Over the years, our attention has been drawn to the close proximity of the village of Deir Yassin to the Jewish Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. Jews have been encouraged to visit Deir Yassin, the symbolic starting point of nearly six decades of Palestinian dispossession, and from there to look across to Yad Vashem. Palestinians (if only they could!) have also been asked to visit Yad Vashem – the symbol of Jewish suffering – and to look across the valley toward the birth site of their own tragedy.
Everybody was happy. Jews of conscience were of course pleased to see Jewish suffering again at the centre of the discourse but also happy to extend their narrative of suffering to include Palestinians. Palestinians were perhaps less pleased at having – yet again – to acknowledge Jewish suffering in order to help achieve their own liberation, but they recognized the importance of the publicity that the link between Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem brought to their cause.
Of course, one had to be careful. As is so often the case with these things, there was always a but. After all, who in their right mind would compare the massacre of a hundred Palestinians at Deir Yassin with the industrial-scale slaughter of six million Jews? And who would dare draw comparison the 1948 expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians to the near-successful attempt at physically exterminating every last Jewish man, women and child in Europe?
Both atrocities have seen their fair share of deniers over the years. Many Zionists, either with conscious intent or out of ignorance, have denied Deir Yassin. “There was no massacre at Deir Yassin,” they say; “It was simply a battle – a battle that the Palestinians lost. These things happen in war and anyway, they did the same to us.” Also, “No, the Palestinians were not expelled; they ran away, and anyway, they didn’t love the land as we love the land – just look how neglected it was until we came along to make the desert bloom.”
The Holocaust too has come under assault. Over the last fifty years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. “Where is the evidence,” they say, “for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?” These revisionists all acknowledge of course, that there was a terrible assault on Jews on the part of the National Socialist government, but disagree as to the scale, motive, and methods cited in the typical narrative, a narrative that most of us choose or are obliged to accept. “What befell the Jews”, they say, “was a brutal ethnic cleansing accompanied by dispossession, pillage and massacre.”
A brutal ethnic cleansing accompanied by dispossession, pillage and massacre… terms surely familiar to any Palestinian.
But no matter how similar the Jewish and Palestinian histories of suffering may seem, the similarities conceal important differences:
First, by all accounts, and according to any version of the events, what was done to the Jews of Europe took place a long distance from Yad Vashem, while what was done to the Palestinian people took place right there at the village of Deir Yassin and right there throughout the whole of Palestine.
Second, the perpetrators of the atrocity against Jews had nothing to do with Palestine or Palestinians, while perpetrators of the Palestinian tragedy were and are Jews.
Third, the perpetrators of the atrocity against Jews have been roundly condemned over the years and punished for their crimes, and have mostly shown contrition, while the perpetrators of the massacre at Deir Yassin have been honored for their crimes, continue to take pride in them, and live on in their ideology and in their deeds.
Fourth, what befell the Jews had a beginning, a middle, and an end, while the assault on the Palestinians goes on with no end in sight.
And one final difference: If the living evidence for the veracity of the Holocaust narrative is a safe, secure and empowered Jewish people, at home wherever they may be, the living evidence for the veracity of Deir Yassin and the Nakba is a Palestinian people dispossessed and exiled and longing to go home.
Paul Eisen, Director
Deir Yassin Remembered