Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Wednesday, 3 April 2002

Deir Yassin Day 2002

'The Recitation of the Names
The London community remember Deir Yassin


Deir Yassin Day 2002

 This year two anniversaries so significant to the lives of two peoples whose recent history is intertwined fall on the same day, 9th April: Yom ha’Shoah (Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day) and Deir Yassin Day; the one well known, the other not.
DYD 2002 at St John's Wood Church

This coincidence calls us, in our commemorations, to examine the close, intense and often agonised relationship between the history and experience of Palestinians and Jews.

9th April, 1948 is carved forever into the hearts of all Palestinians everywhere. On that day, between 100 and 130 Palestinians were massacred by the combined forces of the two Zionist militias, Irgun and the Stern Gang. By no means the only massacre or the worst to take place, more than any other single event it signalled the flight of the Palestinian people and led to their eventual dispossession.

Although not identified on post-1948 maps of Israel, Deir Yassin is not difficult to locate. Looking north from Yad Vashem— the widely recognised symbol of one people’s tragedy— is a spectacular panoramic view of Deir Yassin, the unknown graveyard of the other’s. There are no signs, no plaques, no memorials of any kind. The cemetery is largely gone; the ruins of the deir (monastery) are unmarked; and the quarry in which the bodies of the massacred were piled and burned is likely buried under a fuel storage depot. To the south is a steep terraced valley containing part of the Jerusalem Forest. On the other side of that valley, roughly a mile and a half from Deir Yassin and in clear view of it, is Yad Vashem. For those who know what they are looking at, the irony is breathtaking.

9th April is not only an important event in Palestinian history, but in Jewish history, too. Coming as it does a mere three years after the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, Deir Yassin and the establishment of the state of Israel mark the Jewish transition from enslavement to empowerment and, in too many instances, from victim to victimiser. Many Jews, aware of the responsibilities intrinsic to this empowerment, and uneasy about the injustices done in their name to Palestinians, may wish to join in these commemorations.
Corin Redgrave reads "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

But if this coincidence presents us with opportunities, it also presents us with dangers. Many Jews may not want to look at this, fearing that the magnitude of their tragedy may be diminished. For Palestinians there is always the fear that, as often before, the Holocaust may be used to justify their own suffering.

On April 1st last year in London, the story of Deir Yassin was told to a theatre audience of 1000, mainly Palestinians and their natural supporters but also including more than one hundred Jews. As the tragedy of Deir Yassin and the Nakba (catastrophe) unfolded, Palestinians were moved as they saw their story portrayed, but Jews were moved, too; as— often for the first time ever—they encountered Palestinian history and experience; as they witnessed the Palestinian response; and, finally and most importantly, as they saw and heard images from a history so reminiscent of their own.

As part of the final commemoration last year, we remembered Deir Yassin: “ the terror it caused, the flight it precipitated, the tragedy of dispossession and exile that has resulted from it ”. This year, surely, we must extend and deepen this message to examine the relationship between the victim and the victim of that victim. Is it not in that space between Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem, between Yom ha’Shoah and Deir Yassin Day, between the shared histories of these two peoples, that our efforts to commemorate should take place?

On Sunday April 7th 2002, commemorations will be held in London, Washington, Melbourne,
and in Jerusalem where it is hoped the commemoration will be the final act of a pilgrimage walk from Yad Vashem to Deir Yassin. During that week commemorations will take place throughout the United Kingdom in public places including mosques, churches, and synagogues.
Nadim Sawalha and Susan Wooldridge

May all who participate in these commemorations appreciate their full significance.