On April 9, 1948, when the first Arab-Israeli war was just beginning, the Irgun and Leḥi—two right-wing Jewish military groups fighting in coordination with the Haganah—attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin, then held by Arab League forces. Shortly after the battle, rumors circulated among Arabs that Jewish fighters had slaughtered civilians, raped women, and committed other acts of sexual violence. Westerners and mainstream Zionist leaders soon accepted the story of the Deir Yassin massacre, which remains in history books to this day. But Eliezer Tauber, who has made an exhaustive study of the evidence, argues that it never happened:
Contrary to what one could expect, I found that the testimonies of the Jewish attackers on the one hand, and the Arab survivors on the other hand, were surprisingly similar, at times almost identical. My methodology, therefore, was to integrate the testimonies of both parties involved, Jews and Arabs, into one story. I relied on a vast number of testimonies and records from 21 archives (including Israeli, Palestinian, British, American, UN, and Red Cross), many of them yet unreleased to the public, and hundreds of other sources. My [main] findings were two: no massacre took place in Deir Yassin, but . . . the false rumors spread by the Palestinian leadership about a massacre, rapes, and other atrocities, drove the Palestinian population to leave their homes and run away, becoming a major [factor in] the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. . . .
A fierce ten-hour battle, in the presence of a civilian population, ended in the victory of the Irgun and Leḥi. No massacre took place. When the battle ended, the killing stopped. “I believe that most of those who were killed were among the fighters and the women and children who helped the fighters,” one of the Arab survivors was later to testify. . . . The attackers took . . . 200 villagers prisoner and safely released them in Arab Jerusalem. Only 101 Arabs were killed, [as opposed to the established figure of 254], a quarter of them active combatants and most of the rest in combat conditions. The Jewish assailants also suffered casualties. . . .
[To undermine Palestinian morale], the Irgun reported 200 Arabs killed, twice the actual number, enthusiastically adopted by the Palestinian leadership in Jerusalem, which increased it to 254 and added rapes and other . . . atrocities. . . .
Israelis and Palestinians believe in two myths about the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Israelis claim that the Palestinians followed their leaders’ exhortations to evacuate their homes temporarily and then return with the victorious Arab armies, but that is not what spurred Palestinians to leave. The Palestinians claim that the Israelis expelled them in 1948, but this was not what drove the departure. The true story of the 1948 Palestinian exodus was a flight mainly motivated by panic over a massacre that never happened.
More about: Deir Yassin, History & Ideas, Irgun, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Israeli War of Independence