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One of the ethnic cleansing massacres carried out by the Hag

Anah gangs in Palestine took place in May 1948 in Tantura (south of Haifa), killing about 280 Palestinians, the majority of them men, and they were buried in mass graves. Then the village was completely destroyed, and those who survived were displaced outside. The borders of the occupying state.  

An ancient village

Tantoura is an ancient Palestinian village whose history extends back to the 13th century BC. The Canaanite village of “Dur” sat atop a small, prominent hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, taking the shape of a “Tantura,” meaning a hill shaped like a funnel or a conical hat, about 24 kilometers south of Haifa city.

The village occupies a strategic location in the middle between the largest cities of Palestine and its commercial centers in Jaffa and Haifa, which made it a link for internal commercial activity. The village’s possession of a train station on the coastal line contributed to its prosperity, in addition to its port, which provided a sea outlet to the outside, which made it coveted by the occupation.

By the end of May 1948, Tantura, which extended over an area of ​​14,520 dunums, had become a ruined village, with only a few of its ancient features visible, and its inhabitants, who numbered more than 1,500 people, became a trace after an eye.

The coastal village of Tantura, whose people were displaced by force of arms, and settlements were built on its ruins (Al Jazeera)

Israeli invasion

On May 9, 1948, the occupation authorities, including local leaders of the Haganah armed group, held a meeting to discuss the Arab (Palestinian) villages that were not subject to occupation and were located within the “State of Israel” according to the division approved by the United Nations in 1947. Among these were The villages of Tantura, and the Israeli Council meeting resulted in a decision requiring the expulsion or subjugation of the residents of these villages.

Indeed, one week after the announcement of the establishment of Israel, members of the 33rd Battalion of the Haganah, known as the “Alexandroni” Brigade, specifically the 3rd Battalion, launched an attack on Tantura on the night of May 23, 1948, led by “Dan Epstein” and from all sides, and the entrances to the village and the roads leading to it were closed. To prevent the arrival of support from the surrounding villages, Israeli military boats were roaming the open sea throughout the invasion.

People woke up at midnight to the sounds of bullets and the sound of explosions everywhere. The number of village defenders was small, in addition to weak armament and a lack of ammunition. The defenders also lacked training and experience, which led to a lot of ammunition being wasted during the clash, and it completely ran out in the middle of the night. A short time later, during the attack, Haganah members opened fire on unarmed civilians, killing a group of them in the streets of the village and inside homes.

With the arrival of morning, the village fell into the hands of the occupation, and the soldiers gathered the residents at the beach, separated the women, children, and elderly men from the men, and isolated the men to another side. According to Palestinian eyewitnesses, the Israeli soldiers searched the men and women and stole everything they found of money, gold, jewelry, watches, and identification papers. .

Not even infants were spared from being searched, and when a young girl was late in taking off her earrings, one of the female soldiers snatched them, causing the girl’s ear tore off and starting to bleed. Eyewitnesses also confirmed that cases of rape had occurred.

Zionist gangs prevented the residents of Tantura from returning to their village after the massacre and forced them to leave (Al Jazeera)

Extermination and displacement

That morning, Tantura witnessed a genocide of defenseless residents, especially men and boys over 14 years old, as soldiers opened fire on them, killing most of them.

The number of victims of the massacre - according to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) - is estimated at about 280 people, the majority of whom were men. The villagers were able to write down 128 names, while the rest of the names remained unknown.

By noon, the killing operation had ended with the mayor of the "Zikhron Ya'akov" settlement coming with a written order that he handed over to the soldiers. This contributed to the rescue of about 40 men who were taken to be killed. The remaining men alive were arrested and taken to the Ijlil village prison, where they were forced to work as forced labor for the Israelis.

As for the women, children, and elderly people, who numbered about 1,200 individuals, they were taken on foot to an orchard located east of the village, then loaded into trucks, and transported to the adjacent village of Al-Faridis. Al-Tantura was completely demolished, and the occupation authorities took control of all its lands.

