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Red Cross Eye-Witness Report
On The Deir Yassin Massacre

April 9, 1948

 

On the night of April 9, 1948, the Irgun Zvei Leumi surrounded the village of Deir Yassin, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem. After giving the sleeping residents a 15 minute warning to evacuated, Menachem Begin's terrorists attacked the village of 700 people, killing 254 mostly old men, women and children and wounding 300 others. Begin's terrorists tossed many of the bodies in the village well, and paraded 150 captured women and children through the Jewish sectors of Jerusalem.

The Haganah and the Jewish Agency, which publicly denounced the atrocity after the details had become public several days later, did all they could to prevent the Red Cross from investigating the attack. It wasn't until three days after the attack that the Zionist armies permitted Jacques de Reynier, chief representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem, to visit the village by the surrounding Zionist armies.

Ironically, the Deir Yassin villagers had signed a non aggression pact with the leaders of the adjacent Jewish Quarter, Giv'at Shaul and had even refused military personnel from the Arab Liberation Army from using the village as a base.

Deir Yassin is described as one of Menachim Begin's finest moments.

Following is the translation from French of the report de Reynier filed with his office (Published in de Reynier's book "Jerusalem Un Drapeau Flottait Sur La Ligne de Feu", 1950, Geneva). Immediately after de Reynier's account are two public statements made by an Haganah witness to the devastation, Col. Meir Pa'el (retired) and by Zvi Ankori, the Haganah commander who occupied Deir Yassin after the Irgun's evacuation.

 

de Reynier's statement:

"On Saturday, April 10, in the afternoon, I received a telephone call from the Arabs begging me to go at once to Deir Yassin where the civilian population of the whole village has just been massacred.

"I learned that the Irgun extremists hold this sector, situated near Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency and the Haganah's General Headquarters say that they know nothing about this matter and furthermore it is impossible for anyone to penetrate an Irgun area.

"They advise me that I not become involved in this matter as my mission will run the risk of being permanently cut short if I go there. Not only can they not help me but they also refuse all responsibility for what will certainly happen to me. I answer that I intend to go there at once, that the notorious Jewish Agency exercises its authority over the territory in Jewish hands and that the agency is responsible for my freedom of action within the bounds of my mission.

"In fact, I do not know at all how to do it. Without Jewish support it is impossible to reach that village. After thinking I suddenly remember that a Jewish nurse from a hospital here had made me take her telephone number, saying with a strange look that if I ever were in a difficult situation I could call her. On a chance I call her late in the evening and tell her the situation. She tells me to be in a predetermined location the following day at 7 o'clock and to take in my car the person who will be there.

"The next day on the hour and in the location upon which we agreed, an individual in civilian clothes, but with pistols stuffed in his pockets, jumps into my car and tells me to drive without stopping. At my request, he agrees to show me the road to Deir Yassin, but he admits not being able to do to much more for me. We drive out of Jerusalem, leave the main road and the last regular army post and we turn in on a cross road. Very soon two soldiers stop us. They look alarming with machine guns in full view and larger cutlasses at the belt.

"I recognize the uniform of those I am looking for. I must leave the car and lend myself to bodily search. Then I understand that I am a prisoner. All seems lost when a very big fellow ... jostles his friends, takes my hand ... He understands neither English nor French, but in German we arrive at a perfect understanding. He tells me his joy at seeing an ICRC delegate, for having been a prisoner in a camp for Jews in Germany he owes his life to nothing else but our intervention and three reprieves. He says that I am more than a brother for him and that he will do anything I ask. ... We go to Deir Yassin.

"Having reached a ridge 500 meters from the village which we see below, we must wait a long time for permission to go ahead. The shooting from the Arab side starts every time somebody tries to cross the road and the Commander of the Irgun detachment does not seem willing to relieve me. Finally he arrives, young, distinguished, perfectly correct, but his eyes have a strange, cruel, cold look. I explain my mission to him which has nothing in common with that of a judge or arbiter. I want to help the wounded and bring back the dead.

"Moreover, the Jews have signed a pledge to respect the Geneva Convention and my mission is therefore an official one. This last statement provokes the anger of this officer who asks me to consider once and for all that here it is the Irgun who are in command and nobody else, not even the Jewish Agency with which they have nothing in common.

