Anti-Israel faculty reviewers worry the book will undermine the Palestinian narrative
Why have American academic presses rejected a book manuscript by Dr. Eliezer Tauber, a former dean and highly-regarded Israeli history professor at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies?
Tauber is an award-winning and prolific expert on the early phases of the Arab-Israeli conflict. By all accounts, his latest book about the April 9, 1948 battle in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin has “many strengths” and provides the most comprehensive investigation to date of what was both a seminal event in Israel’s War of Independence and in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.
A book of this caliber and importance should really be of great interest to American publishers.
But so far—after three years of trying to convince an American university press to publish his book—none have agreed to give Tauber a contract for the English-language version of Deir Yassin: The End of a Myth.
Academic publishing is a tough business, and even first-rate manuscripts can be passed over if the scholarship isn’t a perfect fit for a publisher’s list or on account of a bottleneck in the pipeline—which isn’t uncommon for elite presses.
But something else, very damaging to academia, is going on here.
That’s because the U.S. university presses which Tauber approached reportedly rejected his book on the say-so of anti-Israel faculty reviewers and members of their editorial boards. Apparently, these faculty are worried that Deir Yassin: The End of a Myth could upend the way a lot of American and English-language readers assess the Palestinian narrative of 1948, so they’re advising acquisition editors not to adopt it.
If that’s true, then it’s a scandal of mega proportions.
Basically, it would be another indication that the virulently anti-Israel perspective which currently dominates in many disciplines in the Humanities and soft Social Sciences, especially Middle Eastern Studies, is truly having a corrosive impact on American higher education by undermining viewpoint diversity and hindering the growth of knowledge.
I missed this – stunning: US publishers worry about their reputation if they published new scholarly study showing that the Deir Yassin "massacre" is a myth. https://t.co/16kbjmQikb
— Dr. Petra Marquardt-Bigman (@WarpedMirrorPMB) March 16, 2018
Below I provide an overview of the existing scholarship on Deir Yassin. I review what reputable scholars have claimed really happened when this Arab village, located on the western edge of Jerusalem, was attacked by Jewish fighters affiliated with Israel’s pre-state underground forces.
According to the Palestinian version of the event, these Zionist forces brutalized the peaceful villagers before murdering them in cold blood. In this telling, what happened in Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948 was a horrible massacre of scores of innocent Arab men, women, and children.
But even before Tauber published the Hebrew version of his book this past summer, plenty of historians had already roundly disputed these facts.
As I highlight below, Tauber’s thorough and meticulously-researched study of the battle and its aftermath, which relies on a different methodology than was used by his predecessors, makes a persuasive case that “there was no massacre in Deir Yassin, no rapes, just Palestinian propaganda.”
A statement from Tauber is included below. An unpublished English-language opinion-editorial, which summarizes the key findings of his book, is also embedded below with his permission.
The Palestinian Narrative of Deir Yassin
Deir Yassin is a staple of anti-Israel propaganda.
Over the years, an entire cottage industry has developed to revisit and commemorate the alleged “gruesome crimes” and “incomprehensible violence” perpetrated by Zionist forces against the villagers of Deir Yassin on that day.
There’s dozens of online videos that describe the event as a heinous massacre—mass rapes, the disemboweling of pregnant women, and the burning alive of innocent men, women and children. Scores of articles, including some written by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Deir Yassin residents (see, for example, here and here) depict what happened at the village in this way too.
Pilgrimages to Deir Yassin take place yearly on the anniversary of the battle and are covered by the media. There’s even a “Deir Yassin Remembered” association, with chapters across the U.S., dedicated to building memorials and to keeping the memory of the alleged massacre alive.
According to a video produced by the organization, there are three memorials that have been built to “commemorate the victims of the massacre”—at an Arab school in east Jerusalem; in Glasgow, Scotland; and in Geneva, NY. I had no idea that such a memorial existed just an hour away from where I live. Here’s a couple of images of it:
Last year Deir Yassin Remembered was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for engaging in holocaust denial. But others involved in Deir Yassin commemoration also traffic in antisemitism.
The reality is that in a lot of the material (see, for example, here, here, and here), Zionist fighters are depicted not only as “terrorists” but as Nazis. There’s an explicit effort to draw an analogy between the Holocaust and Deir Yassin. The history of Deir Yassin is told and retold with Zionist forces being accused of committing acts of depraved butchery.
