Even though April 9, 1948, is a day of infamy for Palestinians, few commemorative ceremonies are usually held.
Sixty-five years ago, organized Jewish terrorist groups, including the Irgun and Stern gangs, attacked Deir Yassin, a village whose population numbered some 600 people.
A total of 112 women, children and elderly men were brutally butchered in a massacre that has been likened to the Babi Yar Nazi massacre of Jews in Kiev, Ukraine.
Adding insult to injury, some of the survivors were stripped, loaded on flat truck beds, paraded in a demeaning, triumphal drive through Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, then driven out of town and shot to death.
Under the cover of darkness, 55 surviving children were loaded onto trucks and dumped in a Jerusalem alleyway. Close to 600 villages were bulldozed and permanently wiped off the map.
Ironically, the Israelis would change the name of the village to Kfar Shaul, move Holocaust survivors into homes that were not destroyed and build a mental institution on the site.
The site itself is within full view of the Holocaust Memorial, recently visited by President Barack Obama.
For some reason, during the past few weeks I have been receiving emails from the White House Public Engagement Office about Obama’s trip to Israel and the White House Passover Seder dinner.
One email about “Yom Hashoah” (Holocaust Remembrance Day) read as follows:
I join the people here in the United States, in Israel and around the world in observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, we honor the memories of the six million Jewish victims and millions of others who perished in the darkness of the Shoah. As we reflect on the beautiful lives lost, and their great potential that would never be fulfilled, we also pay tribute to all those who resisted the Nazis’ heinous acts and all those who survived.
On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront anti-Semitism, prejudice and intolerance across the world.
On Yom Hashoah every year, we must accept the full responsibility of remembrance, as nations and as individuals – not simply to pledge “never again,” but to commit ourselves to understanding, empathy and compassion that is the foundation of peace and human dignity.
To give credence to these words, Obama could have done several things on his recent trip.
The president could have treated the Palestinians with more respect by acknowledging that a historic injustice has been perpetrated on Palestinians who are victims of Western prejudice and have been paying a heavy price for the dastardly deeds of the Holocaust.
He could have acknowledged that Palestinians have a historic right to the land, deserve “empathy and compassion and human dignity,” and that he abhors the daily humiliation Palestinians experience at checkpoints.
As an African American and an advocate for human rights, he could have emphasized that he is against segregated bus lines as well as Jews-only roads and neighborhoods, and that the wall of separation and illegal settlements are in violation of international laws.
Finally, the president could have affirmed that he supports “a collective responsibility to confront anti-Semitism” when it comes to the Palestinians, a Semitic people still paying a heavy price for Western machinations.
Recently, the London-based Deir Yassin Remembered organization sponsored the “Deir Yassin Day 2013 Commemoration” at St. John’s Wood Church in London.
On April 13, Zochrot – an Israeli organization that describes itself as an organization that “seeks to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba [Catastrophe] especially among Jews in Israel” – sponsored a walk-through of a destroyed Palestinian village to commemorate the Deir Yassin massacre.
Deir Yassin Remembered has been unsuccessful in its attempts to build a memorial site in Jerusalem.
Should readers be so inclined, they can visit the organization’s website for more information and consider sending a message to the Jerusalem municipality urging them to allow a memorial site to be built in Jerusalem that will “reflect on the beautiful lives lost [and whose] great potential would never be fulfilled.”
Raouf J. Halaby is a professor of English and art. He is a peace activist who loves to write, sculpt, travel, garden, fish and take photographs. A version of this column first appeared on Counterpunch and is used with permission.