Deir Yassin Where Are You?

Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948.
Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948.

On April 9, 1948, history records an attack on a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin, just outside Jerusalem; according to most accounts by outside observers, and the Palestinians, the attackers were members of the Irgun, a militant, some would say terrorist, Jewish paramilitary force working to free the land of the British and native Arab peoples. Israeli leaders have maintained that the attack came from Arabs. Whoever the attackers, it became for Palestinians a signal to flee from many villages across Palestine in the face of Jewish (soon to be Israeli) forces.

Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem.
Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem.

I visited the site of Deir Yassin last October, several days after visiting Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust. They are not far from each other; one could walk the distance although I did not. I wept repeatedly at Yad Vashem, left ashen and overwhelmed by grief, especially by the memorial to the children. I feel the deep pain yet today.

Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital
Kfar Shaul, formerly Deir Yassin, now a mental hospital.

I say I visited the site of Deir Yassin because as a village, as a place, it no longer exists. The place of the massacre has been recreated, smoothed over, by a place called Kfar Shaul, a facility for the mentally ill. There is no plaque or other remembrance–only the stories, the arguments about who did what to whom . . . and the patients, the inmates if you will, of a modern Israeli mental hospital.

At Yad Vashem, I came across the memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At first, I did not understand where the memorial was–because it is an empty square, like a central plaza in an European city without any people or market. Then I realized this empty square is the memorial–marking the absence of Polish Jews, their extermination. I sat down on the stones and wept and wept.

The link between the lost people of Warsaw and the lost people of Deir Yassin seems clear to me. And yet nothing marks Deir Yassin. But like Warsaw, like Treblinka and Wounded Knee, and so many others, we must never forget.

Deir Yassin where are you?

The distance between

Yad Vashem


Kfar Shaul

more than a stone can throw

less than a good morning walk

but the canyon



gapes wide and deep like yes and no

a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Yad Vashem

records the horrors of


the truth of inhumanity

shining the deepness of honesty on brutality

recounting the names and faces of victims

recalling the perpetrators of butchery

recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow

hearts ache

minds recoil

as we repeat

Never Again

Never Again


in the lurking memory of time

it is a promise

we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Kfar Shaul

tells a different story

speaking in code known to those who want to forget

a moment of silence lasting lifetimes

a center for mental health



resting on

the remains of a village

living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone

behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. It was a day in what should have been another lifetime

but feels like only yesterday

the wounds buried

just deep enough in denial to be ignored

continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility






righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home

struck out at villagers in homes

these in the wrong place at the wrong time

on the wrong side

at least the losing side

Deir Yassin where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants

depending on the history we read,

one-sixth to one-third gone

whatever your source

reports of rape

men paraded through Jerusalem

to the cheers of other men

and then shot

others dispute all the horror

blaming it on Arab soldiers

whose single-fire guns sought to stave off

automatic weapons and mortars


Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. The exodus

of villagers not just Deir Yassin

250,000 refugees in camps

symbol of the new order

creating fear among people without an army even a government

some said they did not even exist

living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin where are you?

The conquerors

terrorized in other lands

hated and feared and maligned

survivors of the slaughtered


a people without a land

to call home

filling the homes of those who fled

becoming a people and a land as one

prosperous and strong

proud and feared

hated too

Deir Yassin where are you?

  1. Are you under the wound

scabbed over now

by a place for

mental health

a place of screams and dreams

of loves and lives lost


repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation

rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion

even bouts of sometimes reality?

Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

No word

about what lies buried


Deir Yassin where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates

even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

  1. A visitor

stands on the sidewalk

tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory

and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too

and why it had to be so

persist like a bad dream growing more weird



Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

His mind reciting




Never Again






it is a promise

we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.