Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Tuesday, 3 April 2001

“Deir Yassin Remembered” – Sunday April 1st 2001 – Peacock Theatre, London

      “Deir Yassin Remembered”
Sunday April 1st 2001
Peacock Theatre, London

Deir Yassin Remembered commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre took place on Sunday April 1st at the Peacock Theatre in London. At the commemoration was an audience of 1000 Palestinians, Jews and others including 9 Arab ambassadors, 7 MPs, 4 rabbis and our guests of honour Tony Benn M.P., Sheikh Dr. Zaki Badawi, Rabbi John D. Rayner and H.E. Afif Safieh.

This was a creative evening of readings, poems, song and drama performed by, amongst others, Reem Kelani, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Clive Merrison, Corin Redgrave, Michael Rosen, Nadim Sawallha, Alexei Sayle, Andy and Frances de la Tour and Susan Wooldridge. The performance was directed by Steve Tyrrell of the Hydra Theatre Company whose actors performed the two short dramas. These and other parts of the commemoration were written by British Palestinian playwright Razanne Carmey.

Ten days before curtain-up, tickets began selling fast, five days later the event was sold out and three hours before the box office opened, a queue started to form of those hoping to find tickets. Most telling, was the sight of groups of Palestinian families appearing at the theatre hoping for tickets. These people were on no mailing list. They had received no appeals and no emails. Many spoke little or no English. But they came, having heard of the event by word of mouth, in the hope of joining the commemoration and remembering this important piece of their history.

The enclosed programme will tell you much about the performance. Most memorable was Reem Kelani, whose singing gave voice to Palestinian experience and history. Michael Rosen’s self-effacing delivery of Mahmoud Darwish’s “Identity Card” and his own “Sharansky” was particularly effective. Lina Abu-Bakr’s “Deir Yassin”, despite being delivered in Arabic, of which many in the audience understood not a word, affected many with its sheer sound, Ms Abu-Bakr’s moving performance and the accompanying projected visuals of Palestine and the Naqba.

There were two dramatic pieces. In “Friday Morning”, set in Deir Yassin on that Friday 53 years ago, a father is taken out while his wife and their children sing to drown out the sounds of his execution. “Exodus” allowed Palestinians to tell their stories of exile and dispossession. Since these stories were based on real stories handed down in our own Palestinian community, many in the audience will have recognised their own grandmothers and grandfathers.

We understand that there was weeping in the audience as Palestinians saw, for the first time, their story so portrayed. And Jews were moved too. Firstly, as they, for the first time ever, encountered Palestinian history and experience, secondly as they witnessed the Palestinian response to what was being enacted on stage, and finally, as they saw and heard images from a history so reminiscent of their own. 

L-R - Rabbi John Raynor, Sheikh Dr. Zaki Badawi, Rev Michael Prior
As Reem finished her last song, an affirmation of Palestinian longing and determination to return, Rabbi John Rayner, Father Michael Prior and Dr Zaki Badawi took the stage in preparation for the final commemoration. Each in turn moved forward to remember Deir Yassin, “the terror it caused, the flight it precipitated, the tragedy of dispossession and exile that has resulted from it.” As Rabbi Rayner affirmed, “having looked into the tragic past, we wish to look forward to a better future, and resolve to do what we can to bring it about.”

As Dr Badawi concluded his remarks, they left the stage. A few seconds passed, and the lights went up to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Sober but uplifting, it pointed to a better future as the audience made their way to the exits. There were no curtain calls, no bows, no bouquets. On this night at least, all eyes were on Deir Yassin and the Palestinian people. 

Many people contributed to this event, not least the hundreds of well-wishers – Palestinians and others who sent donations. These ranged from the substantial sums donated by Arab embassies and Palestinian and Arab individuals, to the many smaller contributions – five pounds, ten pounds sent by countless others. This kind of financial support is essential for any such project, but all who gave should also know how heartening these acts of generosity and support were.

Sunday, 1 April 2001

Why Commemorate Deir Yassin? - Deir Yassin Day 2001

Why Commemorate Deir Yassin? 
Deir Yassin Day 2001

Memory is as important to nations as it is to people. As families come together to remember birthdays and anniversaries, so nations come together to remember their national events: Bastille Day, American Independence Day, VE Day. For Jews, Pesach commemorates the exodus from Egypt, Tisha ba’Av commemorates the destruction of the temple, and Yom Hashoah Holocaust Day. Each one, from three thousand to fifty years ago, a commemoration of national struggle. And it is these commemorations – true commemorations, not the cynical exploitations of recent years – that connect a people to its past and point towards its future.

For Palestinians, as for all peoples, commemoration of history binds and strengthens in the realisation of national aims. Deir Yassin is an important part of that history. Deir Yassin was not the only massacre on either side of the conflict. Nor was it by any means the worst. However, because more than any other single event, the massacre there signalled the flight of the Palestinian people which led to eventual dispossession, Deir Yassin has come to occupy a very special place in the Palestinian collective memory.

And for Jews too, Deir Yassin is – and should be - important. Despite the fact that Jews are now part of the fabric of society not only in Israel but also in America and Europe, many feel endangered, spiritually and morally. Some remain spiritually broken by the tragedy of their holocaust and morally uneasy about the injustice done by them, or in their name, to the Palestinian people. Jews today lament the decline in adherence to their faith and community. They call it a second Holocaust and complain that assimilation is achieving what Hitler never could. Perhaps by acknowledgement of their own responsibility towards the Palestinians, they might find a way to resolve their moral uncertainty and reverse this decline. So for Jews too, joining with Palestinians in the commemoration of Deir Yassin, could signal a way forward.

                                                          “Hope lives when
                                                              people remember.”
                                                                                           Simon Wiesenthal

And so it is for us all. Deir Yassin is the story of two peoples inextricably bound together – a victim and the victim of a victim. This is made poignant by the fact that Deir Yassin stands in clear sight of Yad Vashem. The widely known symbol of the one people’s tragedy facing the virtually unknown symbol of the other’s. Such a configuration speaks eloquently of all atrocity and victimhood. It examines the relationship between perpetrator and victim and asks not only how the abused turns into an abuser but also and how the abused can achieve justice without themselves turning into abusers. 

April 2001
Paul Eisen is the London-based director of Deir Yassin Remembered