Deir Yassin: another picture worth a thousand lies

Last week, some people on Twitter were marking the anniversary of the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre in which about 100 Palestinian villagers were killed by Irgun and Lehi forces. Among the widely shared pictures that were supposedly showing the aftermath of the massacre, I noticed one that seemed suspicious: despite the photo’s low resolution, one could make out rather large buildings that would have been unusual in a small Arab village at the time; moreover, the buildings looked heavily damaged – again something that didn’t quite fit with the weapons available to the Irgun and Lehi fighters – and it also seemed that some of the bodies were clad in the kind of striped prisoner clothing known from pictures of Nazi concentration camps.

It was hardly surprising to see individuals like former Hamas health minister Basem Naim – who is not averse to circulating misappropriated images to demonize Israel – promoting such a questionable photo. But I soon discovered that the Egyptian English-language Ahram Online also featured this image as the first in a photo gallery on “Deir Yassin – An Israeli massacre in Palestine 68 years ago.”

Al Ahram DY

Ahram identified the source of the image as the Palestinian information center (PIC) website; and sure enough, a search on the site turned up a 2015 article on “Deir Yassin: Unforgettable Massacre” that includes this photo and, incidentally, exaggerates the death toll: “Hundreds of Palestinian women, children, and elderly were killed.” So apparently, PIC wants its audience to believe that Irgun and Lehi were careful not to kill any men in their prime, let alone any Palestinian fighters.

PIC is a site set up first in 1997; it is available in multiple languages and “aims to promote awareness about Palestine, the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue and to balance the often distorted picture presented in the mainstream media;” PIC also claims to be “the voice of the Palestinian people and their long struggle for justice.”

Pity that this “voice of the Palestinian people” is resorting to cheap “Pallywood”-style propaganda.

To be sure, Pallywood propaganda works: when I used a screenshot of the photo for an image search, Google promptly suggested that the most likely match was the Deir Yassin massacre. Only when I searched for the image adding “Nazi camps” I got as the top result a Ha’aretz book review from December 2014 that was illustrated with the same image captioned: “Rows of bodies fill the yard of the Boelcke Barracks, a subcamp of the Mittelbau-Dora Nazi concentration camp. Credit: Wikicommons / T4c. James E Myers.”

The Wikicommons image can be found here; its description reads: “Aftermath of the British bombing raid of 3 and 4 April 1945 that destroyed the Boelcke-Kaserne (Boelcke Barracks) located in the south-east of the town of Nordhausen and killed around 1300 inmates. The barracks was a subcamp of the en:Mittelbau-Dora Nazi concentration camp. Used as an overflow camp for sick and dying inmates from January 1945, numbers rose from a few hundred to over 6000, and the conditions saw up to 100 inmates die every day.”

Continuing my search, I confirmed another suspicion: the tireless blogger Elder of Ziyon had already dealt with the misappropriation of this image, which he discovered three years ago when Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used the photo to illustrate a blog post on the Deir Yassin massacre. As Elder of Ziyon noted in an update, Safi eventually removed the photo and replaced it with another one – which again has apparently nothing to do with Deir Yassin, but is most likely taken from the Sabra and Shatila massacres committed by Lebanese Christian Phalangists in September 1982. Needless to say, also this image remains popular as supposedly showing the aftermath of the Deir Yassin massacre; indeed, an apparently related image is also included (#10) in the Ahram Online gallery.

It is perhaps no wonder that Arabs and Palestinians keep claiming that Israelis and Jews fake their own history – whether it’s evidence of ancient Jewish roots in the historic Land of Israel or evidence of the genocide committed against Europe’s Jews. After all, as amply documented, Palestinians and their supporters do it all the time, and they quite obviously don’t feel that it is somehow undignified to use either fabricated or misappropriated images to promote their narrative of almost unfathomable Israeli and Zionist evil. Personally, I find it particularly pathetic when this is done even in instances like the Deir Yassin massacre, where lying would seem to add little, since it really is a stain on Israel’s record in the fighting that was part of the war of independence.

But there is no denying that this utter lack of honesty and integrity has gained widespread acceptance and indeed even academic approval. Courtesy of the notorious anti-Israel group “Jewish Voice for Peace,” we learnt recently that “dozens of respected Palestinian, Israeli, and American academics” are vigorously protesting a “shocking and outrageous act of censorship of the Palestinian narrative from US schoolbooks.” The “Palestinian narrative” that is being so ruthlessly ‘censored’ is reflected in a series of maps that supposedly document Israel’s take-over of “Palestinian” land, but the maps have been shown to be completely misleading, and as one critic put it, the academics who want them taught arguably “shouldn’t be in academia.”

Perhaps the academics who demand that US college students should be taught from textbooks that feature misleading maps demonizing Israel would also see no problem with using an image from a Nazi concentration camp to illustrate the “Palestinian narrative” of the massacre at Deir Yassin. What’s wrong with exaggerating the death toll and destruction at Deir Yassin – or anywhere else, as long as Palestinians feel it promotes their “narrative” of victimization at the hands of Israel?

Needless to say, the notion that subjective “narratives” should not be scrutinized, but instead be accepted as somehow equivalent to factual reality is fashionable beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict and reflects broader intellectual trends (or some might say, broader intellectual decline). But even at a time when it is fashionable to assert that there are no objective facts, it remains a fact that the photo that is so popular as an image of the Deir Yassin massacre is actually – in fact – a photo of a bombed Nazi concentration camp. There is also the telling fact that the Palestinian information center decided to promote this image as documenting the Deir Yassin massacre. It was most definitely a successful deception: Google believed it; Ahram Online believed it; and countless social media users are continuing to promote the image year after year.

Before long, there may be dozens of “respected” academics who will demand that this image should be featured in US textbooks to teach students about the Deir Yassin massacre. After all, if the Palestinians feel that this image adequately conveys what happened at Deir Yassin, it’s part of their legitimate “narrative,” right? And maybe the activists who marked the Deir Yassin massacre at a demonstration in Jerusalem by reading the names of the victims could in the future add the names of the victims of the bombing of the Boelcke Barracks? It would be more than ten times as many – so it would be more dramatic, and since facts don’t matter, anything goes, right?

About the Author
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a politically homeless lapsed leftist who can’t get used to living in a time when the Nazi slogan “The Jews are our misfortune” is considered quite acceptable in its 21st century version “The Jewish state is our misfortune.” She therefore writes mostly about antisemitism, anti-Israel activism and BDS, i.e. Bigoted Double Standards. She grew up in Germany and has a Ph.D. in contemporary history.
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