On the Trail of Undocumented Massacres
There is no need to dig into the past, many people believe. But if the memories of the past still surround the present and shape the future, then it is vital that history not be forgotten. But what if the victor writes this history? This is why the re-discovery of the Al-Tantura massacre in northern Palatine in May of 1948 has received greater attention than many massacres that Palestinians insist took place. This time the victor is the one confessing, and this time, many believe.
Israel's history is shaped by denial, denying any wrongdoing, that is. In the meantime, they viciously attach anyone who may attempt to question what they perceive to be the correct interpretation of history. Yet, surprisingly, once every few years, an Israeli confession is made. And whether that confession is related to the possession of nuclear weapons or the Mossad's unethical activities, it always manages to shock the world.
It all started with a study conducted by a well-respected Israeli historian as part of a graduate degree program at the University of Haifa. The study however, revealed information that has brought great pain to the living memory of many Palestinians. To the Israelis, on the other hand, a split in sentiment over the findings was evident; some hid in shame while others utterly denied the allegations. The study, conducted by Teddy Katz, spoke of a forgotten and undocumented massacre committed against the peaceful residents of a Palestinian village named Al-Tantura during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.
Al-Tantura, which sat gently on a hillside overlooking the beautiful scenery of northern Palestine, was the home of 1500 Palestinians. One night in May of 1948, Jewish militias seized the village. On the next day, Al-Tantura was emptied of all of its inhabitants, save 200 hundred men, women and children. Those left behind, according to the study, were killed and buried in mass graves. With little means to survive, the rest of village residents fled.
Although the Israeli researcher's "discovery" didn't come exactly as a surprise to most Palestinians -- especially those who are familiar with Israel's conduct in Palestine and Lebanon throughout the years -- many of them were relieved to know that the long-denied blood of those innocents is finally being acknowledged.
Fawzi al-Tanji, an old Palestinian man, was then 21-years old and living in Al-Tantura with his large family. When he miraculously survived the killings, his family was no longer so large. Fawzi was interviewed by an Israeli paper, Ma'ariiv, which reported on Katz's research. The minute he was asked to retrieve the memory of the massacre, the old man began to sob. "They took us to the village graveyard," he said, referring to troops of the Jewish gang. He went on: "They lined us up in several rows. A Jewish commander came and ordered his troops to pick ten. They did and the chosen ten were lined up beside the cactus plants and shot." He added, "They came back and chose another ten to remove the bodies of the murdered ten and then they themselves were killed." Fawzi lamented, "Oh how I wish I was also shot that day. It would have been much easier than living with the pain all these years."
Abdallraziq al-Ashmawi, another survivor of the massacre told the story of how he lost 12 members of his family who were all shot in front of their home. Al-Ashmawi, now 64 years old, also described a scene in which over 25 men were lined up front of the village mosque and shot by Jewish troops.
Despite their bravery and sacrifice, the villagers, who stood in defense of their village, were defeated. A few old rifles and farming tools apparently failed to compete with the well-equipped and trained Israeli troops. And when the battle was over, the massacres began. According to a Palestinian's eyewitness testimony documented in Katz's report, after the line-up killings, troops roamed the streets and shot everything that moved. Colonel Bints Frieden, who led the Jewish gangs in Al-Tantura and was later promoted to lead a larger Israeli army unit, admitted to the killings, justifying them, by saying that those who were killed in the street had no signs on their backs saying that they were not going to shoot at the Jewish gangs. "This is what happens when a battle breaks out in a residential area," he said. Colonel Frieden however, failed to realize that those who defended the village were the village inhabitants themselves, not a group of outsiders seeking protection and a place to hide.
Where Al-Tantura once stood, there now stands a kibbutz and a large parking lot that Israeli beach lovers use when they come to enjoy what al-Tantura residents once enjoyed: beautiful scenery and the captivating sea.
Yet once upon a time, under that solid concrete parking lot, there was a village. Unlike what most people may think, the village was never completely deserted. Over 200 of its residents have remained, enriching its soil after they watering its land with their blood.
We must remember Al-Tantura and the other 417 villages which were destroyed by Jewish gangs in 1948. We must not let go of the memory of those murdered while heroically defending their rights and each other. And while many of Al-Tantura survivors are aging and dying out with their heavy load of memories, we should collect their stories in our minds and hearts, lest we someday forget why the land of Al-Tantura has been converted to a kibbutz.