Opinion |

Palestinians Have Talked About the Tantura Massacre, but a Jewish Film Made It Fact

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
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Tantura residents flee their village, May 1948.
Tantura residents flee their village, May 1948. Credit: Benno Rothenberg / Meitar Collection, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, National Library of Israel
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

The day Palestinians’ native knowledge is legitimized and acceptable to Israeli ears, Jewish filmmakers and researchers will be able to spare us the embarrassing and subjugating reminder time after time. Tantura, as you have just discovered, illustrates the mechanisms of silencing and erasure that serve the Zionist narration of history – as all the information is buried in the archives just like Palestinians were buried without anyone knowing of their existence.

Gideon Levy wrote about the ghosts of Tantura, but the story extends much deeper than what you might think you know. It is a story about the control of knowledge, when the Zionist sovereign is the sole party responsible for burying the Nakba in various ways – in archives, by planting forests, through erasure. It’s the same mechanism that reinforces the Zionist supremacy that time after time gazes upon the Nakba “from above,” as if it had nothing to do with it.

Despite Palestinian testimonies about the massacre, proof and approval of the knowledge is still required from Jews to prove that a massacre indeed occurred, and not just from any Jews, but from fighters who were part of that colonial apparatus.

Over a decade ago, the Egyptian writer Radwa Ashour wrote the book “The Woman from Tantura” that was translated into English. The book is based on testimonies from the Tantura and includes testimonies from Palestinian men and women (because there were also women who were trapped in the cellars or escaped) who were there. But the book did not meet the test of the Zionist left, and also elicited an outcry from so-called Middle East experts who recite the Zionist line, denying the evidence and even claiming that Ashour was a liar and not credible.

Until just recently, they would have all said there was no massacre in Tantura. These are the same sort of voices that continually reject every testimony from Palestinians regarding 1948. Why should we believe the Palestinians? Who are they anyway? You’re right. You need a Jew to make a movie and present the testimony of Jews, who are the only credible and acceptable witnesses. And not just any Jews: It has to be the ones who committed the massacre.

So you’re horrified by the fact that there is a mass grave under the Dor Beach parking lot? Wait until you find out what happened to the Palestinian village of Bar’am whose inhabitants were expelled in 1948. The site is now called Kibbutz Bar’am. It was built on the ruins of the Palestinian houses that are within the national park there. The residents were not permitted to return to their village, as the ruins of the houses and the church of the village and the descendants of those who were expelled will testify. You don’t feel the ghosts when you’re on your hike in the national park there?

And what about Asqalan, now known as Ashkelon? And Um Rash-Rash now called Eilat, and Bisan now called Beit She’an? And if that’s not enough for you, you can go around the north where ghosts hover over every corner of the JNF forests adjacent to the Palestinian villages of Suhmata, Aqrath, Ibtan and Al-Bassa.

These names have no meaning to you. Now the cool thing is to talk about “Tantura” because the fighters who were there broke their silence, partially, in broken words. The sad thing is that in the whole film about Tantura, there is no genuine expression of remorse over what was done. I waited to hear something like that, but to them, an order is an order and was not to be questioned. Even now, the Zionist mechanisms of denial will work overtime to cast doubt on these testimonies. That’s how it works – confess, deny, erase, whitewash.

Indigenous Palestinian knowledge is more meaningful and valuable than any movie, but is given no outlet for expression or legitimacy in Israel, not even among the Zionist left. It’s so much more comfortable to be shocked from the side, because that doesn’t require any deep thought about the way in which the Palestinians’ history is being erased. Welcome to Tantura and all the other places like it.

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