Accessibility links

Arab-Americans Remember Attack on Palestinians in 1948 - 2002-04-11

Every April 9, Palestinians commemorate the 1948 attack on the village of Deir Yassin by Jewish paramilitary forces. Palestinians and other Arabs marking the day near Chicago say the current violence in the Middle East is a sad reminder that some things have not changed more than a half-century later.

About 200 Arab-Americans gathered at a suburban Chicago restaurant to commemorate what Palestinians call the massacre at Deir Yassin. A woman recited a poem about the village. "Land of Deir Yassin, how very much you are treasured. Once again, after 54 years, history is still repeating its cycle of terror," she said.

On April 9, 1948, Jewish paramilitary forces attacked the small village. Palestinians say it was an unprovoked attack on a peaceful town. Israelis say capturing Deir Yassin was a necessary part of securing the only supply route between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They say Arabs had been blockading Jerusalem, trying to prevent food from reaching the 2,500 Jews who lived there at the time.

Accounts vary on the number of Palestinians killed in the raid. Estimates range from 100 to about 250. Rafeeq Jaber of the Islamic Association for Palestine says the recent Israeli military movements into the Palestinian territories make this year's commemoration an especially sad one.

"The ironic thing that makes this very significant is there is a massacre going on now. The last ten days. There are atrocities being committed now," he said.

Israeli government officials say the current military action in the West Bank is a response against increasing numbers of Palestinian suicide bombings. Most Arab-Americans in the Chicago area say they do not condone those suicide attacks, but say a half-century of Palestinians living under what they call Israeli occupation has left many feeling they have nothing to lose by fighting back against Israel.

"There is a feeling sometimes of hopelessness. People feel that things are the same or maybe deteriorating. They are losing hope that things will change," said Sabri Samirah, head of the United Muslim Americans Association, based in suburban Chicago.

Mr. Samirah believes the United States has to play a major role in establishing a lasting peace, but he says Washington also has to fight the perception among many Arabs that it backs Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

"And totally ignoring the issues that the Palestinians are raising: the refugees, the Jerusalem issue, the independent state, the freedom, etc.," he added.

He says while Mr. Bush has called on Israel to pull its troops out of Palestinian towns in the West Bank, he has not been forceful enough.

Rafeeq Jaber also believes the United States will need to play a role in establishing Middle East peace. He is confident it will happen one day.

"Every conflict in the world has a solution. I believe in that. There is no conflict that can't be solved because conflicts are between humans and humans find a solution," he said.

Mr. Jaber says many Palestinians feel if Israeli troops stay in the West Bank, Palestinians would become refugees again, something they will continue to fight.