"My (guide) hearing the raised voices intervenes ... Suddenly the officer tells me I can act as I see fit but on my own responsibility. He tells me the story of this village populated by about 400 Arabs, disarmed since always and living on good terms with the Jews who encircled them. According to him, the Irgun arrived 24 hours previously and ordered by loudspeaker the whole population to evacuate all the buildings and surrender. There is a 15 minute delay in the execution of the command. Some of the unhappy people came forward and would have been taken prisoners and then turned loose shortly afterwards toward the Arab lines. The rest did not obey the order and suffered the fate they deserved. But one must not exaggerate for there are only a few dead who would be buried as soon as the `clean up' of the village is over. If I find a bodies, I can take them with me, but there are certainly no wounded.

"This tale gives me cold chills. "I return to Jerusalem to find an ambulance and a truck that I had alerted through the Red Shield ... I arrive with my convoy in the village and the Arab fire ceases. The (Jewish) troops are in campaign uniforms with helmets. All the young people and even the adolescents, men and women, are armed to their teeth: pistols, machine guns, grenades, and also big cutlasses, most of them still bloody, that they hold in their hands. A young girl with the eyes of a criminal, shows me hers still dripping. She carries it around like a trophy. Thisis the `clean up' team which certainly has accomplished its job very conscientiously.

"I try to enter a building. About 10 soldiers surround me with machine guns aimed at me. An officer forbids me to move from the spot. They are going to bring the dead that are there, he says. I then get as furious as ever before in my life and tell these criminals what I think about the way they act, menacing them with the thunder I can muster, then I roughly push aside those who surround me and enter the building.

"The first room is dark, completely in disorder, and empty. In the second, I find among smashed furniture covers and all sorts of debris, some cold bodies. There they have been cleaned up by machine guns then by grenades. They have been finished by knives.

"It is the same thing in the next room, but just as I am leaving, I hear something like a sigh. I search everywhere, move some bodies and finally find a small foot which is still warm. It is a little 10 year old girl, very injured by grenade, but still alive. I want to take her with me but the officer forbids it and blocks the door. I push him aside and leave with my precious cargo protected by the brave (guide).

"The loaded ambulances leaves with orders to return as soon as possible. And because these troops have not dared to attack me directly, it is possible to continue.

"I give orders to load the bodies from this house on the truck. Then I go on to the neighboring house and go on. Everywhere I encounter the same terrible sight. I only find two persons still alive, two women, one of whom is an old grandmother, hidden behind the firewood where she kept immobile for at least 24 hours.

"There were 400 persons in the village. About 50 had fled, three are still alive, but the rest have been massacred on orders, for as I have noticed, this troop is admirably disciplined and acts only on command.

...[De Reynier continues that he returns to Jerusalem where he confronts the Jewish Agency and scolds them for not exercising control over the 150 armed men and women responsible for the massacre.]...

"I then go to see the Arabs. I say nothing about what I have seen, but only that after a first quick visit to the spot there seems to be several dead and I ask what I shall do or where to bring them ... they ask me to see that a suitable burial be given them in a place which will be recognizable later on. I pledge to do so and on my return to Deir Yassin, I find the Irgun people in a very bad mood. They try to stop me from approaching the village and I understand when I see the number and above all the state of the bodies which have been lined up on the main street. I demand firmly that they proceed with the burial and insist on helping them. After some discussion, they begin actually to scoop out a big grave in a small garden. It is impossible to verify the identity of the dead, for they have no papers, but I wrote accurately their descriptions with approximate age.

"Two days later, the Irgun had disappeared from the spot and the Haganah had taken possession. We have discovered different places where the bodies have been piled up without either decency or respect in the open air.

"Back in my office I received two gentleman in civilian clothes, very well dressed who had waited for more than one hour. It is the commander of the Irgun detachment and his aide. They have prepared a text they ask me to sign. It is a statement according to which I have been received courteously by them, that I have obtained all the help needed to accomplish my mission and I thank them for the aide they gave me.

"As I hesitate, I begin to discuss the statement, and they tell me that if I care for my life I should sign immediately."

...[Calling the statement contrary to fact, de Reynier refuses to sign. Several days later in Tel Aviv, de Reynier says he approached by the same two men who ask the ICRC to assist some of their Irgun soldiers.]...

 

Former Haganah officer, Col. Meir Pa'el, upon his retirement from the Israeli army in 1972, made the following public statement about Deir Yassin that was published by the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot, April 4, 1972:

"In the exchange that followed four [Irgun] men were killed and a dozen were wounded ... by noon time the battle was over and the shooting had ceased. Although there was calm, the village had not yet surrendered. The Irgun and LEHI men came out of hiding and began to `clean' the houses. They shot whoever they saw, women and children included, the commanders did not try to stop the massacre .... I pleaded with the commander to order his men to cease fire, but to no avail. In the meantime, 25 Arabs had been loaded on a truck and driven through Mahne Yehuda and Zichron Yousef (like prisoners in a Roman `March of Triumph'). At the end of the drive, they were taken to the quarry between Deir Yassin and Giv'at Shaul, and murdered in cold blood ... The commanders also declined when asked to take their men and bury the 254 Arab bodies. This unpleasant task was performed by two Gadna units brought to the village from Jerusalem."

