Israel,  Israel/Palestine

Deir Yassin coverup trumps peace talks in The Independent

This is a guest post by Carmel Gould of Just Journalism.

Yesterday’s Israel-focused coverage in The Independent newspaper provides a perfect illustration of the unadulterated hostility of the publication – and others in the liberal British media – towards the Jewish state that is as pointless as it is relentless.

On the day following the first diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 17 months, what does the newspaper produce, but a two-page spread on the Deir Yassin massacre of April 1948, complete with large photo of forlorn Palestinian children taken over half a century ago. A small column reporting the restarting of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is squeezed in at the end but the main point has already been made.

In terms of what prompted ‘A massacre of Arabs masked by a state of national amnesia’ by Catrina Stewart, it’s not entirely clear. The subheading of the piece reads: ‘Sixty years on, the true story of the slaughter of Palestinians at Deir Yassin may finally come out’, indicating that a milestone anniversary has prompted the revisiting of old wounds. But the incident involving the deaths of Palestinian villagers at the hands of rogue Jewish forces during the 1948 War of Independence took place 62 years ago, as stated within Stewart’s article itself. So why bother to mention it now?

The only identifiable trigger for the ‘news’ piece seems to be the fact that Israeli daily Haaretz is petitioning the High Court to release undisclosed documents pertaining to the case, or in The Independent’s phrasing: ‘Now Ha’aretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper, is seeking to crack open the mystery by petitioning Israel’s High Court of Justice to release written and photographic evidence buried deep in military archives.’

Stewart is very keen to convey to her readers that what took place at Deir Yassin is a well-kept national secret, abetted not just by the Israeli government but by public forgetfulness. In fairness to the journalist, the Israeli government is obstructing the publication of documents, hence the ‘need’ for a two-page spread.

However, Stewart’s presentation of the facts still falls short on account of some basic realities.

Her opening reads as follows:

‘More than one unwitting visitor to Jerusalem has fallen prey to the bizarre delusion that they are the Messiah. Usually, they are whisked off to the serene surroundings of Kfar Shaul psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of the city, where they are gently nursed back to health.

‘It is an interesting irony that the patients at Kfar Shaul recuperate from such variations on amnesia on the very spot that Israel has sought to erase from its collective memory.

‘The place is Deir Yassin. An Arab village cleared out in 1948 by Jewish forces in a brutal battle just weeks before Israel was formed, Deir Yassin has come to symbolise perhaps more than anywhere else the Palestinian sense of dispossession.’

This belaboured observation might indeed earn the title of ‘ironic’ were it not for the fact that Deir Yassin is the most cited historic massacre of Arabs by Jews in Mandate Palestine. It is a favourite reference of Israel’s detractors as, like Stewart says, the incident ‘has come to symbolise perhaps more than anywhere else the Palestinian sense of dispossession.‘ It’s also been ripped open by Israeli historians themselves, in particular, Benny Morris, author of ‘The Historiography of Deir Yassin,’ Journal of Israeli History, 2005 and, most famously, ‘The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.’ (1989)

Regarding the claim that Israel suffers from ‘national amnesia’ regarding the massacre, it’s a pity that the journalist chose to demonstrate her point by testing the knowledge of two Israeli teenagers: ‘Never heard of it, they say.’ Setting aside the fact that teenagers the world over are not a demographic likely to master their own nation’s history (a recent British survey cited by The Telegraph showed that one-fifth of British teenagers ‘believe Winston Churchill was a fictional character’), the Israeli teenagers might have been even less likely to remember a massacre which took place 62 years ago when so many have been perpetrated since.

Some examples include the Hamas/Islamic Jihad bombing of the Sbarro pizza joint in Jerusalem in 2001, where 15 Israelis were ripped to shreds in broad daylight; or in the Hamas hotel bombing in Netanya in 2002, where 30 civilians met a similar fate. Would Stewart find it as morally persuasive to canvas Palestinian teenagers on their recall of the Sbarro or Passover massacres?

Every Israeli journalist, politician and university professor has heard of Deir Yassin and the vast majority recognise it as an ignoble episode in their history. The very fact that Ha’aretz is supporting an Israeli arts student in her bid to get the archive documents released is a perfect illustration of the level of awareness of the issue in Israel.

As for the timing of the publication of this article (the day after negotiations have finally restarted after 17 months), it is almost as if The Independent wants the talks between Israel and the Palestinians to fail.