Deir Yassin makes a mockery of Israel’s “never again” pledge

Fatima Radwan on a visit to Deir Yassin in 2015.

Dina Elmuti

As a child, I listened with great interest to my grandmother’s stories.

Yet it was not until my adolescence that I picked up on the things untold and violently cut out. I had a vague sense of words filled with skeletons.

My grandmother’s stories were about trauma. I now regard her stories as carriers of transgenerational trauma.

Their broken images and fragmented scenes remain inside me. The stories were repeated so often that they are thoroughly worn into my mind.

I can almost hear my grandmother’s voice as she recounted them.

Immovable roots

Recently, I lost my grandmother Fatima Radwan and five of her siblings, all of whom survived the Deir Yassin massacre on 9 April 1948.

My heart has hurt every day since my grandmother died. And my desperate need to return home to Deir Yassin and grow roots there deepens.

Deir Yassin has always been an extension of my grandmother. Part of her shape and a responsive, intimate part of her identity and mine.

As a child, I vividly remember my very first trip to the village, located on a hill west of Jerusalem.

The resolute stone homes and blossoming trees surrounding the village. My grandmother hunched over a headstone, shedding tears into her clasped hands and reciting a prayer for the stolen lives.

That trip redefined my life.

Over the years, I hungered for more information, testimonies and stories about Deir Yassin. I wanted to learn more about the people who were so much more than the consequence of a catastrophe.

I’ve unearthed truths I wish I could unlearn. Truths that remain with me, like an echo of the past reverberating around my bones.

Frozen in time

Every time I go to Deir Yassin, I sear the images into my memory and reacquaint myself with the land. The scent of blossoms draws deep into my lungs.

And each time, I experience a rare moment of unqualified joy as the breeze greets me.

“Welcome home,” it whispers.

When I’m there, time slows down long enough for me to gather the details and place them among my favorite memories. I experience a wave of emotions: equal parts hope and devastation.

A sense of absence, of a fait accompli that persists there. The village remains frozen in time, and the silence and stopped time seem complicit.

I often relive in my mind my very last trip to Deir Yassin with my grandmother, which took place in the summer of 2015.

I watched her face, gracefully inscribed by the passage of time. The sharp edge of her torment slowly began to fade as a modicum of relief loosened the vise around her chest when she spotted the almond trees behind her home.

I remember her holding green almonds in her worn hands. Their soft, fuzzy shells intact, shimmering in the sun.

I feel immeasurable gratitude for that last visit with her.

Bearing witness

I am not writing about Deir Yassin today to recount the details of the horrific crimes that were committed there 74 years ago. Israel’s recent onslaughts against Palestinians have left behind scenes of devastation that eclipse Deir Yassin.

I write about Deir Yassin as a testament to how the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – is not over.

The Nakba set a precedent for further crimes against Palestine. While it is vital to study and educate people about the facts of those crimes, we should recognize, too, that the Nakba has assumed symbolic significance.

It is symbolic of how Palestinians have endured endless suffering and dispossession.

Israel denies the Nakba and seeks to erase our history. That makes understanding the Nakba’s significance all the more important.

There is nothing easy about that task.

Everything I have seen in Deir Yassin is beyond my comprehension.

The ruins of an old monastery – the deir – are unmarked, and the old cemetery is filled with broken gravestones and litter. A fuel depot lies over the old stone quarry and storage units sit atop the mass graves of massacred villagers.

The old gravestones and stone homes encrypt the Palestinian presence in the village and continue to tell its hidden history of genocide.

Less than one mile away stands Yad Vashem, a huge Holocaust memorial.

You feel the blow of this spectacle with your entire body, a shudder running through you with jolting pain.

The phrase “never again” has been uttered many times in Yad Vashem. But its proximity to Deir Yassin makes a mockery of those words.

Perhaps there is no clearer example of Israel’s cynicism in exploiting the Holocaust that it should build Yad Vashem right beside a Palestinian village where Zionist forces committed a massacre. Far from being committed to a goal of “never again,” Israel has committed crimes against humanity again and again and again.

Scenes from hell

Standing behind my grandmother’s home, I have wondered about the last faces she saw before her life was ripped apart.

She often recalled seeing her grandfather lying in a pool of his own blood on the steps of their family home before she and her siblings fled the village. And the image of her carrying her 2-month-old brother in her arms, running alongside other bloodstained, barefoot children carrying their lives in their hands, has remained with me like a ghostly presence.

At dawn on Friday 9 April 1948, members of the Zionist paramilitary organizations, the Irgun and the Lehi, invaded the sleeping village, moving from house to house spraying machine-gun fire, dropping grenades in through windows, and placing satchel charges of dynamite outside the home doors. They dynamited homes filled with people, slaughtered nursing infants and children in their mothers’ arms, and left others orphaned.

