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A Review Of "Blood Libel: The True Story Of The Massacre At Deir Yassin" By Dr. Uri Milstein – Survival Institute Publishers 2007


By Evyatar Ben Zedeff

Eviathar H. Ben Zedeff is a research fellow at the Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT) in Herzlia, and former editor at the IDF periodical "Ma'arachot". This article appeared in the intellectual journal NATIV.

More than any other author in the state of Israel Uri Milstein has succeeded in cultivating harsh critics, for whom only the mention of his name causes spasms. In addition, after forty years of industrious research and collection of material on Israel's wars, there aren't many that can compare to Milstein in depth of knowledge about our defense establishment. Milstein's new book moves on the usual track – he attacks the sacred cows and reproaches a very senior group, some of whom have always been considered a chosen elite, and whose actions are not generally examined by the mortals among their subjects.

Milstein is not a loyal student of Hannah Babli and of other teachers in the doctrine of politeness. He does not bow in deference before the lofty ones and is not part of the platoon that speaks in praise of them. On the contrary, it would seem, that he tries to find a flaw in every individual who has reached a senior position in the political establishment and the defense establishment (sometimes the same exact group).

A proper disclosure: I join in part of Milstein's criticism of the defense establishment and the IDF, and we have even written some articles together, one of which serves as the book's epilogue.

This time – Milstein tries to refute an old myth: the massacre at Deir Yassin.

Milstein's book closes a circle, and it tries to get down to the roots of two famous incidents in the battle for Jerusalem: the occupation of Deir Yassin and the massacre of the Hadassah convoy. In this context he discusses the battles of Harel, the unnecessary sacrifice of the 35 and other groups, in the fall of Gush Etzion.

It Is Hard To Do Research In Israel

"He who does not learn from the past – is condemned to repeat it", says Santayana. In the absence of historical research – we, in fact, base military history on reasonable hypothesis – the bellies of researchers who are close associates and interested parties (that have received permission to enter the IDF archive in return for slanted research) and on official publications. Incidentally, most of our publications on military history in the "battle heritage" genre – are publications that create commanders and politruks, in order to strengthen units and themselves.

With regard to "battle heritage" it is dubious to establish a public relations campaign for soldiers, insofar as it is mythological and not factual. By us we base on it all of military history and the conclusions from war; and this is only one of our army's flaws, that are prominent in most of its actions and failures in principle in the last four decades.

The Fabrication Of Deir Yassin

The Arab village of Deir Yassin in western Jerusalem (today – in the area of the Givat Shaul hospital) controlled the road to Jerusalem, and interfered with the "Etzioni" plan to expand the use of the camp on the Givat Shaul road in Jerusalem, for aerial transport to the city, and sat alone, and they said it was besieged. The Givat Shaul road?was practically not used, because it was too exposed to gunfire from the direction of the Arab village Nebi Samuel.

The attack on Deir Yassin was part of Operation Nachshon for breaking through on the Jerusalem road, and was coordinated with Haganah. It was part of the overall strategy of the "dissidents", who acted independently in Jerusalem – because it was not included in the sovereignty of the state of Israel according to the UN partition plan – but they tried to reach coordination with Etzioni. Political considerations caused the coordination to fail, even though there were many supporters in the field ranks of Haganah. It would seem, also because of that, that Shaltiel was appointed commander of Etzioni – although he had no background in battle command, he did however have much background in the "Season".

Milstein examined the story of the massacre that the "dissidents" committed as it were in Deir Yassin. When occupying a residential place (and mainly, when the soldiers and commanders are not skilled in fighting in a built up area) – there is no way to avoid victims among the population. Today they call this by the clean expression "collateral damage". The question of whether a massacre was committed in the village is the key question.

If the answer is yes – it begs the question, who committed it?

From the outset, there are relatively many testimonies that the occupation of the village was not achieved by Etzel and Lehi. In other words, the operation plan failed already at the beginning of the operation, and the attackers suffered heavy losses. For whatever reason they conceded on the element of surprise; and therefore their losses only increased. Consequently, they really risked their lives in the fighting, in order to achieve a hold on the village, but they did not succeed in overcoming its defenses.

The village was finally occupied with the aid of a Palmach unit. Also, the prospect of holding the village was larger than the dimensions of the "dissidents" permitted.

Therefore, whether the "dissidents" committed a massacre against the inhabitants of the village is fundamentally in doubt. Perhaps the lack of skill of the soldiers and commanders brought about the killing of dozens of civilians in the battle. There are also testimonies about gunfire from Arab snipers against men and women villagers, that were taken as wounded by the "dissidents".

