Julian Sorsby

October 7th and April 9th. Two dates that will live on in infamy.

Deir Yassin is an episode in Jewish and Israeli history that at this time of the massacre of Israelis at the hands of Hamas and the holding of hostages in awful conditions in the tunnels under the Gaza Strip, we would do well to remember and talk about.

Let’s remember what prominent Jewish intellectual, Martin Buber said of it at the time. “In Deir Yassin hundreds of innocent men, women and children were massacred,” he said. “Let the village remain uninhabited for the time being, and let its desolation be a terrible and tragic symbol of war, and a warning to our people that no practical military needs may ever justify such acts of murder.”

I wonder what Buber would have made of the destruction wrought by the IDF under the orders of today’s political leaders?

Those responsible for the massacre at Deir Yassin were nothing more nor less than Jewish terrorists, armed militias of the Irgun and Stern Gang, led by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, each of whom went on to become prime minister of Israel. On April 9th 1948, less than a month before the establishment of the State of Israel, they invaded Deir Yassin and a number of other Palestinian villages. It is estimated that thousands of Palestinians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes to live as refugees in other parts of Palestine or neighbouring countries, an event seared in the memory of Palestinians and commemorated as the Nakba – “the catastrophe”. At Deir Yassin alone an estimated 250 deaths occurred.

Writing to the Secretary General of the UN, the Chief British investigator wrote as follows:  “The following supplementary information is now available as regards this incident:-

(1) The operation is believed to have been a joint National Military Organisation – Stern Group enterprise undertaken with the knowledge of the Haganah.

(2) The deaths of some 250 Arabs, men, women and children, which occurred during this attack, took place in circumstances of great savagery.

(3) Woman and children were stripped, lined up, photographed, and then slaughtered by automatic firing and survivors have told of even more incredible bestialities.

(4) Those who were taken prisoner were treated with degrading brutality.

(5) Although the Haganah is unable to deny that it gave covering fire to the terrorists responsible for this outrage, the action as a whole has been condemned by the Jewish press and denounced by the Chief Rabbinate.

(9) A representative of the International Red Cross who visited Deir Yassin on the 11th April is said to have stated that in one cave he saw heaped bodies of some 150 Arab men, women and children, whilst in a stronghold a further 50 bodies were found.”

Survivors and some of those who carried out the attack gave testimony that victims, many of whom were women, children and the elderly, were variously beaten, stripped naked, paraded, photographed, lined up against a wall and shot by sub-machine guns, mutilated, decapitated or tied to trees and burned to death.

Since October 7th 2023 numerous commentators, politicians, Jews around the world and ordinary citizens of other countries have described those who broke through the border fence and perpetrated atrocities in Israel as ‘sub-human’ or ‘animals’, not humans at all.

It’s hard to accept truths when they hurt, but some of those who fought for our independent Israel could equally well have been described as sub-human. They in their time were no different to some who fight for an independent Palestine now. The scale of atrocities may have been much larger now than then, but don’t the words ‘women, children and the elderly, were variously beaten, stripped naked, paraded, photographed, lined up against a wall and shot by sub-machine guns, mutilated, decapitated or tied to trees and burned to death’ now sound painfully familiar? The truth is that almost any human can be driven to behave in a manner that one might call ‘sub-human’ and it’s best we remember that. Our ‘freedom fighters’ did the same back in 1948. By invoking the label ‘sub-human’ now when referring to Hamas, we are avoiding asking ourselves why they have acted as they have and whether we bear some responsibility.

We would do well to remember that it was the duplicity of our colonial masters, the British, that gave rise to the tragedy of the Palestinians by promising their land to us and simultaneously our land to them. The title on the land is far from clear and between them Balfour and Sykes laid the foundations for an everlasting war. Note the words ‘gave rise’, for it is not the British but we, Jews and Palestinians ourselves who have perpetuated the tragedy.  What is needed is leadership on both sides that recognises the merits of all the arguments and strives to bridge the gaps between people. All we know for certain is that the vast majority of our leadership fall so far short of the requirements for the job as to be ruled out as candidates.

We Jews must learn from our own often inglorious history and never stoop so low as to regard anyone as in some way inferior to ourselves. It was just such an attitude among Germans, Austrians and a range of other nationalities that drove six million of our brethren into the crematoria of Europe.

And for the dwindling numbers who still regard Begin, Shamir and their right-wing government ministerial descendants as their heroes and Netanyahu as somehow holy, a thought. Around the world the label of genocide has stuck! People are not impressed by legal definitions or the ability of skilled lawyers to squirm a way through the arguments. For ordinary people, if it looks like genocide it probably is genocide, and it certainly looks that way right now. And if blanket bombing or withholding water, fuel, medication and food looks like a war crime, it probably is one. And it certainly looks that way too.

If Netanyahu continues in office for much longer, continues to throw his toys out of his pram in response to our strongest ally and continues to systematically make enemies out of Israel’s friends, the world may well present Israel with the choice of a two or a one state solution. Problem is, the one state could be Palestine.

About the Author
Julian Sorsby was born in London three months before the rebirth of the State of Israel. He is a lifelong Zionist, a student of Jewish history and an advocate of human rights.
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