On April 9, 1948, 120 fighters from the Irgun and Lehi Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, a Palestinian-Arab village of approximately 600 people. During the assault, around 107 villagers were killed, including women and children. In addition, several villagers were taken prisoner, and were later jeered, spat at and stoned.
According to most accounts, those villagers lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors from nearby villages. Some of them, from the Givat Shaul Orthodox community just across the valley, tried to help the Deir Yassin villagers during the Irgun-Lehi combined attack. After the attack, the Irgun and Lehi troops began pillaging the houses and corpses, stealing money and jewels from the survivors, the Israeli historian Benny Morris reported.
“I saw the horrors that the fighters had created. I saw bodies of women and children, who were murdered in their houses in cold blood by gunfire, with no signs of battle and not as the result of blowing up the houses ... I have seen a great deal of war, but I never saw a sight like Deir Yassin,” declared Eliahu Arbel, operations officer B of the Haganah’s Etzione Brigade, who arrived at the scene on April 10.
The news of the massacre sparked terror among the Palestinian-Arabs and was an important factor in encouraging them to flee from their towns and villages afraid of the Jewish troop advances. “They ended up expelling people from all of Palestine on the rumor of Deir Yassin,” Mohammad Radwan, a survivor of the massacre, declared later.
Haganah and the area’s two chief rabbis condemned the killings, and the Jewish Agency for Israel sent Jordan’s King Abdullah a letter of apology, which the king rebuffed. At the time of the attack Menachem Begin was a leader of the Irgun, although he wasn’t personally involved in it.
On Dec. 4, 1948, Albert Einstein was the most prominent signatory of a letter to The New York Times by a group of Jewish intellectuals on the occasion of Begin’s visit to the United States. Part of the letter reads as follows: “It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin’s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.”
“The public avowals of Begin’s party [The Freedom Party] are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.”
“A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. ... Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicized it widely, and invited all the foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses and the general havoc at Deir Yassin. The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party.”
In the Deir Yassin massacre, 107 Palestinian-Arabs villagers, including women and children, were killed. Four of the attackers died during the attack. During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which took place during the winter of 2008-2009, 1,385 Palestinians were killed, among them 762 noncombatants, 107 women and 318 children. Thirteen Israelis were killed, 10 combatants and three Israeli noncombatants, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.
In 2006, following the elections that put Hamas in power, Israel placed Gaza under blockade. As a result of the siege, Gaza lost 95 percent of its industrial sector, and imports and travel to and from the Gaza Strip have been severely curtailed. In 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would become unlivable by 2020.
B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, has repeatedly denounced Israel for the damage its policies have caused Gazans. B’Tselem has stated that Israel’s control over Gaza makes it responsible for the safety and welfare of the residents there, in accordance with the laws of occupation specified in The Hague and the Geneva Conventions.
Today, 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. As Ari Shavit says in his book “My Promised Land,” “So the question now is land for peace. The question is land for decency. Land for our humanity. Land for our very soul.”
Given the gravity of the situation in Gaza, what would Einstein have said about it today?
Cesar Chelala, MD, Ph.D., is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 31, 2017, on page 7.