Lesson from Deir Yassin: No to Surrender!

These are the memories of a twelve year old Palestinian refugee, who with his parents, and sisters left Palestine for the last time during the latter part of December 1947.

This little bewildered boy who shortly thereafter came to realise the extent of a "true misfortune" that had befallen the Arab Palestinians, was none other than Edward Said.

Years later as Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Said became renowned as one of the world’s most influential literary and cultural critic and also as a leading authority on the Middle East.

In an article published in Cairo’s al-Ahram five decades after that single occurrence, Said recollected that by mid-spring of 1948 every one of his extended family on both sides, paternal and maternal – uncles, aunts, cousins – had become refugees scattered throughout the Arab world.

His growing awareness of the question of Palestine by fragmented reports on forced removals and massacres not only gripped his imagination, it also made a huge impression on him.

"My aunt and her daughter in particular had been in Jerusalem [about four kilometers away from Deir Yassin] at the time, but had heard only the desperate and horrified accounts of the ordeal of those 250 men, women, and children – innocents all of them – ruthlessly murdered in cold blood by ‘the Jews’, as everyone called them."

Said wrote that what used to be thought of as a "random terrorist incident", was in fact an operation that was part of an overall Zionist plan to systematically empty Palestine of its Arab population.

This is confirmed by Israeli historian Benny Morris. In his book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Morris says that Deir Yassin had the most lasting effect of any single event of the war in precipitating the flight of Arab villagers from Palestine.

The Deir Yassin massacre, which took place on April 9, 1948, unquestionably symbolised the concept of "transfer" in Zionist thought. The fact that two-thirds of the entire Palestinian population – about eight hundred thousand people – were dispossessed, shows how persistently Zionists planned and executed programs to rid their "promised land" of the natives.

The slaughter at Deir Yassin was born of a Zionist intention to dispossess the Arabs of Palestine of their homes, their land and their rights. Arthur Koestler in his Promise and Fulfilment, Palestine 1917-1949, was correct when he wrote: the "bloodbath" at Deir Yassin was "the psychologically decisive factor in the spectacular exodus of the Arabs from the Holy land and the creation of Palestinian refugee problem."

In reflecting on the idea to efface Palestinians as a people with legitimate rights, to render them alien in their own land, Said traced a straight line from events like the massacre at Deir Yassin to Oslo.

Until 1948, Zionists controlled less than 7 percent of the land of Palestine. After 1948, they took over everything but the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After 1967 they conquered the rest of historic Palestine. With the Oslo agreements they consolidated their hold on the land by ceding approximately 3 percent of the West Bank [which itself constitutes only 22 percent of the whole of Palestine] to the Palestinian Authority, in return for which the Authority won the right to administer Palestinian life without territorial sovereignty.

The current political scenario, almost six decades since the tragedy of Deir Yassin, reveals that despite years of military occupation and severe oppression, Palestinian spirit has not been defeated. Indeed, the intensity of their armed struggle as embodied in the Intifada; coupled with a deep commitment not to renounce their history of loss and dispossession, has forced the enforcers of Israeli apartheid to endure the humiliation of retreating from core,hardline Zionist ideals.

That an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have opted to give Oslo a bloody nose by rejecting its Fatah signatories and empowering Hamas as their legitimate leaders is yet another manifestation of a single-minded determination never to surrender.

Though the cruelty and horror visited upon Deir Yassin and repeated hundreds of time throughout Palestine may have obliterated countless "Deir Yassins"; it has failed to efface the strong desire by the victims of American-sponsored Israeli brutality to be treated as human beings – with dignity!