By Dr César Chelala
On 9 April 1948, 120 fighters from the Irgun and Lehi Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, a Palestinian-Arab village of approximately 600 people. During the assault, around 107 villagers were killed, including women and children. In addition, several villagers were taken prisoner, and were later jeered, spat at, and stoned.
According to most accounts, those villagers lived in peace with their Jewish neighbours from nearby villages. Some of them, from the Givat Shaul Orthodox community just across the valley, tried to help the Deir Yassin villagers during the Irgun-Lehi combined attack. After the attack, the Irgun and Lehi troops began pillaging the houses and corpses, stealing money and jewels from the survivors, reported the Israeli historian Benny Morris.
“I saw the horrors that the fighters had created. I saw bodies of women and children, who were murdered in their houses in cold blood by gunfire, with no signs of battle and not as the result of blowing up the houses…I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir, Yassin,” declared Eliahu Arbel, Operations Officer B of the Haganah’s Etzione Brigade, who arrived at the scene on 10 April.
The news of the massacre sparked terror among the Palestinian-Arabs and was an important factor in encouraging them to flee from their towns and villages. “They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumour of Deir Yassin,” declared later Mohammad Radwan, a survivor of the massacre.
Haganah and the area two chief rabbis condemned the killings and the Jewish Agency for Israel sent Jordan’s King Abdulla a letter of apology, which the King rebuffed. At the time of the attack Menachem Begin was a leader of the Irgun, although he wasn’t personally involved in the attack.
On 4 December 1948, Albert Einstein was the most prominent signatory of a letter to the New York Times by a group of Jewish intellectuals on the occasion of Begin’s visit to the United States. Part of the letter reads as follows: “…It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.”
“…The public avowals of Begin’s party [The Freedom Party] are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”
“A shocking example was their behaviour in the Arab village of Deir Yassin…Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicised it widely, and invited all the foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses and the general havoc at Deir Yassin. The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party.”
In the Deir Yassin massacre 107 Palestinian-Arabs villagers, including women and children, were killed. Four of the attackers died during the attack. On 8 July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, allegedly to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and as punishment for the murder of three Israeli youths.
When a ceasefire was announced on 26 August 2014, at least 2,137 Palestinians had been killed and close to 11,000 wounded. According to the UN and human rights groups, 69% to 75% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 520,000 Palestinians (approximately 30% of its population) in the Gaza Strip might have been displaced, of whom 485,000 needed emergency food assistance. Also, 17,200 Gazan homes were totally destroyed or severely damaged.
Given that the Israeli forces conducted the recent Protective Edge Operation attack in clear disproportion of Palestinian forces and against mostly unarmed civilians –and that 478 children and hundreds of civilians were killed- what would Albert Einstein have said about it?
César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.