in crossfire between Palestinians and Israelis. Israel immediately admitted that it was possible that Al Dura had been hit by an Israeli bullet, although no bullet was ever retrieved as no post mortem was held. Years later, the French courts ruled in favor of Philippe Karsenty who accused France2 and Charles Enderlin of staging the entire episode.

Myths accusing Israel of misdeeds are perpetuated despite contradictory facts. Al Dura has become an international icon of Israel's supposed cruelty and an organization called "Deir Yassin Remembered", continues to keep alive admitted fabrications by the 1948 Palestine Broadcasting Service's Arabic news service.


A note about Meir Pa'il's reports


Since the Independent article refers to "a damning report written by Meir Pa'il", described as a Jewish officer who condemned his compatriots for bloodthirsty and shameful conduct on that day, it is highly relevant to point out that although he is credited with providing the most detailed eye witness account of the alleged massacre, several authoritative views cast doubt on his credibility.


Pa'il is reported to have been a spy for the mainstream Haganah, monitoring the activities of the right-wing Lehi and Irgun "dissident" groups, with whom Haganah was frequently in conflict.


It is therefore widely believed that he was only too keen to blacken the dissidents with accusations of atrocities. More egregiously, historians claim that Pa'il's eye witness accounts are spurious as they say he was not at Deir Yassin on the day of the battle.


For example in an article on Deir Yassin, the Zionist Organization of America notes that when the well-known historian, Dr. Uri Milstein, interviewed veterans of Deir Yassin, all said that Pa'il was not there at the time of the battle and that it was inconceivable he could have been there without their knowledge.  These veterans include Yehoshua Zettler, Mordechai Ra'anan (commander of Jerusalem front), Moshe Barzili, Yehuda Lapidot, Patchia Zalvensky, and Moshe Idelstein.


Nor is there any evidence from Haganah sources indicating that Pa'il was present; the statements given by David Shaltiel, Zalman Meret, Zion Eldad, and Yeshurun Schiff do not mention Pa'il by name or by either of his code names, "Avraham" and "Ram."


The Haganah's Moshe Eren and Mordechai Gihon, who were at Deir Yassin and who knew Pa'il personally at the time, said they did not see him there.  Yehoshua Arieli, who supervised the burials, stated that he did not see Pa'il there.  Shlomo Havilov, the Haganah's commander for western Jerusalem, who spent the night of April 9 in neighboring Givat Shaul, stated: "I did not see Meir Pa'il there.  I knew him well.  If he had been there I would remember him."


Article in the Independent Monday, 10 May 2010

A massacre of arabs masked by a state of national amnesia

Sixty years on, the true story of the slaughter of Palestinians at Deir Yassin may finally come out

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

More than one unwitting visitor to Jerusalem has fallen prey to the bizarre delusion that they are the Messiah. Usually, they are whisked off to the serene surroundings of Kfar Shaul psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of the city, where they are gently nursed back to health.

It is an interesting irony that the patients at Kfar Shaul recuperate from such variations on amnesia on the very spot that Israel has sought to erase from its collective memory.

The place is Deir Yassin. An Arab village cleared out in 1948 by Jewish forces in a brutal battle just weeks before Israel was formed, Deir Yassin has come to symbolise perhaps more than anywhere else the Palestinian sense of dispossession.

Israel's opposing version contends that Deir Yassin was the site of a pitched battle after Jewish forces faced unexpectedly strong resistance from the villagers. All of the casualties, it is argued, died in combat.

In 2006, an Israeli arts student, Neta Shoshani, applied for access to the Deir Yassin archives for a university project, believing a 50-year embargo on the secret documents had expired eight years previously. She was granted limited access to the material, but was informed that there was an extended ban on the more sensitive documents. When a lawyer demanded an explanation, it emerged that a ministerial committee only extended the ban more than a year after Ms Shoshani's first request, exposing the state to a legal challenge. The current embargo runs until 2012.

Defending its right to keep the documents under wraps, the Israeli state has argued that their publication would tarnish the country's image abroad and inflame Arab-Israeli tensions. Ha'aretz and Ms Shoshani have countered that the public have a right to know and confront their past.

