Over 80 New Yorkers from diverse communities gathered last Saturday, 5 April in the Salam Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, which occurred on 9 April 1948. Speakers discussed the need to redress the human rights violations that Israel committed in 1948 as a step towards a just future. The audience included a blend of ethnic groups and faiths from around the city. The event, which featured talks by Muhammad Jaradat, a co-founder of the Badil Resource Center in Bethlehem, and Eitan Bronstein, Director of the Israeli organization Zochrot, was part of a year-long series of activities to celebrate the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Palestinians were dispossessed of their homeland.
The commemoration began with poetry about Deir Yassin and a slide show on the massacre. From 1947-49, the Zionist movement, and later the Israeli military, expelled nearly 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and properties. The Zionist leadership destroyed some 418 villages (and by some counts over 500), and renamed the areas, as though the villages had never existed. As part of this greater campaign to expel the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants of the country, the Zionist militias Irgun, the Stern Gang and the Haganah (which were later to form the Israeli army) attacked the village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem. In the battle and massacre that followed, between 107 and 120 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed.
Muhammad Jaradat and Eitan Bronstein, on a US tour organized by the American Friends Service Committee, spoke about Deir Yassin and of their work surrounding the Nakba and Palestinian refugee rights. Both stressed the recognition of human rights violations and the redress of victims’ rights as essential components of peace and reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
Eitan Bronstein, an Israeli educator, activist and Director of Zochrot (Hebrew for “remembering”), gave a presentation about his organization’s work to raise awareness among Israeli Jews on the Nakba. Bronstein noted that “there is almost total ignorance in Israel about the Nakbah. … And Deir Yassin is a good example of that. Until today, there is no monument for the Deir Yassin massacre; there are no signs there; someone who passed by on the street in the neighborhood would not know that this is Deir Yassin.” Bronstein showed photos of events Zochrot has organized at Deir Yassin to commemorate the massacre.
Explaining the motivation for Zochrot’s work, Bronstein said, “It’s about time to change this [ignorance] and to know about the Nakba. This knowledge is the first and essential step to acknowledge what happened to the Palestinians. This acknowledgment is not just a statement of how we are responsible; it is much more than that.” Bronstein expressed his desire that Israeli Jews would rewrite their textbooks, erect monuments to the Nakba, and acknowledge the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their villages.
Muhammad Jaradat, a co-founder of the Bethlehem-based Badil Resource Center (Badil in Arabic means “alternative”), spoke about the importance of the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the need for one secular, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians as a prerequisite for peace. Addressing the old Zionist reference to Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land,” and Israel’s attempt to erase the indigenous Palestinian presence from historic Palestine, Jaradat stated that “as all of you know, Palestine has never been a desert. Palestine has never been empty.”
Jaradat argued against a state only for Jews, as Israel defines itself, saying, “For me the secular state and separation of religion and state is a human achievement and no one should compromise that achievement.” He asked, “What does it mean for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?” “First, two-thirds of our people will lose their rights, because you cannot recognize a Jewish state and ask for the return of the Palestinian refugees. Second, an even worse crime, we have 1.4 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. If we say ‘yes’ to a Jewish state, we have to say ‘yes’ to the transfer of these people.” As the only viable alternative to the status quo, Jaradat stated that “there should be one secular, democratic state [for Palestinians and Jews].”
Finally, Jaradat emphasized the importance of the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as the only effective tool to bring justice to Palestinians and peace to both Israelis and Palestinians. At an event earlier on Saturday at Alwan for the Arts in Manhattan, Jaradat spoke in support of Adalah-NY’s campaign to boycott the companies of Israeli billionaire and settlement builder Lev Leviev. Bronstein noted that Leviev’s company Africa Israel has recently initiated projects to destroy the remains of and build on top of the Palestinian villages of Sheikh Muwanis and Sumail, located in what is now Tel Aviv.
The commemoration was organized by Adalah-NY: the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, a New York-based human rights coalition, and was co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Palestinian American Congress, Arab American Muslim Federation and the National Council of Arab Americans.