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Personal Story

“Until This Day, We Don’t Know Where They Buried Them”

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Excerpted from Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians, ed. Staughton Lynd, Sam Bahour, and Alice Lynd (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1994), 22–23

Oral testimony of Ahmad Ayesh Khalil, Deir Yasin resident, about the massacre perpetrated by paramilitary troops belonging to the Irgun and the Stern Gang (Lehi) groups early in the morning of April 9, 1948, during which 100 residents were killed in their homes out of a village of only a few hundred people.1

Deir Yasin, in the western suburbs of Jerusalem, was only a short distance from the city. It was a strategically desirable location, as it was located on the high ground of the corridor from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The massacre was highly touted and propagandized by the Irgun forces and used to instigate fear and terror in the whole Jerusalem area, causing mass flight from both the Jerusalem suburbs and Palestinian neighborhoods subsequently from the city itself.2


I am seventy years old. We had a very nice house in Deir Yassin.

Before 1948, my father had a cement block factory. We also used to work on stone, breaking the stones.

We had much land before 1948. It was divided into plots. Some plots had olives. Other plots had fresh figs, almonds and grapes. One plot was where we used to work breaking the stones.

Deir Yasin was a small village outside Jerusalem. Before the massacre, we had 650 individuals from the youngest to the oldest. Deir Yassin was high and it was surrounded by alleys in which there were other villages. The Israelis came through the valleys from all sides and they surrounded Deir Yassin. They came with tanks and with automatic weapons.

You must understand what type of weapons we had. We had an Italian rifle, an old British rifle, and a German rifle. They were single shot. They could not defend a village. We asked the British government for better weapons. They gave us six British “parachute” rifles. The clip on each was ten bullets. What could ten bullets do?

About twenty of us from Deir Yassin were working as house servants for the British army at the Allenby Barracks, nor more than two kilometers from Deir Yassin. We heard the news on the radio that the Zionists were attacking Deir Yassin. I, personally, went to the officer in charge of us and told him, “We have heard that the Jews have attacked our village. We’re going.” He said “Goodbye. Go.”

I went to a village, Ein Kerem, that was in a valley below Deir Yassin. I found my uncle in Ein Kerem and I asked him, “Where is my father?” He said my father was killed. “Where is my mother?” She was killed. “My brother?” He was killed also.

My sister was in her own house. She had six children. They did not see much because they were hiding at the time of the invasion. They were very, very scared. They came out at night from the lower floor and walked a few steps. The Israelis had already tied dogs to all the different corners of the village. As soon as the dogs saw them, they started barking. My sister and the children hid against the fence for a time. There was one narrow back road from Deir Yassin to Ein Kerem that was left open, and so they were able to come to Ein Kerem.

When the Israelis first came, the resistance that they found consisted of about one hundred young men. Those hundred young men were taken and shot. Until this day, we don’t know where they buried them. Others whom they saw in the street were snipered down. They did not distinguish between pregnant and not pregnant, holding a boy or holding a girl: whoever came before them, they killed. The first people that heard the gunshots, if they were lucky, fled. Of the Zahran family—the mother, the father, the brother, the child, the entire family—not one part of their family tree remains.

After there was no more resistance in town, the Israelis brought buses and took the remaining residents of Deir Yassin and Ein Kerem to a place in Jerusalem near the Italian Embassy, next to where the Russian Compound [al-Moskobiyya] is today.

“I went back to see Deir Yassin a few years ago. The house of my family is still standing.”

Ahmad Ayesh Khalil

I found my wife in Jerusalem on the second day. She had her dress on. Except for that, she left as God brought her. I didn’t have any idea where she was when I was coming to Jerusalem.

We went to Ein Yabrud, another village near Ramallah, where I had an uncle. We went from Jerusalem to Ein Yabrud in a car. At Shoufat, the Israelis were blocking off the road. A tank was blockading the street. We were escorted by British tanks to go through that area which the Israelis had blocked off as a “fire zone.”

I had one child at that time. On the trip from Jerusalem to Ein Yabrud, I lost my daughter because of the bad health conditions: no food, no water like normal people should have. What could I have done?

When we got to Ein Yabrud, the United Nations began helping us by giving us essential foods: flour, bread and so forth. We stayed for more than one year in a storage facility that my uncle had in Ein Yabrud. Then work became available. They opened a road from Ramallah to Tibeah and we paved it.

I went back to see Deir Yassin a few years ago. The house of my family is still standing. In the fields next to our houses they have built a mental hospital for their mentally sick.

We have no notion where our parents are buried. The Israelis go to the Sinai and have a big operation to search for one of their dead, but my mother, my father, my brother, we don’t know where they are. When an Israeli dies they build a memorial at the place and the whole world knows about it. We have one hundred young men from our village and, to this day, we still don’t know where they were when they were killed.



Walid Khalidi, Deir Yasin: Friday 9 Nisan/April 1948 [in Arabic] (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1999).


Salim Tamari, “The City and Its Rural Hinterland,” in Jerusalem 1948: The Arab Neighbourhoods and Their Fate in the War (Jerusalem and Bethlehem: The Institute of Jerusalem Studies and Badil Resource Center, 2002), 74–92.

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