 

Zvi Ankori, who commanded the Haganah unit that occupied Deir Yassin after the massacre, gave this statement in 1982 about the massacre, published by the Israeli paper Davar on April 9, 1982:

"I went into 6 to 7 houses. I saw cut off genitalia and women's crushed stomaches. According to the shooting signs on the bodies, it was direct murder."

 




The 12 March cartoon by South African cartoonist Zapiro that was later attacked by David Saks
of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and which sparked debate in the country.

 

Sixty years after Deir Yassin

By Ronnie Kasrils

The Electronic Intifada, 8 April 2008

 

 

As a 10-year-old growing up in Johannesburg, I celebrated Israel's birth, 60 years ago. I unquestionably accepted the dramatic accounts of so-called self-defensive actions against Arab violence, to secure the Jewish state. The type of indoctrination South African cartoonist Zapiro so bitingly exposes in his work, raising the hackles of scribes such as David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. When I became involved in our liberation struggle, I became aware of the similarities with the Palestinian cause in the dispossession of land and birthright by expansionist settler occupation. I came to see that the racial and colonial character of the two conflicts provided greater comparisons than with any other struggle. When Nelson Mandela stated that we know as South Africans "that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians," [1] he was not simply talking to our Muslim community, who can be expected to directly empathize, but to all South Africans precisely because of our experience of racial and colonial subjugation, and because we well understand the value of international solidarity.

When I came to learn of the fate that befell the Palestinians, I was shaken to the core and most particularly when I read eye-witness accounts of a massacre of Palestinian villagers that occurred a month before Israel's unilateral declaration of independence. This was at Deir Yassin, a quiet village just outside Jerusalem, which had the misfortune to lie by the road from Tel Aviv. On 9 April 1948, 254 men, women and children were butchered there by Zionist forces to secure the road. Because this was one of the few such episodes that received media attention in the West, the Zionist leadership did not deny it, but sought to label it an aberration by extremists. In fact, however, the atrocity was part of a broader plan designed by the Zionist High Command, led by Ben Gurion himself, which was aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the British mandate territory and the seizure of as much land as possible for the intended Jewish state.

There are many accounts that corroborate the orgy of death at Deir Yassin, which went far beyond the Sharpville massacre of 1960 that motivated me to join the African National Congress. [2] My reaction was: if Sharpville had appalled me, could I be indifferent to the suffering at Deir Yassin?

Fahimi Zidan, a Palestinian child who survived by hiding under his parents' bodies, recalled: "The Jews ordered [us] ... to line up against the wall ... started shooting ... all ... were killed: my father ... mother ... grandfather and grandmother ... uncles and aunts and some of their children ... Halim Eid saw a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister ... who was ... pregnant. Then he cut her stomach open with a butcher's knife ... In another house, Naaneh Khalil ... saw a man take a ... sword and slash my neighbor ..." [3]

One of the attacking force, a shocked Jewish soldier named Meir Pa'el, reported to the head of his Haganah command:

"It was noon when the battle ended...Things had become quiet, but the village had not surrendered. The Etzel [Irgun] and Lehi [Stern] irregulars ... started ... cleaning up operations ... They fired with all the arms they had, and threw explosives into the houses. They also shot everyone they saw ... the commanders made no attempt to check the ... slaughter. I ... and a number of inhabitants begged the commanders to give orders ... to stop shooting, but our efforts were unsuccessful ... some 25 men had been brought out of the houses: they were loaded into a ... truck and led in a 'victory parade' ... through ... Jerusalem [then] ... taken to a ... quarry ... and shot ... The fighters ... put the women and children who were still alive on a truck and took them to the Mandelbaum Gate." [4]

A British officer, Richard Catling, reported:

"There is ... no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered ... Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one old woman ... who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts ..." [5]

Jacques de Reynier of the International Committee of the Red Cross met the "cleaning up" team on his arrival at the village:

"The gang ... were young ... men and women, armed to the teeth ... and [had] also cutlasses in their hands, most of them still blood-stained. A beautiful young girl, with criminal eyes, showed me hers still dripping with blood; she displayed it like a trophy. This was the 'cleaning up' team, that was obviously performing its task very conscientiously."

