Reviewing two recent Hebrew books on the fate of Arab civilians during Israel’s War of Independence, Arnon Groiss dissects some of the myths about what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe. One book, by Eliezer Tauber, examines the April 1948 battle of Deir Yassin, widely remembered as the site of an atrocity committed by the Irgun and another right-wing Zionist militia known as Leḥi. While there is little doubt that Jewish fighters killed civilians, including women and children, Tauber contends that the accepted story about this battle is radically incorrect:
Deir Yassin was the first case of house-to-house fighting in the 1948 war, as the [Arab] defenders did not run away but fought from their houses until the end. The attackers broke into the houses by blowing up their doors, hurling hand grenades inside, and storming in while shooting. This resulted in many casualties, including noncombatants. Yet except for a single case in which an attacker shot dead noncombatants who had surrendered and stepped out of their house, all the rest were killed during house-to-house fighting.
[Tauber’s] conclusion is based on testimonies gathered from both surviving villagers and attackers. The (false) accusations of civilian massacres appeared after the battle had ended, when forces of the Jewish mainstream Haganah underground organization entered the village, saw the many corpses, including women and children, and concluded that they had been murdered by Irgun and Leḥi fighters. Due to the bitter enmity between the Haganah and the two groups, the atrocity charges became widespread and hugely inflated.
Another group interested in inflating these charges was the Palestinian Arab leadership, seeking as it did to stir up public opinion in the neighboring Arab states so as to pressure their governments to join the war against the Jews after the end of the British Mandate in mid-May.
By contrast, the other book, by Adel Mann, perpetuates myths. Groiss continues:
The name Deir Yassin and the term nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) are basic elements of the Palestinian narrative, which have in turn made their way into the Israeli narrative with an increasing degree of undisputed acceptance. In this context, the two books represent opposite positions. Tauber’s study seeks to debunk the well-entrenched myth of the Deir Yassin massacre, while Manna strives to entrench the nakba in the Hebrew narrative. Yet a reading of the two books side by side promotes deeper insights into the 1948 events.
The Deir Yassin episode was unique throughout the entire war, not because of the alleged massacre but because its pattern of house-to-house fighting did not recur on a similar scale. According to Arab claims, verified by most scholars, the mere mention of Deir Yassin brought about mass flight or hasty surrender of villagers elsewhere, which made house-to-house fighting largely unnecessary. Consequently, in no other place were women and children killed in similar numbers as in Deir Yassin. . . .
There was [also] a major difference between the two parties as far as expulsions were concerned. The Jews let tens of thousands of Arabs stay in their homes under Israeli rule. The Arabs, by contrast, did no such thing, destroying entire localities and expelling their populations to the last person.