Investigate Israeli veterans’ testimonies; commemorate mass Palestinian grave

This is a reprint of an editorial in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz from January 24, 2022.

The renewed discussion of the capture of Tantura during the War of Independence is aimed at correcting a historic injustice for which the responsible parties include the courts, historians and elderly soldiers.

All of the above joined forces around a quarter of a century ago in an effort to silence any attempt to discuss the war crimes that, according to testimony from both soldiers and victims, were committed in May 1948.

The tragic hero of this story is Teddy Katz, who, as a student of history at the University of Haifa in the 1990s, collected evidence which led him to the conclusion that Jewish soldiers had massacred civilians and then buried them in a mass grave. Katz did what few MA students bother to do. Rather than making do with research based on books, he actually did some legwork to speak to the last surviving witnesses of this historical event and record their memories.

After the media reported on his master’s thesis, which received an outstanding grade, he was sued for libel by some of the former soldiers and forced to retract his conclusion and apologize. Later, his thesis was disqualified and he was tarred as having been responsible for a “blood libel.” His attempt to retract his retraction did not work.

In a new film, “Tantura,” Alon Schwarz did what the court refused to do at the time. He listened to the recordings Katz made of the soldiers, then met with them to hear their stories for himself. The result is chilling, and it reveals that the real victim of a blood libel was not the soldiers who fought in 1948, as they tried to claim, but the student who tried to expose what they did and was silenced. Some of them admitted openly that they were “murderers” who “took no prisoners”. Others went into even more detail. Above all, there was recurrent testimony about a mass grave dug at the site of what is a beach today.

Schwarz’s important work, which corrects the injustice done to Katz, may also lead to the correction of a much greater historical injustice by prompting a thorough investigation into what happened there. Was there indeed a mass slaughter? Or “only” sporadic killings of civilians?

For this purpose, an investigative task force comprised of historians, forensic experts and pathologists, both Arab and Jewish, should be set up to go over the testimony and excavate the ground to determine whether the remnants of a mass grave are indeed located there and what can be learned from them. They will have to do this despite the fact that the suspicions of a massacre stem solely from oral testimony; no documents providing evidence of it have yet been found.

In addition to this research, a memorial plaque should be posted there – not just for the Jews who fell there, but also for residents of the Arab village who were buried there after being executed, whether through a systematic massacre or sporadic murders.
This was Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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