During that summer, most of the people of Tantura were expelled from other areas controlled by Israel, and only about 200 people remained in Al-Furaidis, most of them children and women whose husbands were arrested. These residents were later deported outside Israel’s borders, during prisoner exchanges, Their families followed them.

Mass graves

After the end of the mass killing, the village was filled with corpses, in homes, roads, squares, the beach, and even the streets leading to the village, to the point that the process of burying them, according to the confession of Israeli soldiers, took about 10 days.

The occupation forces forced dozens of Tantura men to dig large trenches, collect the bodies that filled the place, and then bury them in those trenches. After they finished the “mission,” the soldiers also finished them off and buried them with the bodies in those mass graves.

The British research agency Forensic Architecture, which conducts investigations into state violations, at the request of the “Adalah” human rights center, and in cooperation with a committee of the people of Tantura, conducted an investigation into the mass graves in the village. It took 18 months, and modern techniques were used to analyze archival materials. Aerial photographs and maps of the village, and the testimonies of survivors of the massacre.

In May 2023, the results of the investigation revealed 4 sites of mass graves in Tantura, one of which is located under a parking lot on the beach, the second is under a pedestrian walkway inside the tourist village, the third is on the beach near Hajj Yahya’s house, and the last is located inside the historic Islamic cemetery of the village.

Survivors of the Tantura massacre while being displaced and transported by buses to other areas (Al Jazeera)

The official Israeli story

Official Israeli accounts ignored the facts of the Tantura massacre, and the occupation army contented itself with claiming that the village sheltered about 50 refugees from other areas, who prepared in cooperation with other villages to confront the occupation forces. Accordingly, the army considered the village a hostile base that must be attacked.

On the other hand, the armed group "Haganah" claimed that the village was a smuggling point for Egyptian volunteers coming to Palestine by sea.

The Israeli army announced - in a military statement - that it captured hundreds during the attack, in addition to large quantities of spoils. The Israeli authorities denied that a massacre had occurred, and expressed that it was a battle like any other.

Israeli testimonies confirm that a massacre occurred

Memories of the tragedy remained for a long time as oral narratives narrated by those who survived it, while all official Israeli and other sources and narratives remained silent about the massacre, until Israeli researcher Theodor (Teddy) Katz completed a master’s thesis in 1998 related to the events that occurred on the night of May 23, 1948. And the next day in Tantora.

His research was based on secret official Israeli documents, and audio-recorded testimonies from eyewitnesses from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, including soldiers from the “Alexandroni Brigade” who participated in the massacre. He revealed the occurrence of a massacre and proven war crimes committed by members of the “Haganah” that day in Tantura.

One of the mass graves in Tantura has become a parking lot (Al Jazeera)

In 2022, recorded testimonies of soldiers who participated in the massacre were published, some in audio and video, through a documentary film by Israeli director “Alon Schwartz” that talks about the genocide crimes that occurred against the defenseless residents of Tantura.

Tavo Heller, a faction leader in the "Alexandroni" Brigade, confirmed - during the documentary - that they took control of the village on the orders of former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who ordered the expulsion of the Arabs. The soldiers admitted that they arrested all the residents, shot them, exterminated the men, and then deported the women, children, and the elderly.

The killing in that incident - according to the soldiers' confession - was without account, and one of those who participated in the massacre stated that he did not know the number of people he killed, as he had a machine gun and 250 bullets, all of which he used to kill the Palestinians. Another confirms, “We killed them without mercy.” Among their confessions is that they piled people into a barrel and then shot them, and blood was pouring from the barrel.

One of them confirms that the massacre was subject to a complete blackout, and they were forbidden to talk about it, because what happened was terrible. He said, “The soldiers took a flamethrower, pursued the residents, and burned them.” A soldier also put people in cages with barbed wire, then shot them, and raped a 16-year-old girl. As for soldier Hachim Levin, he tells how a colleague of his opened fire on a group of 15 to 20 Palestinians and killed them all.

Source: Al Jazeera + websites