Although virtually all six million Palestinians in the world know of Deir Yassin, few have ever been there. The site is not identified on post-1948 maps of Israel. But it is not difficult to find.
The central part of Deir Yassin is a cluster of buildings now used as a mental hospital. To the east lies the industrial area of Givat Shaul; to the north lies Har Hamenuchot (the Jewish cemetery), to the west, built on the side of the mountain on which Deir Yassin is located, is Har Nof, a new settlement of orthodox Jews.
To the south is a steep terraced valley containing part of the Jerusalem Forest. On the other side of that valley, roughly a mile and a half from Deir Yassin and in clear view of it, are Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
While not difficult to find, Deir Yassin today is not easy to visit. There are few places to park. Admittance to the mental hospital grounds is understandably restricted. There are no signs, no plaques and no memorials of any kind.
The cemetery is largely gone; the ruins of the deir (monastery) are unmarked; and the quarry – from which the residents made a living and in which the bodies of those who were massacred were piled up and burned – is likely buried under a fuel storage depot on the south side of the mountain.
Orthodox Jews living in the area aren’t friendly to outsiders and either don’t know or refuse to acknowledge Deir Yassin’s history. Not surprisingly, picture taking invites suspicion and criticism.
“Man’s inhumanity” – a poignant irony
It is unfortunate that Palestinians do not visit Yad Vashem. They argue that they were not involved in the Holocaust and resent hearing again about Jews as victims of Nazis when the whole world has so long failed to recognise Palestinians as victims of Zionists.
They also believe that the Holocaust was used as a justification or rationalisation for the creation of the state of Israel and for the conquest and confiscation of their homes and villages.
Nevertheless, it is unfortunate because from Yad Vashem looking north is a spectacular panoramic view of Deir Yassin. The Holocaust museum is beautiful and the message “never to forget man’s inhumanity to man” is timeless.
The children’s museum is particularly heart wrenching; in a dark room filled with candles and mirrors the names of Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust are read aloud with their places of birth. Even the most callous person is brought to tears.
Upon exiting this portion of the museum a visitor is facing north and looking directly at Deir Yassin. There are no markers, no plaques, no memorials, and no mention from any tour guide.
But for those who know what they are looking at, the irony is breath-taking.