On April 9, 1948, two dissident Zionist militias, the Etzel and the Lehi, stormed and captured the Arab village of Deir Yassin, a small settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Rumors began to circulate shortly thereafter claiming a large-scale massacre of some 250 defenseless Arab men, women, and children had occurred there. Tales of horrendous atrocities spread far and wide, not only within the local Arab and Jewish communities but also abroad. Etzel and Lehi, which had already been branded as terrorist organizations by their British, Jewish, and Arab foes as a result of prior actions, were denounced in the harshest terms around the globe.
What actually happened in Deir Yassin that day, however, bore little resemblance to these stories. Both Jewish and Arab participants in the fighting confirmed that no large-scale massacre occurred in the village and dismissed as wild nonsense most of the tales of horrendous atrocities. Both Jewish and Arab participants later agreed that a battle, not a massacre, had taken place in the village, albeit a battle that resulted in heavy collateral damage among Arab noncombatants.
Nevertheless, anti-Israel propagandists in the Middle East and around the world have used the myth of the Deir Yassin massacre as a stick with which to beat the Jewish state. Now, Tauber of Bar-Ilan University has ripped the rug from under their feet. In this first-rate forensic examination, he meticulously reconstructs the battle and comments upon its consequences, basing his research and findings on the testimonies of Jewish and Arab participants in the battle as well as on government documents, private papers, and other archival materials. Indeed, the author appears to have perused virtually every primary and secondary source that addresses the events of that day.
Tauber's study conclusively demonstrates that a battle took place in which both Jewish and Arab combatants suffered losses in fierce house-to-house fighting. The total number of Arab dead was about one hundred, including many noncombatants who got caught up in the crossfire. He clearly highlights the circumstances under which most Jewish and Arab casualties took place.
Lest it be thought that Tauber is out to apologize for Israel, he forthrightly acknowledges that Jewish combatants did commit small-scale atrocities during the fighting, most notably the killing by an enraged militiaman of eleven Arab noncombatants after their surrender, apparently as an act of revenge for the severe injury suffered by one of his comrades. A handful of Arab men may also have been summarily executed after the fighting. These few exceptions aside, however, Etzel and Lehi fighters did not deliberately target Arab noncombatants during or after the battle.
In addition to his inquiry into the battle itself, Tauber also discusses its long-term consequences. He observes the irony that while the battle harmed the Jewish state in terms of public opinion, it hurt the Palestinians even more. Specifically, Tauber shows that propaganda about a large-scale massacre at Deir Yassin caused widespread panic among the general Palestinian population. Purposely inventing and circulating stories of horrendous atrocities gave that population an additional incentive to flee Palestine. Though Palestinian flight commenced well before April 9, it picked up afterwards.
Tauber has written the definitive account of the battle of Deir Yassin.