The central elements to this narrative are that:
- the village was peaceful when it was overrun; the villagers were noncombatants who had forged a non-aggression pact with their Jewish neighbors;
- some 100 unarmed civilians, including women and children, were brutally mistreated and then murdered by the pre-state Zionist forces;
- following the atrocity, the Zionists inflated the number of dead (to 254 killed) in order to strike fear in Arab communities; this strategy ‘worked’ because some 750,000 Arab residents did end up fleeing for their lives.
Scholars have long disputed each of these claims.
What Really Happened at Deir Yassin? A Massacre That Never Was
Here’s what we know about the events that transpired at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948 and the consequences of the battle from readily available and credible evidence:
- The Arab villagers of Deir Yassin weren’t peaceful, so subduing the village became a key military objective during the first phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
After the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected the UN 1947 proposal to divide the British mandate, Arab militias laid siege to Jerusalem and 150,000 Jewish inhabitants of the city were “under constant military pressure” (the 2,500 Jewish residents of the Old City were also at risk of starving to death on account of the Arab blockade).
Jewish aid convoys tried to reach the city to assist its beleaguered residents, but Arab militias cut off the highway from Tel Aviv—the city’s only supply route—and controlled a number of vantage points overlooking it. Deir Yassin, situated on a hill less than a mile from Jerusalem’s suburbs, had a commanding view of the vicinity. It was one of a group of Arab villages that the Haganah determined had to be occupied as part of the military operation to open the road to Jerusalem.Along with these other villages, Deir Yassin wasn’t neutral but a heavily armed village with foreign militants (mainly Iraqi) who were also based there. Together, the residents of the village and the foreign troops had for weeks been attacking nearby Jewish neighborhoods and traffic on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
When some 130 Jewish fighters converged on Deir Yassin they were met with “serious resistance” as both residents and foreign fighters opened fire:
The battle was ferocious and took several hours. The Irgun suffered 41 casualties, including four dead.”
One of the Jewish fighters described it this way:
From every house and from every window gunfire was directed against us, and we threw grenades. The inhabitants had Sten guns, rifles, and pistols. Our men stormed forward from house to house while throwing inside explosive devices. We thought either them or us. For us it was a question of life, if he lives, if I will die…”.
- The Irgun and Lehi underground militia groups, which engaged in the fighting, “invented” the number of Arabs killed in the battle.
Immediately following the battle, the Irgun (also known as IZL or Etzel) and LEHI (also known as the Stern Gang) began inflating the number of Arab dead. Even Palestinian researchers have arrived at the figure of approximately 120 Arab civilians killed—not the 250+ that Irgun members later claimed.
The Irgun commander in Jerusalem Mordechai Ra’anan told journalists that 254 were killed so that this number could be published. Irgun fighters also reportedly bragged and boasted about their kill count—perhaps to “scare the Arabs”. But these same attackers also created an escape corridor for Deir Yassin’s civilians to leave the place unharmed (some 200 villagers who were taken prisoner were also later released in the Arab part of Jerusalem).
Existing studies acknowledge that some Irgun and Lehi fighters killed Arab civilians indiscriminately. Yet commanders and fighters later reported that among the Arab attackers were “men dressed as women” and that they shot only at women who didn’t go to the areas designated for prisoners, thinking they were male combatants in disguise.
- Arab leaders concocted overblown stories of a ‘massacre’ at Deir Yassin in a deliberate attempt to shock Arab people across the region. The hope was that the Arab populations would bring pressure on their governments to intervene on behalf of their Arab brethren in Palestine.
We now know that stories of large scale barbarity were fabricated even though Deir Yassin residents themselves insisted that “there was no rape”. But Arab leaders believed that, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.”
Here’s a 1998 video of Hazem Nusseibeh, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service back in 1948, admitting this 50 years later to the BBC:
- Pre-state Haganah military commanders had incentives to exaggerate what happened at Deir Yassin in order to present the incident as a failure of the dissident Lehi and Irgun forces.
It’s important to realize that the underground Zionist militia groups were considered right-wing revisionists working against the Haganah, Israel’s pre-independence army. The Irgun and Lehi had split from the Haganah—Deir Yassin was their first major attack against the Arabs, even though the battle was part of a military operation planned and launched by the Haganah.
