Dr Esti Rimmer wrote this after attending the 2001 Deir Yassin commemoration at the Peacock theatre in London. I haven’t seen her since but I hope she won’t mind my publishing this piece.
I may be one of the few Israelis who could never forget Deir Yassin for the simple reason that I could see the ruined village from my bedroom window, all through my childhood and growing up years. Every night before I went to bed I would witness one of those glorious spectacular sunsets over the Jerusalem hills and would see the red fire ball of the sun slowly descend over Deir Yassin. My window was facing west and our apartment block was on the eastern slope of the valley, opposite the village of Deir Yassin.
Our neighbourhood was made up of these new apartment blocks built in the 1950s to house new immigrants and second-generation children of immigrants or refugees of lower-middle class, hard working Israelis. Many teachers, civil servants and nurses lived on those little flats in this new and vibrant community, ironically named Yeffe Nof – “beautiful view”. The stunning view from the windows, which made up for the modesty of the flats and the lack of lifts and central heating in the cold and windy Jerusalem winters, was the view of Deir Yassin.
As children we used to roam those hills, jumping between the beautifully stoned terraces of cultivated land were almond trees, olive trees and apple trees would each year blossom and give their fruits freely to us delighted children. Such an idyllic setting our parents thought to bring us up in as a new generation of children who will fear no persecution and would be able to run around in the hot caressing sun, barefoot and carefree.
However, the questions remained unanswered, who planted the trees and cultivated the valley? Certainly not our parents who were busy building a new Jerusalem, civil and urban society. And why was this village left to ruin? And where were the people? There was no one to answer these questions, not a teacher, a parent, a youth leader, not a sign, a mark, a stone to tell the story.
From my window, if you stretched your neck further south, you could see the hills on your left. The lower one Mount Hertzel Military Cemetery, the higher one Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. As children we would visit, every year on Memorial Day – the day before Independence Day, the military cemetery. Dressed in blue and white we would carry flowers and blue and white flags to put on the brave soldiers’ graves. We would sing songs and hear prayers recited, we would see the parents of the these soldiers with vacant looks in their eyes, often dry of tears looking at us school children from the same school their sons and daughters went to before they were sent to war. Somehow, I could always spot the bereaved parents from the rest of the adults. The way they held their bodies, their gestures, awkward, stiff, frozen, as if they were there and not there. Later they would be the parents of my friends and classmates.
And on Holocaust Memorial days, our neat little group of blue and white school children carrying more flowers would march higher up the hill to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. There we would come upon that nameless dread, the nightmares after seeing the children’s eyes in the photos in the museum, the silence the adults would hush into when someone mentioned the ‘camps’. My father’s inability to talk about his perished family drove him to an early grave. My mother used to tell me more about her family, her childhood, her parents’ house and wine shop, and the vineyards owned by her grandfather from which the wine was manufactured. All lost, never to be retrieved but not forgotten.
Yet, no one mentioned Deir Yassin to me. It was as if the village, so prominent in my view, never existed.
Later as a young psychology student, I would visit the mental hospital set up on the hill of Deir Yassin, Kfar Shaul, the village of Saul. Another naming irony, for which Israelis are so famous. Saul the mad, melancholic king who suffered from the bad spirits giving his name to a place set up to heal the tortured souls who survived the camps. I would walk along the small cabins of the hospital which housed the fortunate of unfortunate survivors whose souls had long ago been murdered and make feeble attempts at conversation, at some normality and at some possibility of rehabilitation. And I wondered, did those restless tormented souls know that the safe haven they had come to be healed in and freed from memories of massacres, had seen another massacre, the one that took place in the village around whose destroyed houses their rehabilitation hospital was set up? I have already come to learn of it from the little that slipped through the walls of silence and to mourn even the loss of the beautiful view of the ruined village, which was later covered up by petrol tanks.
So can anybody forget the view of their childhood, the scene outside their bedroom window, which is etched in their mind’s eye? My mother’s was fertile hills and grapevines of Transylvania, mine the charred and destroyedvillage of Deir Yassin.
I grew up in a country established by people who are so good at remembering. The Jewish faith is marked by days of remembrance. It is memory that keeps us as human beings superior to other species. Yet, my neighbourhood Yeffe-Noff was built on the denial of memory. “Look at the beautiful view” but don’t see and don’t accept that the children of the old and sick people in the hospital are the ones responsible for uprooting, expelling, exiling, killing, tormenting and humiliating other people’s children.
But can we allow ourselves not to open our eyes and see all there is to see in the valley between Yad Vashem, with its lists of names of victims and acknowledgments of responsibility by torturers, and Deir Yassin’s ruined stones with no list of names, no memorial services, no candles, no flowers and no children of survivors coming to see the horrors with their trusting and innocent eyes, and no acknowledgment of responsibility by the perpetrators? If not, the whole of the land of my childhood will be covered with Mount Hertzel like graveyards, the few survivors wondering with their lost souls in the corridors of hospitals. And the olive and almond and apple trees will give fruit to nobody’s children.