Jeff Halper resigns from Board of Deir Yassin Remembered

Date: Friday 8th April 2005 (or earlier)

To the directors and board members of Deir Yassin Remembered.

Dear Paul, Dan and the rest of DYR, on "both sides" of the Board,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this, because I have been dedicated to DYR for several years now, and fully support its mission. My leaving the Board has something to do with Israel Shamir, I suppose. I opposed his coming onto the Board in the first place (apparently that was an executive decision and Board members were not consulted), but only marginally because of Shamir himself. Since Shamir came onto the Board, there has been a radical change in tone in DYR that, to my mind, is destructive - and tragically side-tracking - of what we had all set out to accomplish.

The founding core of DYR simply cannot grasp why Shamir is intolerable - to the Jews of the organization, certainly, but to others I would hope as well. The entire point of DYR is to honor the memory of the Palestinians massacred by pre-Israel Jewish militias and to draw critical conclusions from that shameful event. The conclusions, I would think, are two-fold: (1) To identify those elements of Zionism and Israeli policy that could lead to such acts and, to the degree that they still inform both Israeli society and the Occupation (as I believe they do), to denounce, resist and ultimately expunge them; and (2) To universalize the Deir Yassin massacre, to identify those elements that exist globally (racism, militarism, fanaticism, perhaps nationalism and more) in order to denounce, resist and ultimately expunge them wherever they appear in the world.

Given that, Shamir is a "problem" in two senses. First, he deflects the discussion from the essentials of Deir Yassin onto the supposed characteristics of the perpetrators. To cast all "Jews" as perpetrators of such heinous crimes, which is exactly how the discussion has been going for the past number of months, is racist, absolutely unacceptable - and deflects entirely from the issue of Deir Yassin itself. Just look at his response to Uri Davis: "a Jew is called upon by his religious law to do utmost damage to one who accepted Christ ..." Anyone who knows Uri Davis would know that such a statement is beyond absurd, but the bigger question is: Who in the hell is "a Jew"? Paul's comment about "Jewish Power" is also outrageous. "THE Jews" is a construct just as false, simplistic, racist (biologically so, it seems) and unacceptable as any other ethnic label used to tar all members of that group with - inevitably negative - characteristics. (I know our "fully human" psychotherapist from Australia will read into this primordial "Jewish loyalty.")

The inane discussion that has come to characterize the DYR discourse is not even sophisticated racism; its just plain old-fashioned stupid racism. That's enough to get me to leave.

But like I said, Shamir is not the problem, he's more of a sympton. A much more troubling dimension of this is what is happening to Deir Yassin. Here an element of "ownership" enters in. I do not accept that groups "own" events. The Jews do not "own" the Holocaust, for example. But I DO accept that they have a special relationship to events that have affected them so deeply, that their voices and concerns cannot be dismissed, minimized or excluded. To turn the Deir Yassin tragedy into a discussion of Jewish racial characteristics, to dirty it with racist discourse, to create a situation where the people who were the most committed to honoring its memory in the senses I described above feel the need to leave, raises serious, fundamental questions. When I hear diabtribes of non-Palestinians against the Palestinian Ali Abunima because he raises concerns over Shamir's racism and the entire tone of the DYR discussion, a red light goes off. Has Deir Yassin been hijacked by a cult more intent on pursuing hate campaigns against the fictive "Jews" than in searching for the humanistic, universal, critical and truly relevant elements of the Deir Yassin story? Is Deir Yassin's memory being sullied by those who claim to honor it?

Shamir is only the symptom. I am more concerned about the few who have taken over Deir Yassin and, in defiance of anyone else, indeed, in arrogant dismissal of any dissenting voice, presume to be the "true" voices of DYR. The resignation of any one of the people who left DYR, Jewish or not, should be a cause of soul-searching, especially among the non-Palestinian "gatekeepers" of Deir Yassin who may be finishing off the job - massacring the memory of Deir Yassin by making it synonymous with racism and anti-Semitism.

These are issues that go beyond any particular person. None of us has a right to represent Deir Yassin, but we all have the responsibility to ensure that its memory be respected and that the lessons it has to teach us to bring about a more just, inclusive, non-violent (including in language), critical world be nurtured. I call on Paul, Dan and the others of DYR to open a full discussion on what is happening in the organization, where it is going, what its messages are, how the discourse should be held, rather than support the anti-Deir Yassin messages and defend the undefensible.

In the meantime, I will find other ways to pursue the lessons of Deir Yassin.

Jeff Halper

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