Socialist Worker

How Israel was founded

by Michael Rosen
Issue No. 1795

ONE OF the tricks played by the news media is to present events as if they can be explained by pictures of gun battles and two-minute interviews with spokespeople. Nine times out of ten this suits the oppressor, not the oppressed. It shows the resistance of the oppressed as 'terrorism' and the actions of the oppressor as 'peacekeeping'.

Israel's greatest propaganda victory of the last 50 years has been to present itself as a peace-loving democracy fighting to secure a haven for the persecuted Jews of the world. This overlooks two very awkward facts. The first is that the best place to have been a Jew for the last 50 years is as far away from Israel as you can get.

The second is that the origins, history and present day story of Israel is a terrible narrative of persecution, exploitation, 'transfer' and mass murder of Palestinians. The first point is self evident. To uncover all the details of the second involves meticulous research and brilliant campaigning skills. I am hugely proud to have a role in the event known as 'Deir Yassin Remembered'.

This last weekend, for the second year, a group of people came together in London to remember the massacre, enforced evacuation and demolition of the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. In the morning of 9 April 1948, commandos of the Irgun (the terror gang headed by Menachem Begin, who became later prime minister of Israel) attacked Deir Yassin, with its 750 residents.

By noon over 100 people, half of them women and children, had been systematically murdered. Some 25 male villagers were loaded onto trucks, paraded through Jerusalem, and then taken to a quarry and shot dead. The remaining residents were driven to Arab East Jerusalem. A final body count of 254 was reported by the New York Times on 13 April.

Begin knew what it was for: 'Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of 'Irgun butchery', were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. 'This mass flight soon developed into a maddened, uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated.'

Deir Yassin was then wiped off the map. By September Jewish immigrants were settled there. The centre of the village was renamed, and as Jerusalem expanded the land of Deir Yassin became part of the city. The massacre at Deir Yassin is one of the most significant events in 20th century Palestinian and Israeli history. It stands as an early warning of a calculated depopulation of over 400 Arab villages and cities, and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian inhabitants.

The plan was for us to forget Deir Yassin. But we haven't. The atmosphere on Sunday night was, of course, grieving, but it was also passionate and angry. I saw there many of the people who have struggled for years to make the history of the Palestinians heard in this country.

These are the people who are yelled at and insulted on the Today programme and Newsnight, while deferential questions are put to the thugs who run Israel. But even more heartening was to see many people there discovering for the first time the truth about the founding of the Zionist state. Alongside the slogan 'They shall not pass', we always have to add, 'We shall not forget.'

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Sat 13 Apr 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1795
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