Noam Chomsky, commenting on the just released book Remembering Deir Yassin, notes that “the Deir Yassin massacre is a bitter symbol of a long history of terror and repression, to which — to our shame — we have contributed in many substantial ways, and still do. We should not only remember, but also rethink and understand, and more important, act to bring some measure of justice to people who have suffered gravely.”
Fifty years after the massacre at Dayr Yasin, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a campaign is at last underway to create a memorial to the slain villagers. Killed by Zionist militias at the height of the 1948 war, the 120-254 Palestinians (journalists at the time and historians since differ on the exact number of victims, but all agree they were almost all children, women and old men) were mostly buried in mass graves. The Zionist military’s cry, “Dayr Yasin, Dayr Yasin!” became both a talismanic reminder and threat to the remaining besieged Palestinians, hundreds of thousands of whom fled or were driven from their homes. The village of Dayr Yasin — largely undamaged since the targets of the Irgun/Stern Gang attack were people, not buildings — was left depopulated and later turned into an Israeli mental hospital.
By a breathtakingly ironic bit of geographic coincidence, Dayr Yasin lies directly south of and panoramically visible from Yad Vashem, Israel’s powerful and moving Holocaust museum. Visitors exiting the children’s museum — a dark room filled with candles and mirrors where the names of Jewish children killed in the Holocaust are read — look directly at Dayr Yasin. Since there are no markers or plaques indicating the site of Dayr Yasin, most visitors remain unaware. For the first time, however, work is underway to build a memorial at the site of the massacre, and to mount a campaign of education and understanding. According to the leaders of Deir Yassin Remembered, “In keeping with Simon Wiesepthal’s observation that ’hope lives when people remember,‘ the suffering of Jews has been rightly acknowledged and memorialized. There are few memorials, however, for Palestinians who died in 1948. Their history, in which the massacre at Deir Yassin is a very significant event, has been largely buried and forgotten. In the spirit of reconciliation essential for the success of [the Palestinian-Israeli peace] process, the organizers of Deir Yassin Remembered believe it is appropriate for the suffering of Palestinians to likewise be acknowledged and memorialized.”
The Deir Yassin Remembered campaign, led by Jewish theologian Marc Ellis and professor of economics Dan McGowan, held a conference in Jerusalem in early April, on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre. They have launched an international artists’ competition to design the memorial, and a continuing effort to pressure Israel for permission to build the memorial at the site. The Deir Yassin Remembered website (www.deiryassin.org) provides wide-ranging historical documentation and information about the memorial campaign.
As part of the campaign, Ellis and McGowan’s new book, Remembering Deir Yassin: The Future of Israel and Palestine has just been published by Interlink. Including essays by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Rami Khouri, Muhammad Hallaj, Rosemary Ruether, Souad Dajani and others, the book provides comprehensive historical, historiographical, religious and political examinations of the Dayr Yasin massacre and its aftermath. The original oil painting of an ancient Palestinian building still standing in Dayr Yasin, reprinted as the cover of Remembering Deir Yassin, is being offered by silent auction to raise additional funds for the memorial project. Remembering Deir Yassin: The Future of Israel and Palestine by Daniel McGowan and Marc H. Ellis is available from Interlink Publishing at (800) 238-LINK.