In a famous press conference Etzel commander Mordechai Ranan, who was not in the village, announced that 254 people were killed in the occupation of the village – a number he pulled from the top of his head, but was published worldwide like wildfire. All of the testimonies of the participants in the battle – also men of Haganah and Palmach, who came to the village during the occupation and immediately after, attest to dozens killed. Moreover, Arab sources do not specify more than 107 killed among the village's inhabitants.

The great resonance, that made Deir Yassin an example and a byword, was created following the press conference of Ranan, who was not in the battle field, but in the command center in nearby Givat Shaul. This created a shock wave in consciousness that aided in putting to flight Arabs from other places, but also raised walls of hatred between the two peoples.

Onto this established base one man entered and flourished, and who deserves a separate research study – Meir Pilevski – Payil. According to Milstein, practically the whole story of a massacre in Deir Yassin is tied to Payil alone. Payil was in the Avraham unit of the Jewish Intelligence Service – which is to say, the "Season" operation. His unit was dismantled, and he was sent to command the military police in Jerusalem. Of course, Payil did not like the appointment. Later he was a well known commander in our army, a researcher in military history, a public relations man for the Palmach and an educator of IDF soldiers.- as commander of the officers school and also as an authority on military ethics and leadership. As it says in our religious sources – "May your eyes watch your teachers"?

As a central party in the "Season" (who to this day has not expressed any regret over his acts of injustice, in which he was an enthusiastic participant), Payil turned to the political figures in authority over him, so that they would highlight the evil decree. Payil understood that confirmation of the unstable situation in Jerusalem (in which there was much support for the "dissidents") and the importance of political supervision over the activities of the "dissidents" – his despicable field of expertise – so he tried to relay the message to those in authority over him in Tel Aviv. His efforts failed, and his unit was dismantled. When his comrades fought in various fronts, he remained attached to his job in Jerusalem, because he did not want to command the military police.

Meir Payil is the only one that attests to a massacre in the village. According to him, and there is no other source for this – in the "dissidents", Haganah, or Palmach – he was in Deir Yassin at the time of the battle and afterward. Payil relates that a member of Lehi (Moshe Idelstein – "Amos"), who he knew when Amos was in Palmach, invited him to the village – a claim that is completely denied. Moreover, as an activist in the "Season", Payil was known to some of the "dissidents" and their commanders. It is unreasonable that he was present in the place and no one saw him.

On April 9 Payil reported about the massacre, that he saw, as it were, to Yisrael Galili, head of the Haganah national command center. His reports join the report of Yitzhak Levy (Levitza), head of the Jerusalem Intelligence Service. Such is the work of Satan: in his description of the massacre, as it were, in his book Levitza relies on Payil's testimony.

Payil's claims and those of his follower, Levitza, are completely denied by researchers in Bir Zeit University, whose assessment of the number of Arabs killed in the occupation of the village is one hundred seven people.

Milstein's conclusion: Payil's report is a fabrication, and he caused the slanting of other reports – for political reasons. For example – the later report of Mordechai Gihon (an intelligence man in Etzioni and later a colonel and professor in Tel Aviv University), who did not include in his first report on the occupation of Deir Yassin any report of a massacre, as it were, of the villagers, and only afterward wrote an amended report, under Payil's influence.

According to Milstein, there was a political purpose in fabricating the story of a massacre in Deir Yassin: namely, to deflect the pressure of Abba Hillel Silver, the US Zionist leader, to include the "dissidents" in the Jewish army, and in the coalition. These demands were in complete opposition to the interests of the Mapam party – the new party, that was established as "the movement for worker unity" (formerly a faction of Mapai) and Shomer Ha Tzair, the political matron of Palmach. The agreement between Etzel and the Jewish Agency was signed on March 7, and approved by the Jewish Agency leadership on April 9. The political committee of the Zionist Executive Board needed to confirm it by midnight on April 12 – the time of the closing of the session of the Zionist Executive Board. "The events of Deir Yassin were means for achieving the objective (preventing the agreement)?but the agreement was approved by a majority of 39 to 32.

In the final analysis, the agreement between Etzel and the Jewish Agency was prevented through men of Mapam in the Jewish Agency and Haganah, and finally buried in the Altalena affair. The state of Israel continues to eat the rotten fruits of the deceit that they spread about the massacre in Deir Yassin – even though they had an important effect in mobilizing the Arabs to surrender, and to flee in the War of Independence.

The myth of the massacre in Deir Yassin is not dead. Even after the political turnover in 1977, Levitza, Payil and their clan continued to spread the fabrication, that became a propaganda weapon against the state of Israel. Even though none of the men of the "dissidents" that were involved in the battle for the village were participants in the new government, Menachem Begin and his men did not succeed in erasing the stain, that was imposed on them through no fault of their own. Now all kinds of left wing Jewish figures perpetuate the lie – under Palestinian Authority cover. Likes attract like.

