When the killings were done in the Palestinian village of Tantura by Israeli forces in the 1948 massacre, at least 300 to 400 men lay dead in mass graves across the small fishing village near the occupied city of Haifa, which was once home to 1,500 people.
However, the true scale of the heinous war crimes committed in the village – known today as the area of Kibbutz Nahsholim and the Dor beach – by Israel’s Alexandroni Brigade on that night was exposed in a new report, published just last month, on 24 May, exactly 75 years after the night.
The report, based on an extensive investigation conducted by human-rights-focused research group, Forensic Architecture (FA), studied cartographic data and aerial photos sourced from the British mandate era, cross-referenced with archival and newly collected eyewitness testimonies from survivors and perpetrators, including Israeli occupation army records.
Palestinian filmmaker, Hala Gabriel, who contributed to the investigation revealing the locations of three new mass grave sites in Tantura, hopes that the investigation and story of Tantura will serve as a wake-up call to the international community.
She said, “Historically, Palestinian’s have not experienced the privilege of justice and, in truth, justice is difficult, but we should demand accountability from Israel and restitution and the right to return for the millions of Palestinian refugees still stranded in refugee camps.”
Tantura was one of more than 500 Palestinian villages levelled by the Israeli army in the 1948 massacre, known as the Nakba. Some 750,000 Palestinians were forced into exile, dispossessed of their homeland, as a self-professed Jewish state was built over the ruins.
“My family owns most of the land in Tantura and my grandfather leased most of the land to the villagers. On the evening of 22 May, Israeli militia soldiers entered the village with the intention of ethnic cleansing. In the middle of the night and early morning, many of the women and children fled their homes and gathered in my grandfather, Okab’s house. They were hoping that he would be able to keep them safe,” shared Hala.
However, by the following morning, the Israeli forces imposed control of the entire village after killing around 300 villagers. Hala’s father was only 15 years old in May 1948, when Israeli forces attacked him and his family in Tantura and depopulated all its villagers, either through expulsion or murder.
“The militia soldiers took the surviving villagers to the beach. They separated the women and children from the men and, although my dad was only 15 years old at the time, he was forced to sit with the men,” narrated Hala.
“My uncle, Adnan, was also only 17 years old and was forced at gunpoint to bury the dead in a mass grave,” she added.
“Per the findings of the Forensic Architecture investigations, there are two main mass graves and others around the village. My dad, uncles and grandfather were taken to forced labour prison camps. My grandmother, aunts and 3-year-old uncle were taken to a nearby village and later used for prisoner exchange with the Iraqi military. They were eventually forced into Syria, where I was born.”
The year-long investigation by FA revealed two key sites, which the Agency says are very likely mass graves from the time of the occupation of the village, including one previously unidentified.
“Taken together,” FA said in a statement, “the component parts of our investigation demonstrate the ways in which the memory of the land supports the memory of its inhabitants.”
Tantura’s previously identified mass grave was described as being located below a car park for Dor Beach, although the site has not been exhumed or excavated.
An additional possible execution site is believed to have been a courtyard behind the house of the Haj Yahya family, where human bones were reportedly found on the site, years later, leading researchers to assess there may also be a mass grave there.
The FA investigation builds extensively on the documentary “Tantura” by Alon Schwarz, which made headlines last year following its release.
Featuring the perpetrators themselves through audio clips and video interviews collected from Israeli researcher, Teddy Katz, as part of his master’s thesis, a former soldier known as Yosef Diamont, laughs as he recalls a comrade using a machine gun to kill captured Palestinian men as they sat inside a barbed-wire enclosure, and remembered others chasing after villagers and raping a woman.
Arranged by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, the harrowing film was screened at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) last month to mark the 75th anniversary of the massacre, followed by a panel, including Israeli-British historian, Professor Avi Shlaim, Palestinian academic Professor, Nur Masalha and Hala.
Distressingly eye-opening, the film was praised for exposing Israel’s deliberate obliteration of the village of Tantura; however, Professor Masalha noted that the documentary was also ultimately directly supported by the Israeli government, through funding from the Ministry of Culture and Sport.
“This is a film funded by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sports. You must remember that. Is it a hasbara film (Israeli propaganda)? No, it’s much more subtle than that. But it’s a film about Israel’s perspective and multiple Zionists perspectives and very little to do with Palestinian voices. The Palestinian voices are silenced here, and the Israelis are still yet to face consequences for this massacre.”
Ever since Palestinians were forced from their homes by Israel in 1948, the Zionist leadership has developed a scheme to control the Palestinian people, thwart their ability to resist and reject Zionist ongoing occupation and brutalities.
Hala added, “The result of all of this is that, 75 years later, the majority of the Tantura villagers remain living as refugees in UN administered refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”
“There are now five generations living in the camps, living in limbo, with no human rights, no right to return to their home, no citizenship and living at the mercy of regional and international politics. Although my father, uncles and aunts were born in Tantura, and they own the majority of the land, they have no right to return.
Hala, who is also a Production Finance Executive at the American TV and film production company, Netflix, is currently working on a documentary focusing on her relatives and former residents of her family’s home town, Tantura.
“When I started making my film about the massacre in Tantura in 2007, there was virtually no information about Tantura or the other massacres that were committed in Palestine.”
She concluded, “Once my film is completed, I think it will shed even further light on Tantura. Tantura represents a microcosm to the whole story of Palestine.”