When Lehi and Irgun fighters decided to attack Deir Yassin, the Haganah forces were still engaged in a battle for the nearby town of Kastel. So these fighters only arrived at the scene after the fighting in Deir Yassin had ended. But they later reported about it as if they had been there during the attack itself.
In particular, Haganah commanders assumed that the corpses which Lehi and Irgun forces were disposing of by burning them (the rocky ground made it too difficult to dig graves) were of Arab villagers who had been killed in a massacre. And it was this version of events at Deir Yassin that was denounced by the Zionist Jewish Agency.
For some time, no one saw reason to change the basic contours of this story of a supposedly shameful slaughter on a massive scale largely because it served as a convenient vehicle for discrediting the Jewish paramilitary forces and their political leaders (including Menachem Begin).
So the spread of the myth of a massacre was at least partially the result of the Deir Yassin battle being “used cynically” for political purposes by the left. Basically, during Israel’s formative years, Deir Yassin became a way for the leftist elite in Israel to smear the right.
Dr. Eliezer Tauber’s Contribution in Deir Yassin: The End of a Myth
Tauber’s 384-page Hebrew-language book was published last July by Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir (an excerpt is available on Scribd here). You can read reviews of the book in English here, here, and here.
To my mind Tauber’s Deir Yassin: The End of a Myth persuasively corroborates earlier claims that the massacre story was an utter fabrication. As many reviewers have noted, the book allows us to be more confident in the findings and central arguments of the existing scholarship on this case.
That is, Tauber’s book doesn’t really break a lot of new ground in terms of the key arguments that have already been made in extant sources which have long challenged the Palestinian narrative about Deir Yassin.
Rather, Tauber decisively debunks the myth that a massacre was committed against defenseless Arab villagers there in a way that’s far more convincing than prior studies by
- cross-referencing testimony, including from Israeli, Palestinian, British and UN sources, and records from 20+ archives and hundreds of other materials;
- recounting the fighting minute-by-minute and across all sectors of the battle;
- interviewing those involved who are still alive, including Palestinian refugees; and
- locating the documents and recorded interviews conducted by the various parties over the past seven decades.
A Unique Methodology
In his book, those killed aren’t merely a “bunch of Arabs” but fully fleshed out individuals who were present and died there. That is, Tauber was determined to locate “each and every one of the Arabs”, to identify them all, and to
understand the reasons for the death of each one, investigate these reasons and thereby gain a complete picture…”.
Based on his exhaustive step-by-step investigation, Tauber argues that the incident at Deir Yassin didn’t just involve “a few defenseless villagers.”
On the contrary, the village was “fortified” prior to the battle—weapons had been obtained from Egypt just a few days before the attack. Because of that, Tauber notes that only some 70 percent of the Arab villagers fled prior to the battle. The rest remained in guard positions and engaged the Irgun and Lehi underground forces in a fierce ten-hour battle during which 101 Arabs were killed, a quarter of them active combatants and most of the rest in “combat conditions.”It’s important to note that the “intensive level of investigation” that Tauber conducted (he says it took him five years to complete all the research) in no way exonerates the Zionist fighters from war crimes.
In the book he details how poorly trained soldiers and officers made “repeated mistakes”. In one “exceptional case”, an Irgun fighter shot a group of Arabs with a machine gun after they had already surrendered. According to Tauber, the incident was significant because it happened in the lower part of the village, so villagers in the upper part could see it “and, indeed, everyone focuses on that one family in their reports.”
Furthermore, Tauber’s attention to the details offers a more accurate analysis of these killings. In another case that Tauber recounts, Zionist forces threw a grenade into a house with one woman and five male residents inside (only the woman survived and could relate what really happened). It turns out that this particular incident was an unfortunate misunderstanding—the residents had planned to surrender, but one of the Arab men of the household came to the door still holding his rifle which “misled the Etzel fighters.” As Tauber puts it:
while there was no real danger to the Etzel fighters, at the time it was impossible to know this, and their response was appropriate in light of what they perceived was happening.”
Explaining How the “Horror Propaganda” Spread
Tauber’s new study also corroborates prior claims that false reports concocted by Hussein al-Khalidi, the Supreme Secretary of the Palestine Arab High Committee in Jerusalem and a senior political figure in the city, “backfired” because they “precipitated the flight of the Arabs.”
