On this day in May 1948, up to 200 Palestinians were massacred by Israeli troops in the coastal village of Tantura, located 35 kilometres south of Haifa. It was one of the 64 Palestinian coastal villages on the road between Tel Aviv and Haifa, of which only two remain today, Furaydis and Jisr Al-Zarka. The rest were ethnically cleansed, as were hundreds of other villages, towns and cities elsewhere in occupied Palestine.
What: Tantura Massacre
When: 22-23 May 1948
A week after David Ben-Gurion, the executive head of the World Zionist Organisation, declared the establishment of the State of Israel, the small coastal village of Tantura became the scene of one of the worst massacres carried out by Zionist colonial forces against the indigenous Palestinian population. The massacre took place against the backdrop of what the Palestinians call the Nakba, the catastrophe which saw 750,000 Palestinians, nearly three quarters of the population, being driven out of their homes by Zionist paramilitary groups. The catastrophe is now the longest running refugee crisis in the modern era.
By the beginning of May 1948, Tantura was one of the last remaining Palestinian villages on the stretch of the coastal plain south of Haifa to Tel Aviv. It had a population of 1,500 and like many Palestinian villages scattered along the cost thrived in an economy based around fishing and agriculture. The village was assigned to Israel under the controversial 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. It was not until six months later that the full extent of the terrible fate inflicted on Tantura by the international community would be known.
On 9 May, members of the Jewish terrorist group Irgun, which bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem two year earlier backed by the Haganah, held a meeting to decide what to do with the handful of villages scattered along the coast. Before turning their attention to unarmed villagers in Tantura, the Haganah and the more extreme militant Zionist terrorist organisation the Stern Gang were part of a brutal military campaign which led eventually to more than 600 Palestinian towns and villages being razed to the ground. Dozens of massacres were carried out during the “Plan Dalet” campaign, including one in Deir Yassin, six weeks before Israeli soldiers swept through Tantura.
The Haganah’s Thirty-Third Battalion (the Third Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade) attacked the village, killing up to 200 Palestinians. The massacre took place during the night and lasted several hours, according to Palestinian witnesses. Their accounts of the massacre by Israeli forces have been documented. According to some sources, as many as 300 Palestinians are said to have been killed.
What happened next?
Following its creation, Israel took measures to control the narrative of its own creation in occupied Palestine. Before the military opened its archives from 1948, its policy was to forbid the release of any documents detailing the ethnic cleansing and human rights violations, including war crimes committed by Israeli forces, or anything that might “harm the [Israel Defence Forces]’s image” or expose it as “devoid of moral standards.” Historians have cited Tantura in describing the cover-up, showing just how effective silence over Israel’s brutal past has been in obscuring crimes against humanity.
Over the years, the release of classified documents has further confirmed Palestinian accounts of the countless massacres perpetrated by Zionist paramilitary groups and Israeli soldiers. The full extent of the violence perpetrated by Israeli soldiers against the villagers in Tantura has also been retold by academics and filmmakers. An Israeli researcher named Theodore Katz produced a thesis for the University of Haifa which found that the occupation state had committed the mass murder of civilians in Tantura. Katz based his research on 140 hours of audiotaped interviews conducted with 135 witnesses to the event, half of them Jews, half of them Arabs.
Recounting the massacre, Katz’s account described how Tantura’s population was rounded up on the beach. Women and children were separated from male children and young men aged roughly 13-30. Deputy company commander Shimshon Mashvitz ordered soldiers to take groups of young men, line them up against a wall and shoot them in the head. About 85 were killed in this manner. According to Katz, 200 were killed altogether. Israeli soldiers dumped the Palestinian bodies in mass graves on top of which now sits a popular Israeli beach resort.
Filmmaker Alon Schwarz produced a documentary, Tantura, which had its world premiere last year at the Sundance Festival. Katz is one of the central characters in the documentary.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.