Born in Deir Yessin, directed by Neta Shoshani, is a new documentary film that premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last week. This stark and disturbing film tells the Israeli version of a dark stain on Israeli history of the War of Independence -- the story of Deir Yessin, the Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem that was conquered by the Lehi and Irgun, and the ensuing massacre that took place there.
Now, years later, we hear from the Lehi and Irgun perpetrators, the Haganah intelligence operatives who were sent to check out what actually transpired, and the Jerusalem teenagers who were sent to bury the corpses. The stories include how grenades were thrown into houses and entire families were killed, and how people were lined up and shot against the wall.
The filmmaker pushes the perpetrators to remember the past. They talk about their memories and their rationalizations. One says: “We fought so that the next generation would take the state for granted.” And another one states: “It was a dirty job but it achieved an important objective.”
Some of the veterans of these Jewish extremist groups who were interviewed are portrayed by the director of the film as stark raving lunatics. This is a veiled reference to similar extremists in today's Israel who commit unspeakable deeds.
During the early 1950s, the abandoned village of Deir Yassin was closed off to the public and the Givat Shaul psychiatric hospital was built on the ruins. In a fascinating way, a parallel story is offered in the film. In the 1960s, a Jewish boy named Dror was born in the hospital, and sent away to be brought up apart from his mother, who spent most of her life in the asylum. Today, he returns to request his mother’s medical records and he reads about the traumas and the suffering of a woman whose baby was taken from her.
The metaphor is quite clear – we are all victims of our past and Deir Yassin represents a stain on our history, a part of our past which is kept closed away in the archives. We cannot escape who we are and what elements from our past have influenced us. And some of us have become completely insane from the ongoing cycle of violence which continues to haunt us. In some eerie way, the filmmaker is suggesting to us that we all live in an insane existence on the ruins of this village!
This is a particularly stirring and well-presented documentary film about one side of the story. It does not try to tell the Palestinian narrative about the suffering, the individuals who were killed, the women and the children or the wild exaggerations that were used in the Arab world to inflate the size of the massacre, causing many Palestinians to flee their homes. Rather it focuses on the ongoing Israeli struggle to come to grips with such a tragic part of our past.
Born in Deir Yessin (documentary, 63 minutes) can be obtained from Rotem.firstname.lastname@example.org