What is the meaning of the Israeli parliamentarian’s comment that “in Lebanon we have entered with a policy that is a direct continuation of Dayr Yasin and Qibya”?
Dayr Yasin was a small Arab village of around 400 persons on the main road to Jerusalem. Jon Kimche, a British observer in Palestine in 1948, writes that “Dayr Yasin was one of the few Arab villages whose inhabitants had refused permission for foreign Arab volunteers…; they have on occasions collaborated with the Jewish Agency.” On April 9, 1948, more than 100 “irregulars” led by Menachem Begin’s Irgun attacked the village and slaughtered 254 of its inhabitants, including some 100 women and children. Some corpses were mutilated, and survivors were paraded through Jerusalem and spat upon.
Israeli military historian Zeev Schiff asserts that the leaders of the Haganah, the official Zionist military command, “knew of this attack…and approved it. Later when the outcome was known, the Haganah repudiated the action.” “The story of the massacre spread among the Arabs,” Schiff writes, “gathering detail. It was a serious blow to the morale of the civilian Arab population. The wealthy had already been moving to neighboring countries and now the middle class and proletariat panicked and fled.”
For Menachem Begin, Dayr Yasin represented “the first Arab village to be captured by Jewish forces.” “Both sides suffered heavy casualties,” Begin recounts. “We had four killed and nearly 40 wounded.” Subsequent “hostile propaganda,” Begin charges, “deliberately ignored the fact that the civilian population of Dayr Yasin was actually given a warning…. By giving this humane warning our fighters threw away the element of complete surprise, and thus increased their own risk…. Our men were compelled to fight for every house; to overcome the enemy they used large numbers of hand grenades. And the civilians who had disregarded our warnings suffered inevitable casualties.” The “enemy propaganda,” the “lie still propagated by Jew-haters all over the world,” Begin acknowledges, “was worth half a dozen battalions to the forces of Israel.” In Begin’s view “the legend of Dayr Yasin helped us in particular in the saving of Tiberias and the conquest of Haifa.”
Begin’s supporters in the US have cited Israeli “warnings” to deny the current slaughter in Lebanon. Edward Luttwak of Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies writes in the New York Times that “it is fundamentally implausible that Israel and the Israeli armed forces would deliberately engage in massacre. To believe that, one must ignore such Israeli actions as the warnings given to the population of Tyre and Sidon, warnings that cost the Israelis the advantage of surprise.”
The mention of Qibya along with Dayr Yasin refers to the first operation of Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101. On October 14, 1953, 69 Arabs were killed in this Arab village in reprisal for a grenade attack on a Jewish village that killed a woman and two children. Unit 101 was designed, according to Sharon, to “crystallize” the “ideology of reprisal operations” in the Israeli armed forces, and particularly the airborne units. According to The Paratroopers’ Book, the quasi-official history of the Israeli airborne corps, “The operation at Qibya was to be distinguished from other operations by its purposes and its effects. The dynamiting of dozens of houses in Qibya was an ambitious undertaking surpassing anything in the past. Once and for all, it washed away the stain of the defeats that Zahal [the Israeli army] had suffered in its reprisal operations.” The Israeli government and army at first disclaimed any responsibility for the Qibya attack. Open acknowledgement, with the publication of The Paratroopers’ Book in 1969, marked an important threshold in Israeli public acceptance of state terror against neighboring Arab communities.