Deir Yassin today, part of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center
|Etymology: "Monastery of [Sheikh] Yassin"|
|Geopolitical entity||Mandatory Palestine|
|Date of depopulation||April 9-10, 1948|
|o Total||2,857 dunams (2.6 km2 or 1.0 sq mi)|
|Cause(s) of depopulation||Military assault by Yishuv forces|
|Secondary cause||Expulsion by Yishuv forces|
|Current Localities||Givat Shaul Beth and Har Nof neighborhoods of Jerusalem|
Deir Yassin (Arabic: , Dayr Y?s?n) was a Palestinian Arab village of around 600 inhabitants about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) west of Jerusalem. Deir Yassin declared its neutrality during the 1948 Palestine war between Arabs and Jews. The village was razed after a massacre of around 107 of its residents on April 9, 1948, by the Jewish paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi. The village buildings are today part of the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, an Israeli public psychiatric hospital.
The first part of the village's name Deir is defined as "monastery" in Arabic. According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, this was a common occurrence in Palestinian village names especially those so close to Jerusalem. A large ruin that lay at the southwestern edge of Deir Yassin was known simply as "Deir".
Deir Yassin has been identified as one of the villages given as a fief to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the 12th century, and it has been suggested that a vaulted building in the center of the village could have been of Crusader or Mamluk origin.Tawfiq Canaan noted that a yellow stone, popular in the Jerusalem Mamluk Ablaq buildings, was apparently quarried at Dayr Yasin towards the end of the fifteenth century.
During the Ottoman era, which began in 1517, the nucleus of settlement activity in the area was Khirbet Ayn al-Tut ("The Ruin of the Mulberry Spring")--some 500 meters (1,600 ft) west of the 1948 village site. In 1596, this village was under the administration of the nahiya (subdistrict) of Jerusalem, part of the sanjak (district) of Jerusalem. It paid taxes on wheat, barley, and olive trees.
It is unknown precisely when settlement shifted to Deir Yassin. The village was named in honor of a certain Sheikh Yassin whose tomb was in a mosque, or shrine located just outside the village, on a high spot, dominating the surrounding area. The village guesthouse, or Madafeh, was located opposite the shrine.
Edward Robinson noted the village in 1838, and by 1870, an Ottoman village list indicated 13 houses and a population of 48, though the list only counted men. In 1896 the population of Der jasin was estimated to be about 138 persons.
In the late 19th century, the houses of Deir Yassin were built of stone. Two springs--one located in the north and another in the south--supplied water to the village. Most of its houses, strongly built with thick walls, were clustered in a small area known as the Hara meaning "Quarter" or "Neighborhood". All residents were Muslims. In 1906, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem, Givat Shaul, was built across the valley from Deir Yassin. The secondary road linking the village to Jerusalem and the road to Jaffa ran through the suburb.
During World War I, the Ottomans fortified the hilltop of Deir Yassin as part of the defense system of Jerusalem, but on December 8, 1917, these fortifications were stormed by the Allied Forces under Edmund Allenby. The following day Jerusalem fell to the British. Until the 1920s, Deir Yassin's inhabitants mostly depended on agriculture and livestock for income, but the extensive building projects in Jerusalem in the British Mandate period transformed the basis of its economy.
Deir Yassin's prospered from mining, its main source of employment. A rich vein of hard yellow limestone, known as mizi yahudi was prized for its resistance to the rigors of Jerusalem's climate. The quarry (hajar yasinik or "Yasin's stone") supplied the Jerusalem market, and the wealth allowed the village to develop spacious housing, two elementary schools and mosques. By the late 1940s, there were four stone crushers functioning in the village. The business encouraged the wealthier inhabitants to invest in trucking while others became truck drivers. In 1935, a local bus company was established in a joint venture with the neighboring Arab village of Lifta. As Deir Yassin prospered, houses radiated from the Hara uphill and eastward, towards Jerusalem.
In the early days of the British Mandate, Deir Yassin had no school of its own and its children attended the school at Lifta or in Qalunya. By 1943, two elementary schools were built--one for boys and one for girls. The girls' school had a resident headmistress from Jerusalem. At that time, Deir Yassin also had a bakery, two guesthouses, and a social club--the "Renaissance Club", a thrift fund, three shops, four wells and a second mosque built by Mahmud Salah, an affluent resident. Many inhabitants were employed outside the village in the nearby British Army camps as waiters, carpenters, and foremen; others as clerks and teachers in the mandatory civil service. By this time, no more than 15% of the population was engaged in agriculture.
