82. The tables turn

The fire of the Arab-Jew conflict that raged from the very next day after the verdict of the United Nations on the partition of Palestine refused to die down.

In March 1948, considering the overall explosive situation, the United States withdrew its support to the Palestine Partition Plan of the United Nations. The US opposed the forceful imposition of any solution and further demanded to hold comprehensive discussions on the issue at the United Nations again.

On the other hand, Britain recommended the merger of the proposed Arab state in Palestine with the neighbouring nation of Transjordan.

David Ben-Gurion, with his intense nationalism and astonishing foresight, had indeed become successful at enlightening a similar flame in the hearts of all the Jews. As a result, the Jews considered the military conscription or the compulsory military service as a great opportunity to serve the nation than torment and joined the forces in large numbers.

Till the day, ‘the Arabs are the aggressors and the Jews the defenders’, was a general consideration. Even the Arab and the Jewish mindsets were unknowingly shaped on the same line. Though the Jewish resistance began seeing success, the leadership of the extremist Irgun and Lehi felt a need to instill fear among the Arabs for which they considered it essential for the Jews to become aggressive.

The first opportunity that they got to display this aggression was during the attack on the Arab village of ‘Deir Yassin’. The attack is considered significant for changing the course of the Arab-Jew Civil War; more importantly, it is noteworthy for changing the mindsets of both the Arabs as well as the Jews.

‘Deir Yassin’ was a village on the slopes of hillock adjoining and to the west of Jerusalem. It had some 400-600 odd residents. It was a village with high strategic importance. The geographic location of Deir Yassin made it easy to keep a watch over the highway connecting to Jerusalem. Moreover, as the village was within the boundaries of Jerusalem, attacking and taking control over it would have sent a message across that the Jews could go to any extent to have Jerusalem as a part of Israel (the Jewish homeland). Importantly, the control of the village would have helped in breaking the blockade of Jerusalem that was enforced by the supporters of al-Husseini by creating roadblocks on the main highway to cut-off the supply lines to the Jews in Jerusalem.

Location of Deir Yasin and Jerusalem

In fact, the Arab residents of Deir Yassin and the Jews in the neighbouring villages had amicable relations. However, the armed Arab militias had started to use the village as a base for their members but against the wishes of the local residents. It was only when Deir Yassin was used to staging firing against ‘Givat Shaul’ and other nearby Jewish settlements, the Irgunists decided to attack the village and flush out the armed Arab militiamen who had taken shelter in each of the houses. A skirmish took place in just about every house of the village.

At the start, it so happened on one or two occasions that the members of the Irgun/ Lehi members surrounded a house and summoned all of its inhabitants out. On hearing the call, a few Arab women came out. As they were not the target, the question of firing upon them did not arise at all. However, they turned out to be Arab militiamen who had masqueraded as Arab women. The moment they stepped out of the houses they caught the Irgunists unaware and indiscriminately fired upon them. Having learnt a lesson from some of these early encounters, the Irgunists then directly took to the use of dynamites, hand bombs, etc., to storm into the houses. The battle progressed with each house being one-by-one sanitized of the militiamen by the Jewish forces. The balance of the battle was continuously shifting between the two sides. At one point in time, the Irgunists thought of withdrawing from the skirmish on knowing of their war supplies being close to exhaustion. However, when they learnt of the half of the village already being under control of the Lehi forces advancing from the other side, and the replenishment of their supplies, the Irgunists advanced from their end with a new-found vigour sanitizing each and every house.

The ‘Arab High Committee’ of Palestine immediately pounced upon this opportunity, painted an exaggerated picture of the attack and presented it before the British to request for their intervention. However, the British, who were too busy with packing off from Palestine, completely ignored the request.

Apart from conventional warfare, the battle also saw the use of ‘psychological warfare’. The exaggerated picture of the attack that was painted by the ‘Arab High Committee’ was also a part of the same. The hyperbolic narrative featured several false allegations like terming the attack as a ‘massacre’. However, the reality was different. In fact, before beginning the operation, those coordinating it had given clear instructions of not harming women, children and elderly of the village. In addition to this, they had also prepared to make a public announcement using a loudspeaker before starting the operation, urging all the villagers to gather at a single place. The vehicle that was carrying the loudspeaker was placed at the very first place in the convoy. However, before the vehicle could enter the village, the Arab militiamen attacked and destroyed it. As a result, as the action began against the armed Arab militiamen, even the common Arab villagers succumbed in it.

Jewish military briefing before the operation at Deir Yassin

The real intention of the Arab High Committee in presenting a highly exaggerated picture of the attack was to malign the Jews before the whole world and direct the global sympathy towards the Arabs. Moreover, they also wanted all the Arabs in Palestine to rise in anger against the Jews and join in the conflict. This was because, till then, the Arab High Committee relied on the armed troops of the ‘Arab League’ only.

However, the reverse happened! The exaggeration that was done with the intention of proving the Jews ‘cruel’, in fact, instilled fear in the minds of common Arab villagers. They gathered whatever stuff possible and fled Deir Yassin village along with their families.

Arabs leave Deir Yassin village

These people are considered to be the first of the Palestinian Arab refugees. Their issue later assumed serious proportion.

Almost the whole world criticized the attack, however, the battle of Deir Yassin changed the Jewish mindset from defensive to aggressive. On the other hand, the offensive mindset of the Palestinian Arabs changed to the defensive. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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