Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Israeli film revisits alleged 1948 massacre of Palestinians

Israeli film revisits alleged 1948 massacre of Palestinians

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Dor beach, built over the village of Tantura, where an alleged massacre of Arabs took place after the surrender of the village, north of the Israeli city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast on Tuesday. AFP

Israeli film revisits alleged 1948 massacre of Palestinians

Israeli director Alon Schwarz concedes he might face a backlash over his documentary on an alleged 1948 massacre of Palestinians, but says the Jewish state’s citizens need “to understand our history”.

Tantura, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last week, revisits a controversial episode from the war that raged during Israel’s creation, in which more than 760,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes.

Tantura was a coastal Mediterranean village in the northwest of what is now Israel, and the scene of fighting between Jewish and Arab forces in May of 1948.

The film in part focuses on Theodore Katz, who as a masters history student in the 1990s collected testimonies – from ex-Israeli soldiers and Arab witnesses – which indicated troops massacred unarmed Palestinians in Tantura outside the context of a battle.

Katz’s paper initially earned top marks from the University of Haifa but became a source of national controversy after his findings were picked up by Israeli media in 2000.

Veterans of the Israeli unit that fought in Tantura, the Alexandroni Brigade, sued Katz for defamation and he ultimately issued a retraction, a move he now regrets.

Katz is a main character in Schwarz’s documentary, which includes extensive testimony from former Alexandroni Brigade soldiers and witnesses, and supports claims of a massacre at Tantura.

Schwarz said that he understands the film could face criticism but said he believed that a new generation of Israelis is more willing to discuss difficult episodes in the nation’s history.

“On the one hand, I’m afraid people will go after me but on the other hand, Israel is going through a change,” he said. “I am a Zionist. I am for Jews having their own state but I think it is critical for us to understand our history.”

‘It happened’

Some soldiers interviewed in Tantura deny that any Palestinians were killed outside the context of the battle for the town.

Others unequivocally confirm that Israeli forces shot Arabs dead away from the combat zone, but estimates on the numbers potentially killed vary widely.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Adam Raz, an Israeli historian who works at Akevot, an organisation that specialises in state archives, displays an old picture of Palestinians during an interview with AFP on Tuesday. AFP

“It was silenced,” one veteran, Yossef Diamant, says in the film. “It was horrifying . . . I don’t want to talk about it, but it happened.”

Israel’s army declined to comment on the film or the allegations of a massacre, but Schwarz said he received “helpful, straightforward and professional” assistance from the military during his research.

In addition to witness testimony, notably from Palestinians, Tantura includes expert analysis on how changes in the ground level before and after the conflict suggest human manipulation of the soil consistent with the digging of a mass grave.

The film concludes that several Palestinians were likely buried under what is now a parking lot next to the popular Dor beach.

‘Deal with our past’

After the film’s release, the Palestinian foreign ministry, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, called for “an international commission of inquiry” into the “crimes and massacres” allegedly committed by Israeli forces.

In an editorial, Israel’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper called for “an investigative task force” to probe the events in Tantura.

Schwarz said that he endured “a personal psychological roller coaster” in investigating the events.

“I am this guy who thought I had a grip on our historical reality but I actually grew up on the myth” about the moral purity of the Israeli state, he said.

When it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians, he said, “telling ourselves a story that there wasn’t a people here before is not helpful”.

“That is the founding myth of the nation and I think we need to get real and mature as a society.”

Adam Raz, an Israeli historian who assisted in the film’s production, said that resistance to discussing what happened at Tantura was ultimately not in the national interest.

Jews and Palestinians will live alongside each other “now and in 100 years”, said Raz, who works at Akevot, an organisation that specialises in researching state archives.

“If we want to go forward towards reconciliation, we need to deal with our past.”


  • Hun Sen: Stop Russia sanctions

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said sanctions against Russia as a result of its military offensive in Ukraine should be stopped as they have produced no tangible results, and predicted that a global food crisis would ensue in 2023 as a consequence. Speaking to an audience at

  • Chinese tourists 2.0 – Coming anytime soon?

    Regional tourism is grappling with the absence of the prolific travellers and big spenders – the Chinese tourists. Cambodia, which has welcomed over two million Chinese tourists before Covid-19, is reeling from the economic loss despite being the first to fully open last November ‘To put

  • PM reflects on shoe throwing: Free speech or act of violence?

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 17 questioned whether a man who threw a shoe at him while he was in the US was exercising freedom of expression or if it was an act of hostility. Hun Sen was referring to an incident last week when

  • Siem Reap’s Angkor Botanical Garden opens

    The Angkor Botanical Garden was officially opened on May 19 with free entry for both local and international visitors for the first six weeks. The garden was established on a nearly 15ha plot of land in Siem Reap. “After the first six weeks, Angkor Botanical Garden

  • Pub Street on the cards for Battambang

    The Battambang Provincial Authority has announced that it is considering establishing a Pub Street in the area around the heritage buildings in Battambang town in a bid to attract more tourists. Battambang provincial governor Sok Lou told The Post that the establishment of a Pub

  • Hun Sen: Don’t react to hostility

    Prime Minister Hun Sen urged tolerance and thanked members of the Cambodian diaspora for not reacting to the hostility on display towards him by others while he was in the US to attend the May 12-13 ASEAN-US Special Summit in Washington, DC. In an audio