Judges, who have viewed all the archived evidence held by the Israeli state on Deir Yassin, have yet to make a decision on what, if anything, to release. Among the documents believed to be in the state's possession is a damning report written by Meir Pa'il, a Jewish officer who condemned his compatriots for bloodthirsty and shameful conduct on that day. Equally incriminating are the many photographs that survive.

"The photos clearly show there was a massacre," says Daniel McGowan, a US retired professor who works with Deir Yassin Remembered. "Those photos show [villagers] lined up against a quarry wall and shot."

In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan that would divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state, with Jerusalem an international city. The Arabs fiercely opposed the plan and clashes broke out as both sides scrambled for territory before the British mandate expired. In April 1948, the Hagana, the predecessor of the Israeli army, launched a military operation to secure safe passage between Jewish areas by taking Arab villages on high ground above the road to Jerusalem.

Irgun and the Stern Gang, breakaway paramilitary groups, drew up separate plans to take the strategic Deir Yassin in a pre-dawn raid on 9 April 1948, even though the villagers had signed a non-aggression pact with the Jews and had stuck to it. What happened next is still under debate. In his book The Revolt, Menachim Begin, a future Israeli prime minister, recounts how the Jewish forces used a loudspeaker to warn all the villagers to leave the village. Those that remained fought.

"Our men were compelled to fight for every house; to overcome the enemy they used large numbers of hand grenades," wrote Mr Begin, who was not present at the battle. "And the civilians who had disregarded our warnings suffered inevitable casualties. I am convinced that our officers and men wished to avoid a single unnecessary casualty."

Mr Begin's account, however, is challenged by the recollections of survivors and eyewitnesses. Abdul-Kader Zidain was 22 years old in 1948, and immediately joined a band of 30 fighters from the village to fend off the surprise Jewish offensive, even though they were clearly outnumbered.

"They went into the houses and they shot the people inside. They killed everybody they saw, women and children," said Mr Zidain, who lost four of his immediate family, including his father and two brothers, in the attack. Now a frail 84-year-old living in a West Bank village, he says he remembers everything as if it were yesterday. Survivor testimonies are supported by Mr Pa'il, whose detailed eyewitness account was published in 1998. Awaiting reassignment, he went to observe the attack as part of his remit to keep the Irgun and the Stern Gang in check.

After the fighting had wound down, Mr Pa'il described how he heard sporadic firing from the houses, and went to investigate. There he saw that the soldiers had stood the villagers in the corners of their homes and shot them dead. A short while later, he saw a group of around 25 prisoners being led to a quarry between Deir Yassin and neighbouring Givat Shaul. From a higher vantage point, he and a companion were able to see everything and take photographs. "There was a natural wall there, formed by diggingy. They stood the prisoners against that wall and shot the lot of them," he said. Mr Pa'il described how Jews from neighbouring Givat Shaul finally stepped in to stop the slaughter.

In the ensuing confusion and anger over the killings in Deir Yassin, both sides released an inflated Palestinian death toll for very different reasons: the Palestinians wanted to bolster resistance and attract the attention of the Arab nations they hoped would help them; the Jews wanted to scare the Palestinians into flight.

After the dust had settled, Mr Zidain and the other survivors counted the missing among them, and concluded that 105 Palestinians had died in Deir Yassin, not the 250 often reported. Four Jews were killed. But the damage was already done. The reports from Deir Yassin led to a total collapse of morale, and many historians regard the incident as the single biggest catalyst for the Palestinians' flight. By UN estimates, 750,000 Palestinians had fled their homes by the end of the 1948 War of Independence, roughly 60 per cent of Palestine's pre-war Arab population.

Mention Deir Yassin these days to most young Israelis and it will fail to register. Not far from the Kfar Shaul hospital, two teenage boys shake their heads at a question on Deir Yassin. Never heard of it, they say.

"Most Israelis treat the subject with total silence," says Professor McGowan. "They no longer deny it, they just don't talk about it."

The decision on whether that silence will now be broken remains in the hands of Israel's courts. "This was a big and important event in our history here. It was the first village we took and has a lot of meaning in the war that came after," says Ms Shoshani. "We have to deal with our past for our own sake."


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