Dayr Yasin (Deir Yasin), 3 miles (5 km) on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was attacked by Jewish paramilitary units during the civil war between Palestinians and Jews in the period between announcement of the United Nations partition plan in November 1947 and proclamation of the state of Israel in May 1948. Although only one of a number of incidents in which Jewish forces attacked Palestinian civilians, the Dayr Yasin massacre became the most notorious and the longest remembered because of the unusually large number of deaths, Palestinian loss of the village, and the extent to which the reports of the massive loss of lives that circulated through the Palestinian community exacerbated fears that led to mass flight of Palestinians.
The attack on Dayr Yasin occurred on 9 April 1948, and was initiated by the Irgun Zvaʾi Leʾumi, or Etzel (National Military Organization), and Lohamei Herut Yisrael, or Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), which was also known as the Stern Gang. Etzel, which was headed by Menachem Begin (who would later become Israel's prime minister), was a dissident faction of the Haganah, the quasi-official defense organization of the Palestinian Jewish community, or Yishuv. Although Dayr Yasin's residents had not been involved in any significant incident against the Yishuv, and had signed a nonaggression pact with the Haganah, the leaders of Etzel and Lehi justified their surprise attack by charging that the village had been a base for Palestinian guerrillas, an accusation that was not substantiated by the Haganah. During the attack about 105 men, women, and children were murdered, although a figure of 250 is often cited; many bodies were mutilated and thrown into a well. There was some armed resistance to the attack.
The leaders of the Yishuv, including David BenGurion (who would later become Israel's first prime minister), strenuously denounced the attack and disclaimed any responsibility for it. However, there is credible evidence that the Haganah had been informed of the impending attack in advance and that a Haganah unit had provided covering fire for Etzel and Lehi. During the incident, residents of Dayr Yasin who were not slain were driven from the village, and most of it was destroyed. Later, the remains of the village were taken over and occupied by the Haganah.
Dayr Yasin symbolized the extent to which the struggle between Palestinian and Jewish communities in Palestine was becoming an all-out civil war with civilian casualties. It thus contributed to the panic that led to the collapse and mass flight of the Palestinian community.
See also Begin, Menachem; Haganah; Irgun Zvaʾi Leʾumi (IZL); Lohamei Herut Yisrael.
Begin, Menachem. The Revolt: Story of the Irgun. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951.
Khalidi, Walid. From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971.
McGowan, Daniel, and Ellis, Marc H., eds. Remembering Deir Yassin: The Future of Israel and Palestine. Brooklyn, NY: Olive Branch Press, 1998.
Rogan, Eugene L., and Shlaim, Avi, eds. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.