For most, Saturday passed with little import. For Palestinians, though, April 9th marks a significant date in our collective memory. Early in the morning, fifty-seven years ago, commandos of the Irgun and Stern gangs attacked Deir Yassin, a village with a peaceful reputation. By noon of that day, over 100 of its inhabitants, half of them women and children, were systematically murdered. Twenty five residents were loaded into trucks and paraded through the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem before meeting a similar fate. The final body count, as reported by the New York Times, was 254.
The ethnic cleansing of Deir Yassin was directed by Menachim Begin, who would become one of numerous Israeli prime ministers with war crimes to their names. It took place over a month before the declaration of the state of Israel and subsequent invasion by surrounding Arab armies. The village was situated outside the area of what was to become the Jewish state under the United Nations plan. In other words, the mass murder was a strictly offensive act intended to conquer more Palestinian land
Vivid reports of the brutality at Deir Yassin quickly spread throughout Palestinian locales. As Jewish terrorist groups continued their rampage across Palestine, Arabs seized with fear of their now notorious sadism fled for their lives at the first sound of their approach. Those who did not escape were either killed or expelled.
Every year, this anniversary has become a day of personal retrospection and examination of my own background. In November 1948, the nascent state of Israel sent one of its two fighter planes to bombard my father’s village, Tarshiha, forcefully expelling its residents to Lebanon. Similarly, five months prior, word of advancing Jewish forces hit my mother’s village, Lubya. Deir Yassin fresh on their mind, all but a few of the villagers fled to Lebanon. Those who remained were never heard from again, though their houses and the entire village were completely defaced.
Expulsion at the hands of Israel has become the common Palestinian narrative. In 1948, the Jewish state came into existence through the depopulation of over 500 Palestinian villages, creating over 750,000 refugees. For Israelis, a Jewish state necessitated such an egregious cost. Previously, Palestine’s Jews, mostly European immigrants escaping persecution, were a small minority of the population owning only 6 percent of the land. Even the UN partition plan could not devise a Jewish state where the majority of land was not Palestinian-owned.
Today, the state of Israel owns 97 percent of the land, almost all of it stolen from the native Palestinians now in Diaspora. The Palestinian villages, many of them now barren, have been wiped off the maps. If one were to travel to Lubya, he would find the vestiges of my grandfather’s house beneath the Lavi forest. Israel manufactured this forest, along with many others, in attempts to erase its crimes and any relics of Palestinian history.
Lubya, and the sites of countless other Palestinian villages, could certainly repatriate its original inhabitants. In fact, 78 percent of Israel’s Jews live on only 15 percent of the land. This means that geography has never been a factor preventing the refugees’ inalienable and codified right to return. More precisely, it is Israel’s unnatural attempt to maintain a Jewish majority that has precipitated this conflict.
Today, the existence of millions of Palestinian refugees not only cuts at the moral implications of Israel, but also illuminates its inherent struggle. That is, the dilemma to maintain a pure ethno-national state on a religiously and ethnically plural territory. Such an endeavor has time and again proven impossible. It failed in South Africa and Israel itself has continuously aggressed since inception due to its “ethnic problem,” the indigenous Palestinians.
Zionism’s flawed calculus is neither permanent nor necessary. Ethnic exclusivity is not requisite for a Jewish homeland. On the contrary, the morality and survival of the Jewish homeland are only tested by the natural confliction of an imposed ethnic superiority. Peace is not possible by disregarding this reality and building walls of separation. These walls represent a persistence of the miscalculation to create Jewish exclusivity through the maximization of lands and the simultaneous minimization of Palestinians under Israeli control. Reconciliation can only emerge with real equality and reversing Israel’s injustices. Coexistence, not separation, is possible and the moral imperative.
-The writer is a second year law student.