NEW YORK– A pro-Arab lobby group which has always claimed that 254 Arabs died during the 1948 battle of Deir Yassin has quietly changed its story, and now admits that about 100, not 254, were killed. The change comes just weeks after the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) released a study showing that the number of Arabs killed in Deir Yassin was less than half of what has been claimed, and that they were not massacred.

The “Deir Yassin Remembered” group, which is headed by Daniel McGowan of Hobart & William Smith Colleges (NY), had repeatedly claimed that 254 Arabs died at Deir Yassin. For example, in the April 1996 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, McGowan wrote of “254 innocent men, women and children who were systematically slaughtered.” A February 1998 posting on the group’s web site, the “Deir Yassin Remember Online Information Center,” claimed that “In all, 254 men, women, and children were systematically slaughtered.”

But during the past week, the “Deir Yassin Remembered Group” has twice revised the death toll downwards. In a press release on March 22, 1998, McGowan wrote that “an estimated 100-250 Arab villagers were slaughtered.” Then, in a listing of forthcoming activities, released on March 25, 1998, McGowan reported that “over 100 Palestinian men, women and children were killed.”

The changes in the death toll count come in the wake of the ZOA’s publication of a new study, Deir Yassin History of a Lie, a 32-page analysis (with 156 footnotes) by ZOA National President Morton A. Klein. (For a free copy, please call (212) 481-1500.)

Among other things, the ZOA study shows that the original claim of 254 dead was not based on any actual body count. The number was invented by Mordechai Ra’anan, leader of the Jewish soldiers who fought in Deir Yassin. He later admitted that the figure was a deliberate exaggeration in order to undermine the morale of the Arab forces, which had launched a war against the Jews in Mandate Palestine to prevent the establishment of Israel. Other eyewitnesses to the battle estimated that about 100 Arabs had died. Despite Ra’anan’s admission, the figure 254 was circulated by Palestinian Arab leader Hussein Khalidi. His claims about Deir Yassin were the basis for an article in the New York Times claiming a massacre took place–an article that has been widely reprinted and cited as “proof” of the massacre throughout the past 50 years.

The ZOA study describes how in 1987, researchers from Bir Zeit University, an Arab university in Palestinian Authority territory, interviewed every Arab survivor of the battle and concluded that the number of civilians who died in Deir Yassin could not have been more than 120. Despite the study, the “Deir Yassin Remembered” group continued using the figure of 254 dead.

ZOA president Klein said “Now that the ZOA has publicized the Bir Zeit University findings and proven that far fewer Arabs died than was always claimed, the pro-Arab propagandists have been forced to quietly change their story. Our booklet proves not only that the death toll was falsely inflated, it also proves there was no massacre, rape, or mutilation.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Hussein Khalidi is at the center of a startling new report, in which several Arab eyewitnesses to the Deir Yassin battle admitted that some of their original claims about Jewish atrocities were fabricated. The latest issue of the Jerusalem Report (April 2, 1998) reveals that in a forthcoming BBC television program, Hazem Nusseibeh, an editor of the Palestine Broadcasting Service’s Arabic news in 1948, admits that he was told by Hussein Khalidi to fabricate claims of atrocities at Deir Yassin in order to encourage Arab regimes to invade the Jewish state-to-be.

According to the Jerusalem Report, Nusseibeh “describes an encounter at the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City with Deir Yassin survivors and Palestinian leaders, including Hussein Khalidi… ‘I asked Dr. Khalidi how we should cover the story,’ recalled Nusseibeh. ‘He said, “We must make the most of this.” So we wrote a press release stating that at Deir Yassin children were murdered, pregnant women were raped. All sorts of atrocities.'”

The BBC program then shows a recent interview with Abu Mahmud, who was a Deir Yassin resident in 1948, who says that the villagers protested against the atrocity claims “‘We said, “There was no rape.” [Khalidi] said, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.'”

Nusseibeh, who is a member of one of Jerusalem’s most prominent Arab families and presently lives in Amman, told the BBC that the fabricated atrocity stories about Deir Yassin were “our biggest mistake,” because “Palestinians fled in terror” and left the country in huge numbers after hearing the atrocity claims.

In 1948, Labor Zionist leaders initially claimed there was a massacre, in order to score points against the rival Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Group, the fighters who conquered Deir Yassin. But Israel’s Labor-led governments have, over the years, gradually rescinded the massacre accusation. A little-known 1952 Defense Ministry judicial court ruled that Deir Yassin was a legitimate military target. Official Israeli government statements about Deir Yassin, in 1960 and 1969 (under Foreign Ministers Golda Meir and Abba Eban), formally rebuked the Labor Zionist officials who had made the false massacre accusation in 1948, describing the “massacre” charge as a “fairy tale” and a “big lie.”

Meanwhile, the “Deir Yassin Remembered” group intends to hold a “50th Anniversary Memorial Conference” at the Hakawati theater in Jerusalem on April 9, 1998. On the same day, in Los Angeles, Arab activists intend to hold a “vigil” outside the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, which commemorates the Holocaust. They will also be holding a vigil at the University of California at Davis, and a rally in Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1998, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Israel.