Tantura: A Zionist Massacre in Myth and Memory

Comrade Morlock
3 min readJan 18, 2024
The Expulsion of Tantura’s villagers, Benno Rothenberg /Meitar Collection / National Library of Israel / The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Something horrible happened at Tantura. Even the people who try hardest to wave it away admit that — they quibble over how horrible it was. Were forty or fifty Arab fighters killed while defending their village from Zionist fighters? Were 200 or more civilians, mostly male but including some women, machine-gunned after they surrendered? Was a young woman raped, or did a Zionist try to rape her, only to be caught and beaten by his fellows? How should Tantura be remembered?

That’s the question asked in a controversial documentary, Alon Schwarz’s Tantura.

“For me, the film is more than anything else an intimate, eye-opening document about our culture — a nation of people wanting to keep their story pure and beautiful — and a historical reality that must be faced and acknowledged as we mature as a society.” —Alon Schwarz

I admire the documentary because it’s not just about what happened at Tantura in 1948. It’s about the people who try to remember the past and the people who try to rewrite it. Perhaps my favorite comment in the film is by an old Jewish woman who came to Tantura after its inhabitants had been expelled and helped make a kibbutz. She says she recently visited Poland and saw that the Holocaust was being remembered there. Why couldn’t there be monuments in Israel to the Nakba?

The answer is that Ben Gurion wanted to create a simple national myth about the noble Israel Defence Forces and the vicious Palestinians who chose to abandon their homes. The Tantura documentary puts the lie to both claims. I chose the picture for this piece because it shows IDF members giving water to one of the old women they are expelling in buses. The soldier looks at the camera with a fascinating expression: Is he surprised by the photographer, or is he looking at the camera because the moment has been staged for its propaganda value?

Conservative Israeli historian Benny Morris tries his best to debunk the documentary in The Tantura Myth: It Makes No Sense That Palestinian Villagers Never Mentioned a Massacre, but he focuses on the question of whether hundreds were killed and ignores the fact that, as at Deir Yassin, the numbers may have been exaggerated but a massacre occurred. Whatever the numbers, the testimony of Jewish fighters tells us something bad…

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Comrade Morlock

If you’re losing an argument with me and are too proud to admit defeat, please feel free to insult me instead.