48 Massacre Tale Not True

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21 In july 1977
Underground - battle description, Deir Yassin, Etzel, Haganah, Lechi
A reprinting of a chapter from Begin's book, THE REVOLT, which appeared as part of a series of reprints of Begin's book in the New York Post. Begin describes the events surrounding the battle of Dir Yassin, which was called a massacre in the international media and by the Labor Zionists. Dir Yassin was a strategically important village from which attacks against aid convoys to Jerusalem were launched. The Etzel and the Lehi launched a joint operation to capture the village and provide relief to Jewish forces in Jerusalem. The Etzel warned the civilians to leave before the fighting, giving up the element of surprise. The fighting in Dir Yassin was intense, leading to many casualties on both sides. Arab forces hoping to gain a propaganda victory spread rumors about a wanton massacre at Dir Yassin, and Labor elements, hoping to discredit the Etzel as political opponents, also helped spread the rumor. The unintended result was the fleeing or surrendering of Arabs throughout the country, making the overall war effort much easier for Jewish forces.
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'48 Massacre Tale not true: Begin


The Arab village of Sha'afat, which served as a base for murderous attacks on Jewish convoys, was heavily attacked by an Irgun Assault Unit.  And on April 9, 1948, our men together with a Stern Group unit (a split-off of Irgun) captured the village of Dir Yassin.

Dir Yassin, lying some 2000 feet above sea-level, was an important link in the chain of Arab positions enclosing Jerusalem from the West.  Through Dir Yassin Arab forces from Ein Kerem and Bethlehem crossed to the Kastel front, whence they attacked Jewish convoys along the only road from Jerusalem to the coast.

After the capture of Dir Yassin-actually the first Arab village to be captured by Jewish forces-the Haganah commander in Jerusalem announced that its capture was of no military value and was, indeed, contrary to the general plan for the defense of Jerusalem.  We had, to our regret, to refute Mr. Shaltiel with the aid of a letter from-Mr. Shaltiel.  Raanan, the Irgun commander in Jerusalem, radioed to us the following letter he had received from the Haganah Regional Commander: 'I learn that you plan an attack on Dir Yassin.  I wish to point out that the capture of Dir Yassin and holding it is one stage in our general plan.  I have no objection to your carrying out the operation provided you are able to hold the village.  If you are unable to do so I warn you against blowing up the village which will result in its inhabitants abandoning it and its ruins and deserted houses being occupied by foreign forces.  This situation will increase our difficulties in the general struggle.  A second conquest of the place will involve us in heavy casualties.  Furthermore, of foreign forces enter the place this will upset the plan…."

When we published this letter we ended with those three points after the word 'plan.'  The national interest required that we should not reveal what that plan was.  Today those three points are superfluous.  It can be revealed that in their place in the original letter there came the highly significant words: 'for establishing an airfield.'  That airfield was established at Dir Yassin and, for a time, served as the only means of communication between besieged Jerusalem and the coast.

Re-reading that letter we may draw certain conclusions.  Its language may not have been in conformity with the requirements of style.  Mr. Shaltiel's later verbal declaration was not in conformity with the truth.  But the capture of Dir Yassin was not in conflict with the general plan for the defense of Jerusalem.  On the contrary: "The capture of Dir Yassin and holding it are one stage in the general plan." Dir Yassin was captured with the knowledge of the Haganah and the approval of its commander.

Apart from the military aspect, there is the moral aspect to the story of Dir Yassin.  At the village, whose name was publicized throughout the world, both sides suffered heavy casualties.  We had four killed and nearly forty wounded.  The number of casualties was nearly 40 percent of the total number of the attackers.  The Arab troops suffered casualties three times as heavy.  The fighting was thus very severe.

Yet the hostile propaganda, disseminated throughout the world, deliberately ignored the fact that the civilian population of Dir Yassin was actually given a warning by us before the battle began.  One of our tenders carrying a loudspeaker was stationed at the entrance to the village and it exhorted in Arabic all women, children, and aged to take shelter on the slope of the hill.  By giving this humane warning our fighters threw away the element of surprise, and thus increased their own risk in the ensuing battle.

A substantial number of the inhabitants obeyed the warning and they were unhurt.  A few did not leave their stone houses-perhaps because of the confusion.  The fire of the enemy was murderous-to which the number of our casualties bears eloquent testimony.  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.

To counteract the loss of Dir Yassin, a village of strategic importance, Arab headquarters at Ramallah broadcast a crude atrocity story, alleging a massacre by Irgun troops of women and children in the village.  Certain Jewish officials, fearing the Irgun men as political rivals, seized upon this Arab propaganda to smear the Irgun. An eminent Rabbi was induced to reprimand the Irgun before he had time to sift the truth.

Out of evil, however, good came.  This Arab propaganda spread a legend of terror among Arabs and Arab troops, who were seized with panic at the mention of the Irgun.

The enemy propaganda was designed to besmirch our name.  In the result it helped us.  Panic overwhelmed the Arabs of Eretz Israel.  Kolonia village, which had previously repulsed every attack of the Haganah, was evacuated overnight and fell without further fighting.  Beit-Iksa was also evacuated.  These two places overlooked the main road; and their fall, together with the capture of Kastel by the Haganah, made it possible to keep open the road to Jerusalem.  In the rest of the country, too, the Arabs began to flee in terror, even before they clashed with Jewish forces.  Not what happened at Dir Yassin, but what was invented about Dir Yassin, helped to carve the way to our decisive victories on the battlefield.  The legend of Dir Yassin helped us in particular in the saving of Tiberius and the conquest of Haifa.

We must bow our heads to all the Jewish soldiers irrespective of organizational affiliation, who fought the Arab invaders with supreme bravery.

Tomorrow: Thirty Years Later.