Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

In October, 2014, I visited Jerusalem with my husband Jonathan.While he spent his days participating in the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, I visited sites in Israel and Palestine. I went first to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was appropriate to do so; it is like making confession before praying. To say it was a moving experience is to engage in gross understatement. Two elements were particularly moving to me (and I was touched everywhere I turned). First was the memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust. I could not stop weeping. Second, I went to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, I had a hard time seeing it. I was standing in the middle of very large space that looked like a town square. But there was nothing there. Then I realized that was the memorial . . . there was no one left. The people were wiped out. Only the town square remains. More tears.

A few days later, I traveled to Kfar Shaul, a mental hospital a little ways further out from Jerusalem than Yad Vashem. A participant in Jonathan’s conference told me he had walked from Yad Vashem to Kfar Shaul in well less than an hour.

Why did I go to the site of a mental hospital? I went, as I went to Yad Vashem, to honor the dead and missing, this time those killed on April 9, 1948 and those who fled the killing from what was then a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin. The attack on the village by Zionist paramilitary groups, the Irgun and Lehi, was part of the fierce fighting that was going on between local Arabs and Jews for control of land that was to become the State of Israel.

Reports of the killing of villagers in Deir Yassin spread quickly among many villages and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began.

Kfar Shaul entrance
The entry gate to Kfar Shaul, with the buildings of Deir Yassin behind. Author’s picture

Today, instead of a marker for the lost village, or any other sign of what happened here 68 years ago today, now the village buildings comprise an Israeli mental hospital called Kfar Shaul. Of course, that facility is behind locked gates, and there is no public entry. There is here an echo of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto–nobody remains.

I have written the poem below–and I continue to work on it, because it feels incomplete yet–to commemorate my visit in 2014, and to keep erasure of Deir Yassin before us. I will not forget. I ask that you not forget either.

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

The distance between
Yad Vashem
and
Kfar Shaul
more than a stone can throw
less than a good morning walk
but the canyon
between
each
gapes wide and deep like yes and no
a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin, where are you?

I.
Yad Vashem
records the horrors of
Holocaust
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
knowing
in the lurking memory of time
it is a promise
we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

II.
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
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?

III.
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
A
day
April
9
1948
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

Still

Deir Yassin,where are you?

IV.
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
came
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?

V.
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
remembered
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
under

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

VI.
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
frightening
ugly

Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

His mind reciting
repeating
mumbling
stumbling
Never Again
Never.
Again.
Knowing
knowing
knowing
it is a promise
we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.
©Robin Gorsline 2016

Deir Yassin Where Are You?

Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948. peace.maripo.com
Deir Yassin just after the massacre April 9 1948. peace.maripo.com

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. voices.education.org
Martyrs of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. voices.education.org

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. commons.wikimedia.org

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

and

Kfar Shaul

more than a stone can throw

less than a good morning walk

but the canyon

between

each

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

Holocaust

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

knowing

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

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

A

day

April

9

1948

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

Still

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

came

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

remembered

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

under

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

frightening

ugly

Yad Vashem.

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin where are you?

His mind reciting

repeating

mumbling

stumbling

Never Again

Never.

Again.

Knowing

knowing

knowing

it is a promise

we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.