He described the scene he encountered on entering the homes:

"... amid disemboweled furniture ... I found some bodies ... the 'cleaning up' had been done with machine-guns ... hand grenades ... finished off with knives ... I ... turned over ... the bodies, and ... found ... a little girl ... mutilated by a hand grenade ... everywhere it was the same horrible sight ... this gang was admirably disciplined and only acted under orders." [6]

The atrocity at Deir Yassin is reflective of what happened elsewhere. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has meticulously recorded 31 massacres, from December 1947 to January 1949. They attest to a systematic reign of terror, conducted to induce the flight of Palestinians from the land of their birth. As a result, nearly all Palestinian towns were rapidly depopulated and 418 villages were systematically destroyed.

As Israel's first minister of agriculture, Aharon Cizling, stated in a 17 November 1948 Cabinet meeting: "I often disagree when the term Nazi was applied to the British ... even though the British committed Nazi crimes. But now Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being is shaken." [7] Despite these sentiments, Cizling agreed that the crimes should be hidden, creating a lasting precedent. That such barbarism was conducted by Jewish people a mere three years after the Holocaust must have been too ghastly to contemplate, as it would constitute a major embarrassment for the state of Israel, held-up as a "light unto nations;" hence the attempts to bury the truth behind a veil of secrecy and disinformation. What better way to silence enquiry than the all-encompassing alibi of Israel's right of self-defense, condoning the use of disproportionate force and collective punishment against any act of resistance.

Precisely because Israel was allowed to get away with such crimes, it continued on its bloody path. According to Ilan Pappe, "Fifteen minutes by car from Tel-Aviv University lies the village of Kfar Qassim where, on 29 October 1956, Israeli troops massacred 49 villagers returning from their fields. Then there was Qibya in the 1950s, Samoa in the 1960s, the villages of the Galilee in 1976, Sabra and Shatila in 1982, Kfar Qana in 1999, Wadi Ara in 2000 and the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002. And in addition there are the numerous killings B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights organization, keeps track of. There has never been an end of Israel's killings of Palestinians." [8] The slaughter of 1,500 Lebanese civilians in Israel's indiscriminate bombardment of that country in 2006; the daily deaths in the Palestinian territories, the 120 in Gaza in a week -- including 63 on a single day -- in March 2008, one third of whom were children, form part of the same bloody thread that links Israel's shameful past with that of today.

Israel will soon mark the 60th anniversary of its establishment. In so doing, Israelis and the Zionist supporters would do well to acknowledge the reasons why, for Palestinians and freedom-loving people throughout the world, there will be no cause to celebrate. Indeed, it will be a period of mourning and protest action; a time to recall the countless victims that lie in Israel's wake, as epitomized by the suffering inflicted on the inhabitants of Deir Yassin, the original site of which is ironically located just a stone's throw away from where the present day Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, was built.

Unless Israel confronts the past, as so many have attempted to do in South Africa, it will continue to be viewed with revulsion and suspicion. Israelis will continue to regard Arab life as worthless and will continue to live by the sword and deceit, feigning surprise when Palestinians violently respond. Without dealing with the agony it has caused there can be no healing and no solution. To do so is to create the basis for all life to be cherished and for Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace, with justice. By being aware of the roots of the conflict, and pledging our solidarity, we South Africans can do our bit to help bring about a just solution and the freedom that Nelson Mandela referred to. I believe that South Africans like Zapiro are doing just that.

 

Ronnie Kasrils is South African Minister of Intelligence.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Nelson Mandela, International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Pretoria, 4 December 1997.

[2] See Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel, Pantheon, 1988); David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber and Faber, 2003; Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, 2004); Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2006.

[3] David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber and Farber, 2003, p. 249-50.

[4] Yediot Aharonot, April 1972. This letter only came to light with Pa'el's consent in 1972. David Hirst ibid p. 251.

[5] David Hirst, ibid and Report of the Criminal Investigation Division, Palestine Government, No. 179/110/17/GS, 13, 15, 16 April 1948. Cited in David Hirst, p. 250.

[6] David Hirst ibid and Jacques de Reynier, A Jèrusalem un Drapeau flottait sur la Ligne de Feu, Editions de la Baconnière, Neuchâtel, 150, p. 71-6 and Hirst ibid p. 252.

[7] Tom Segev, The First Israelis, Owl Books, 1998, p. 26.

[8] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld Publications, 2006, p. 258.

 


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