Zionist thugs shot villagers until the streets ran with blood.

A tribute to child survivors of the Deir Yassin massacre; Fatima Radwan is pictured in the middle of the top left row. (Photo supplied by Dina Elmuti) 

Earlier that same morning, my great-grandmother, Aziza, and her oldest daughter, Rifka who was 13 at the time, went to the village bakery to bake bread. That was something they did each morning as their homes were not equipped with ovens.

My grandmother, nearly 10, and her five younger siblings remained at home.

Inside the bakery, my great-grandmother and great aunt witnessed a horrific scene that continues to haunt me. My grandmother often shared this story with us because she believed it was our responsibility to never forget.

While holding villagers in the bakery hostage, Zionist soldiers ordered the baker, Hussein al-Shareef from the town of Lydd, to throw his son Abdul Rauf into the burning oven. After refusing, the soldiers knocked Hussein to the ground and proceeded to throw Abdul Rauf into the oven while his father watched.

“Follow your son. He needs you there,” said one of the soldiers before throwing Hussein in next.

These are among scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history. Yet, this memory often remains too controversial to share.

Telling it challenges the myths that Israel has manufactured.

Following the gruesome scene, soldiers took the captive villagers and paraded them through the streets of Jerusalem. That is how Zionist forces celebrated their “victory” in Deir Yassin.

Upon returning to the village, the male villagers were lined up against the stone quarry wall and executed. Bodies riddled with bullets were then dumped into a mass grave and set aflame.

Approximately 110 villagers were massacred. Untold hours of human life, gone up in flames.

Fluent in grief

In recent years, the term “human devastation syndrome” has been used to describe the effects of Syria’s horrible war on its victims. It refers to psychological injuries so extreme they involve the total and deliberate destruction of a human being.

Human devastation syndrome can be found in Palestine, too. The Deir Yassin massacre paved the way for this syndrome.

It precipitated every genocidal bombing campaign against besieged Gaza, permitted the full siege that Palestinians in Gaza have been subjected to for 15 years, and sanctioned the ongoing displacement of Palestinian families from village after village after village.

For more than 74 years, Palestinian children have grown up fluent in a language of grief and trauma. Trauma that continues to interrupt and rearrange their lives.

Entire generations have had their lives punctuated by torment.

Many children in Gaza have only ever known life under siege and repeated onslaughts. They close their eyes and see nothing but devastation, and open their eyes to the same.

Since Deir Yassin, Palestinians have faced the incomprehensible expectation to choose between a slow or an immediate demise.

They have been forced to choose between the “normality” of occupation and the “exceptionality” of spectacular suffering and devastation on an unimaginable scale.

Long before 9 April 1948, Zionists sought to silence the past and conceal their atrocities.

Zionists strive to destroy testimonies, evidence, and truth even to the point of literal muteness, as evidenced by children who stop speaking (sometimes for years) after exposure to catastrophic trauma.

This is a total denial of voice.

Israel was predicated on an ingrained hatred rooted in a sense of existential threat.

That sense of threat has been projected onto Israel’s victims, serving to “justify” the exterminatory impulses inherent to Zionism, the state’s official ideology.

By stressing this sense of threat, Israel has been able to exonerate itself from blame. The world’s most powerful governments and institutions have indulged Israel and granted it impunity.

For 74 years, Israel has relied on this systematic violence and brutality to obliterate the power of words from reaching the hearts and minds of other human beings. And to promote forgetting.

For Palestinians, though, no trauma is ever forgotten. Rather, it is only exacerbated by fresh trauma.

Every massacre and assault carried out in Zionism’s calculated desire for control adds another layer to the trauma transmitted from one generation to the next.

Though I grew up hearing stories of trauma, they were also filled with hope and resistance. Palestinians resist with every painful experience.

They have the capacity to overcome unimaginable destruction while embroidering the tapestry of life with an unrelenting spirit and sumoud (steadfastness). I learned this first-hand from my grandmother.

Today, we are living in defining moments. Zionist criminality is being increasingly exposed and the cries for justice for Palestine are getting louder.

There will come a day when the pledge to oppose Zionist violence will be more visceral. No longer will it be deemed too provocative to grant Palestinians basic human rights.

That day may not be today. Maybe it will not even come within the next decade. But that day is inevitable. The day will come when the world will recall the Palestinian genocide and all of our action and inaction will weigh heavily on us.

We will continue to be custodians of our grandparents’ stories and tell them without reservation.

This isn’t a choice. It’s a duty.

And those who choose to stand with the oppressed may continue to face the oppressor’s unmasked fury.

For many of us, there could be no greater honor.

Dina Elmuti-Hasan is a trauma clinician, living in Houston, Texas.