Israel's Tantura massacre: When the victims are Palestinians, the world believes only the executioners
“My grandmother told me that they killed all the men in Tantura, and I believe my grandmother.”
This is how Ghada Majadli, the granddaughter of a Nakba survivor who witnessed the Tantura massacre, replied to a tweet in which I shared photos documenting the expulsion of Palestinians from Tantura.
For decades, Palestinians talked about the Tantura massacre and wrote about it in their scholarship and literature. Through sharing stories, they have kept the memory of what happened in Tantura alive for generations.
But it wasn’t until Israeli veterans confessed to killing over 200 Palestinians in Tantura, turning the village into a mass grave, that the massacre received international media attention.
"For over a century, Western powers that embrace and back Zionism have robbed Palestinians of the 'permission to narrate,' by either not permitting them to tell their stories or discrediting them when they do"
For Palestinians, the history of Tantura is part of an ongoing trend whereby Palestinian narratives are silenced or ignored. It has become a regular occurrence that Israeli veterans or academics confirm details about atrocities committed during the Nakba or confirm that ethnic cleansing in 1948 was part of a conscious plan to empty Palestine of its Arab majority population.
For their part, Palestinians never waited for Israelis to validate their narrative. What made their oral history accounts go unnoticed is a combination of racist and colonialist attitudes towards Palestinians, which the West has embraced for a long time.
For over a century, Western powers that embrace and back Zionism have robbed Palestinians of the “permission to narrate,” by either not permitting them to tell their stories or discrediting them when they do. In the absence of a Palestinian narrative, Zionist forces have been able to deny Palestinians their rights, aspirations, and even their very existence.
The denial of the Tantura massacre was not just about hiding evidence of brutality or worrying about outside perception. The Israeli regime and its Western allies actively suppress discourse on the Nakba because it exposes the brutal and violent roots of today’s reality. Controlling the narrative has been at the very crux of the Zionist project since its inception.
The following are photos from the "IDF and Defense" Archive, taken in May and June 1948, showing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Village of Tantura. However, something is missing from the photos, can you tell what? pic.twitter.com/bXceJ5hJv5— Jehad Abusalim جِهَاد أبو سليم (@JehadAbusalim) January 22, 2022
For this reason, Palestinians say, “the Nakba is continuous.” The Nakba has been a process of erasure, removal, and ethnic cleansing that started before, during, and after 1948. The Tantura and all the massacres were one violent component of that process.
When Palestinians talk about such events, they don’t separate them from their broader historical and political contexts. This framework for understanding the roots of the Palestinian plight is what Israel and its allies consciously choose to dismiss and ignore.
The dismissal of the Palestinian narrative is no less violent than the physical violence Palestinians face every day in refugee camps and under Israel’s occupation. For Palestinians, telling their stories is not a luxury, it is burdensome and exhausting. Recounting past pain while experiencing the misery of the present and the uncertainty of the future has a huge toll on Palestinians, and perpetuates historical injustices.
Yet, such accounts are met with cynicism and denial, but Palestinians persist in their effort to tell their stories in political ways, and push for a framing for the past, present, and future that calls for justice through addressing the 1948 roots of today’s predicament.
Israel and its allies fear such framing of the reality to become the primary lens through which the international public understands the Palestinian plight. This may lead to efforts to transform this reality from one where a certain group is privileged at the expense of another to a framework rooted in equality and justice for all, which would threaten the very fabric of the Jewish-majority state.
Of course, the main obstacle hindering such a shift is the racist and colonialist structures Israel and its allies put in place. These are the same structures that caused the Tantura massacre and continue to inflict pain on Palestinians today.
It would be naïve to expect such structures to be moved thanks to the confessions of elderly veterans about their past brutal acts. In the 1980s, a group of Israeli academics and scholars, known as the new historians, challenged the founding myths of the traditional Israeli narrative about the events that led to the establishment of the Israeli state and the Palestinian Nakba.
Based on archival research, historians such as Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, and Avi Shlaim produced scholarly work that questioned the main pillars of Israel’s official history on 1948 concerning issues such as the Palestinian mass exodus and the balance of power during the 1948 war.
"To expect justice from the state that emerged from the very structure that committed massacres such as Tantura, Deir Yassin, and Khan Yunis is at best naïve and at worst disingenuous"
The “discoveries” of Israel’s revisionist historians in the 1980s inspired brief conversations in the academy and the activist worlds. Still, they failed to cause a fundamental disruption of the ongoing Nakba.
The new historians either took a reactionary u-turn, like Benny Morris, who lamented that Israel didn’t finish the job of ethnic cleansing after researching instances of direct expulsion of Palestinians during the Nakba. Others, like Ilan Pappe, were ostracised from Israeli society, mainly after he supported student Teddy Katz, who wrote an MA thesis at the University of Haifa about the Tantura massacre, which the university censored.
Like Israel’s new historians’ research, the recent confessions of Israeli veterans about Tantura will reach a dead end. In an op-ed published following the controversy of the testimonies, the Haaretz Editorial called for an investigation of the testimonies and a commemoration of the mass grave at Tantura.
This approach to addressing past crimes is fundamentally why accountability won’t take place. To expect justice from the state that emerged from the very structure that committed massacres such as Tantura, Deir Yassin, and Khan Yunis is at best naïve and at worst disingenuous.
The massacre of Tantura is not an event that can be relegated to an unfortunate past that to be commemorated. Palestinians commemorate their victims by sharing their stories and resisting erasure, but the only way to honour Palestinian victims, including those of Tantura, is to end the Nakba.
Today, Israel kills Palestinians in the hundreds in Gaza, expels and uproots entire communities in Sheikh Jarrah and the Naqab, and pushes them into crowded Bantustans in the West Bank while taking over their lands for settlements.
This present reality is the ultimate reflection of how the Nakba continues today, and it continues because its 1948 roots were accepted and normalised. Without a serious reconfiguration of the reality on the ground that disrupts the Israel’s settler-colonial structures, Palestinians will continue to suffer.
If the world continues to deny Palestinians the authority to narrate their own history, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians will continue in plain sight and achieving accountability for the Tantura massacre will be impossible.
"If the world continues to deny Palestinians the authority to narrate their own history, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians will continue in plain sight and achieving accountability for the Tantura massacre will be impossible"
For Palestinians, ending the Nakba is not just about correcting past mistakes but about creating a better present and future rooted in equality, justice, and dignity for all.
The lesson from this recent controversy is clear. Believe Palestinians, centre their narrative, and listen to their demands.
Jehad Abusalim is the Education and Policy Coordinator at the Palestine Activism Program of the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago.
Follow him on Twitter: @JehadAbusalim
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.