As mentioned, there is no proof – except for the words of an extremely unreliable person, who one doubts was present for the events at all – that there was a massacre in Deir Yassin. In spite of this, Milstein's undertaking will be, it seems, for naught. The false myth has taken hold, and it will not leave even when all the heroes of the libel descend from the stage.

Cultivation And Forgetting In The Hands Of Agents Of Memory

The massacre of the physician's convoy to Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus (April 13, 1948), when it passed through the Sheikh Jarach neighborhood, was planned as Arab revenge for the events of Deir Yassin, and was – according to Milstein – a Jewish failure, that characterizes our defense culture on one hand, and the handing on of the refusal to accept responsibility, on the other. The national institutions accused the British of responsibility for the massacre – even though the British aided survivors of the massacre at its first stage.

Milstein did this research while still a youth in the Hadassim educational institution, in the 1950s. And there is no doubt, his research did not win many fans for him among his teachers. He discusses this at length in his previous book.

Indeed the gross massacre in Sheikh Jarach is practically forgotten – while the massacre that did not happen at all in Deir Yassin is remembered well. It would seem, the agents of memory cultivate the falsehood of Deir Yassin for their consumers – and they still need this lie – while they prefer to forget the events of the massacre in Sheikh Jarach.

This truth also holds, it seems, for the massacre that men of the Palmach third battalion – men of the Yiftach brigade – committed against Arab prisoners in the village of Ein Zaytun near Tsfat, on May 1, 1948. One should note that, as it seems, the Palmach heritage of purity of arms that grew up as it were in its ranks, has also guided the IDF and its chatterers – like Meir Payil. And indeed the Palmach soldiers and Palmach commanders are obligated for the massacre of Arabs at Ein Zaytun, the massacre of the Arabs at Lod in the War of Independence, more than a few acts of looting and of course the "Season". They are all engraved with the iron pen of the heritage of purity of arms.

To deepen the paradox – every historian of the Palmach and its leaders ignores the events of Ein Zaytun – except for what Nativa Ben Yehuda has left in her book, BEYOND STRONG CONNECTIONS. Ben Yehuda was an explosives offer in Yiftach, and her memoirs from the War of Independence shed a different light on some events during it.

The Yiftach brigade planned to occupy Birya and Ein Zaytun, in order to remove the road block at the entrance to the Jewish Quarter of Tsfat. The operation was planned at the end of April 1948, and postponed again and again because of the weather. On April 30 the rain stopped, and the operation to occupy Ein Zaytun commenced. The third battalion attacked at night, the Arab soldiers fled from the village, and they left behind most of the inhabitants. In the morning, the village of Birya was also occupied. "?We deported all the children, women and elderly from Ein Zaytun. They spread stories. That's how the next move was prepared, occupation of Tsfat" – related Moshe Kalman, the battalion commander.

As after Deir Yassin, the myth of the "terrible" Israeli conqueror, that the Arabs of Palestine fostered (":they spread stories"), aided in breaking Arab resistance in the occupation of Tsfat, that was later described as a "miracle".

The day after Jewish soldiers occupied Ein Zaytun the massacring began of the villagers that remained?Around one hundred prisoners (as mentioned, civilians and unarmed) were murdered after occupation of the village?" and the third battalion that took their village did not protect them. Afterward the battalion commander Kalman ordered removal of evidence that the prisoners had been murdered.

What Is The Connection ?

Is there a connection between the three massacres?

The massacre in Deir Yassin is a falsehood, that political figures spread in order to prevent the unification of the Zionist camp on the eve of the founding of the state – because they worried they would be short changed of their fair portion of government benefits – and the public treasury.

It was possible to prevent the massacre in Sheikh Jarach. The Etzioni brigade and the Palmach did not undertake what they should have undertaken, and the Jewish Agency accused the British of responsibility for the massacre.

The massacre in Ein Zaytun was concealed, so that it would not harm the advancement of Yigal Alon.

Therefore, the only connection, that it is possible to trace between them according to Milstein, is "the Israeli defense culture". This, according to him is based on myths, on a lack of professionalism, and on not investigating the truth. As a result of this Israeli defense is corrupt, and perpetuates the lie – in order to establish the hegemony of Mapai over the country and over the defense establishment, as it did for years. Milstein thinks that ignoring the truth – with the aid of recruited historians – has served the defense elite and the political elite. It made its rule possible until the turnover in 1977 (and perhaps also beyond). Ignoring the truth has caused the IDF – which from the first was an unprofessional militia – to deteriorate – to the point that it has reached the low point of its functioning in multi-year wars in South Lebanon and repressing the Arab uprising in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Translation by yonatan silverman zalman8@zahav.net.il

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