Here, Tauber does shed new light on how the story of the massacre “continued to blossom”. Specifically, he argues that al-Khalidi’s assistant, Hassan Nusseibeh, disseminated the exaggerated story of rapes and atrocities at Deir Yassin from an Arab radio station in Jerusalem. Using that station, the “false story” could be “immediately broadcast within minutes” without having to worry about British censorship.
Tauber also highlights how “the problem of rape” is what really scared the Palestinians—more so than the killings:
The Palestinian leadership intended to exploit the affair to lay pressure on the Arab states to send their armies to Palestine to fight the Israelis. It turned out to be a boomerang. Following the rule that women’s honor comes before land, the moment the Palestinians heard about rapes they started to leave.”
Tauber’s point makes sense given that, certainly at the time and arguably today as well, the society located the family’s dignity to a large degree in the virginity of its unmarried daughters. In Arab Palestinian society of the 1940s, rape carried a lifelong stigma and could have meant serious financial costs to the woman and her family given that husbands may not have been found.
So is it any wonder that, once al-Khalidi announced that hundreds of people had been killed and women raped, the story spread like wildfire, causing the mass flight of Arabs who were horrified that they too would experience a fate similar to that of the inhabitants of Deir Yassin?
Dr. Eliezer Tauber’s Statement for Legal Insurrection
In a recent review of the Hebrew-language version of Tauber’s book for the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner writes that various U.S. university publishers declined to offer Tauber a contract for the English translation because they’re “uncomfortable” publishing research that would “inflame debate” and tarnish their “reputations” or compel readers to start “questioning the Palestinian narrative.”
So, according to Rosner, various American university publishers are basically banning a good book from the U.S. academic market because it could potentially sell well and persuade too many readers to revise their thinking about both the 1948 war and Zionist culpability in the Palestinian exodus.
I reached out to Tauber in order to confirm that Rosner had this right.
That is, I wanted to be absolutely sure that elite American university presses were actually rejecting his manuscript solely on the grounds that it was just too controversial.
Tauber wrote back to my query:
I definitely can confirm what Rosner wrote. And I think that this is more than just being too controversial. I believe that if my book would prove that a massacre WAS committed in Deir Yassin, it would be much easier to publish it. Namely, the book is too controversial on account of Palestinian interests and herein lies the problem. You should realize the following point: the academic committee of the press of one of the leading US universities was unanimous about the book’s strengths and precisely because of that they decided not to publish. The editor-in-chief of that press, who wholeheartedly wanted to publish the book, was bewildered by this decision of his academics. Now tell me if this is not betraying our profession for political considerations.
Had Rosner exposed the names of these universities people would be shocked, but I asked him not to, in order to be fair to my literary agent, so as not to burn his connections with these institutions.
I finished writing my book three years ago and since then failed in convincing any American press to publish it. “It is a polarizing issue” (quote) I was told time and again. Eventually last year I translated myself into Hebrew and the Hebrew book was accepted for publication within a week after I had completed it (and I don’t think I gave my Hebrew press any reason to be sorry for publishing it.) Since then I am fully engaged in TV, radio and press interviews about my findings. Although the book is still only in Hebrew, I already have many comments from abroad (it already reached the English-language Wikipedia.) Many English-reading people have approached me asking why it was not published in English. Rosner’s article provides a very clear answer to this.
Personally, I think that all these academics trying to block the publication of the book in order to safeguard Palestinian interests are stupid. You cannot really prevent nowadays such publication and it is just a matter of time until an American publisher (probably a trade one) will decide to publish it.”
Just four days after the false reports of a ‘massacre’ at Deir Yassin were widely disseminated across pre-state Israel and the world, Arab forces ambushed a Jewish convoy of buses on the way to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, killing 78 Jewish civilians including doctors, nurses, patients, and the hospital director (another 23 were injured, some severely).Compared to the attention Deir Yassin has attracted, this actual massacre—planned and executed in revenge for the non-massacre at the Arab village of Deir Yassin—is never mentioned by those who are quick to repeat the lies and incomplete truths of Deir Yassin as “proof of Israeli inhumanity” and its “present day barbarism.”
Bottom line: Tauber’s book is obviously a worthy contribution to our understanding of what happened in April 1948 at Deir Yassin, and the causes for the flight of hundreds of thousands of the Arabs who were living in the territories that became the State of Israel. American college students and the general English-reading public—and especially the descendants of the Deir Yassin villagers themselves—should have the opportunity to consider Tauber’s argument, facts, and research.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElmanDONATE
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