I first heard the name “Deir Yassin” when I was almost 15 years old. I
was in 9th grade preparing for a debate in my social studies
class about what was then called the “Arab/Israeli conflict.”
I had grown up hearing about the glorious founding of Israel
and, as a young person who followed the news, had been fascinated
by the June 1967 “Six Day War” in which Israel spectacularly
defeated Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
I was not really prepared for what I came across when I started researching
for the debate. I had heard these legends, repeated regularly
in the US media, concerning how the Palestinians had, allegedly,
left their lands voluntarily at the beginning of the 1948
war. It did not make a lot of sense to me at the time, but
I assumed it to be true.
growing up I never heard about Deir Yassin and all that it
represented. So, at the ripe old age of 15 I stumbled across
information about a phenomenon that we would now call ethnic
cleansing; and it was ethnic cleansing carried out at
a monumental scale by Zionists against the Palestinian population
immediately prior to the founding of Israel.
You, the reader, can Google “Deir Yassin” at your convenience and get
the details. The gist of it goes like this: A Zionist underground
army, what would today be described as terrorists but in 1948
was described in the Western media as freedom fighters, attacked
a Palestinian village called Deir Yassin. They destroyed the
village and murdered over 100 men, women and children.
Had Deir Yassin been an isolated incident it would have been criminal
enough. Unfortunately, the ethnic cleansing that took place
in that village in April 1948 was symptomatic of an orchestrated
effort to drive the Palestinians off of their land. In all,
more than 400 villages are reported to have been destroyed
and some 750,000 people - Palestinians - driven into exile
by the Zionist military units.
Palestinians, and their Arab allies, describe this period
in 1948 as the Nakba (Catastrophe) and it is
a time for mourning rather than celebration. The Palestinians
who went into exile in 1948 believed, in many cases, that
they would be returning home with the cessation of the fighting.
After all, international law, recognized by the then newly
formed United Nations, guaranteed a right of return
for refugees displaced by military action.
The Palestinians have never been able to exercise the right of return.
Instead, weeks became months; months became years; and years
became decades. Interestingly, following the 1948 war, the
United Nations reminded the world that the Palestinian refugees
had the right of return. This ‘reminder’, however, has never
been enforced. United Nations resolutions have been subsequently
ignored, whether it concerned the right of return or the demand
that the Israelis withdraw from the territories that they
occupied in June 1967.
point of view of the US establishment, as enunciated by former
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, was that the Arabs lost and that
they should get over it. There are several problems with this
simplistic analysis, not the least of which is that it violates
international law. Such a view is contrary to the views that
the US has expressed when it has come to other situations
in an ironic way, it also comes very close to home. Think
about it this way: what if the victims of Hurricane Katrina
- the evacuees - were told that they could not return to their
homes on the Gulf Coast. Well, as a matter of fact, the Bush
administration is acting as if they CANNOT return. That instead,
the Katrina evacuees should get over it and move on
with their lives. In other words, the evacuees should forget
about their homes, their livelihoods, and their heritage;
turn over that which they worked to build over years, if not
generations; and just begin again. Most reasonable people
rightly reject such a position with regard to the victims
of Katrina. So, why would we view the Palestinians as any
different, particularly when their situation is magnified
hundreds of times?
It is impossible for Palestinians to celebrate the founding of Israel,
and those who abhor oppression and injustice, should understand
this. While those committed to social justice should always
stand with those who resisted the Holocaust and stringently
oppose anti-Jewish racism, we should also stand with those
who lost their homes, their livelihoods and a portion of their
heritage in 1948, and later, in 1967.
It was a catastrophe and will remain one until and unless international
law and the countless United Nations resolutions are enforced.
As I understand the idea of civilization it goes something
like this: no one should be exempt from the law.
Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the just released book,
The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social
Justice (University of California Press), which examines
the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.