Relations between Deir Yassin and its Jewish neighbors had started reasonably well under the Ottomans, particularly early on when Arabic-speaking Sephardic Yemenite Jews comprised much of the surrounding population. Relations rapidly deteriorated with the growth of Zionism in Palestine and reached their apex during the Arab revolt in 1936-1939. Relations picked up again during the economic boom years of full employment of World War II. Thus, in 1948, Deir Yassin was a prosperous, expanding village at relative peace with its Jewish neighbors with whom much business was done.
When hostilities erupted in 1948, the villagers of Deir Yassin and those of the nearby Jewish village of Giv'at Shaul signed a pact, later approved at Haganah headquarters, to maintain their good relations, exchange information on movement of outsiders through village territory, and ensure the safety of vehicles from the village. The inhabitants of Deir Yassin upheld the agreement scrupulously, resisting infiltration by Arab irregulars. Though this was known to the Irgun and Lehi forces, they attacked the village on April 9, 1948. The assault was beaten off initially, with the attackers suffering 40 wounded. Only the intervention of a Palmach unit, using mortars, allowed them to conquer the village. Houses were blown up with people inside and people shot: 107 villagers, including women and children, were killed. The survivors were loaded on trucks that were driven through Jerusalem in a victory parade, with some sources describing further violence by Lehi soldiers. Four Irgun or Lehi men were killed. The incident became known as the Deir Yassin massacre.
On April 10, 1948, one day after the Deir Yassin massacre, Albert Einstein wrote a critical letter to the American Friends of Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (the U.S chapter of the Stern gang) refusing to assist them with aid or support to raise money for their cause in Palestine. On December 2, 1948, many prominent American Jews signed and published an op-ed article in The New York Times critical of Menachem Begin and the massacre at Deir Yassin.
Following the war, the area was incorporated into the State of Israel. A year later, the Jewish neighborhood of Givat Shaul Bet was built on Deir Yassin's land, despite Israeli scholars' protests to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. In 1951, the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center was built within the village itself, using some abandoned village buildings themselves. In 1980, the remaining ruins of the village were bulldozed to clear the ground for new Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. In the early 1980s, most of the Deir Yassin cemetery was bulldozed and a new highway to Givat Shaul Bet was paved in its place.
Many of the village houses on the hill are still standing and have been incorporated into an Israeli hospital for the mentally ill that was established on the site. Some houses outside the fence of the hospital grounds are used for residential and commercial purposes, or as warehouses. Outside the fence, there are carob and almond trees and the stumps of olive trees. Several wells are located at the southwestern edge of the site. The old village cemetery, southeast of the site, is unkempt and threatened by debris from a ring road that has been constructed around the village hill. One tall cypress tree still stands at the center of the cemetery.
The killings at Deir Yassin are regarded as one of two pivotal events that led to the exodus of around 700,000 Palestinians from their towns and villages in 1948, along with the defeat of the Palestinians in Haifa. News of the killings, amplified by Arab media broadcasts of atrocity, triggered fear and panic among Palestinians, who in turn increasingly evacuated their homes.
Deir Yassin was built on the eastern slopes of a hill, with an elevation of roughly 800 meters (2,600 ft) above sea level and commanding a wide view all around it. The village faced the western suburbs of Jerusalem which were 1 kilometer (0.62 mi) away. The city center of Jerusalem was about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) to the east. It was separated from the city by a terraced valley planted with fig, almond, and olive orchards. Along the northern rim of the valley ran a secondary road linking Deir Yassin to the suburbs and to the main Jaffa Road which was about 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) to the north.
The total land area of the village consisted of 2,857 dunams (286 hectares), of which 94.5% was Arab-owned, 5.3% was Jewish-owned and the remainder was public property. Cultivable land amounted to a total of 866 dunams (30%) (87 hectares), all of which was grown with grains and owned mostly by Arabs. The built-up area of the village was 12 dunams.
Khirbet Ayn al-Tut had a population of 39 in 1596, during early Ottoman rule. In the 1922 British Mandate census, Deir Yassin had a population of 254. Its population had increased from 429 in the 1931 census to 750 in 1948 and its houses from 91 in the former year to 144 in the latter. Before its ravage in 1948, it is estimated that Deir Yassin had 610 Muslim inhabitants in the 1945 statistics. The five hamulas (clans) of Deir Yassin were the Shahada, 'Aql, Hamidad, Jabir and Jundi.
Village remains images by Daniel A. McGowan