Very little was known about this massacre until 1998 when an Israeli graduate student at HaifaUniversity, Teddy Katz, wrote his master’s thesis based on oral testimonies by both Jewish and Arab witnesses. The author meticulously examined these testimonies and concluded that a huge massacre, one that is bigger than the infamous massacre of Deir Yasin, took place at the coastal Palestinian village of Tantura on 23 May 1948.
Katz’s findings were first published in the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, in 1998 and were corroborated by other testimonies and witness accounts by other survivors in refugee camps in both Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Of the 1,500 people, who made up the population of the village, it is believed that 1,300 were murdered by machine-gun fire. Some of the survivors fled to the nearby village of al-Fureidis, who, too, were eventually expelled to neighbouring Arab countries. The killings and expulsions were carried out by Hagana’s Third Battalion.
Today, only a shrine, a fortress, an ancient well and a few of the houses remain. Many date palm trees and some cactus plants are spread about the site, which was turned into an Israeli recreational area with swimming facilities. (All That Remains, pp. 194-195)
Testimony by Fawzi al-Tanji
Tanji, who miraculously survived the massacre by fleeing with the few who were not killed, was interviewed by the Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv. The old man, who was 74 when the interview took place, began to sob as soon as he was asked to revive the memory of the massacre.
“They (the Jewish terrorists) took us to the village graveyard. 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 were shot. 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.”
Another survivor, Abdul Razzaq al-Ashmawi, 64 at the time of the interview, told the story of how he lost 12 members of his family who were all shot on the doorsteps of their homes. He also described how more than 25 men were lined up in front of the village mosque and shot by the Hagana terrorists.
Testimony by Muhammad Abu Hana, born in 1936, resident of the Yarmuk Camp
“We were awakened in the middle of the night by heavy gun fire. The women began to scream and run out of the houses, carrying their children, and gathered in several places in the village. I went out of the house, too, and began running around the streets to see what was going on. Suddenly a woman shouted to me: ‘Your uncle is wounded! Quick, bring some alcohol!’ I saw my uncle bleeding heavily from the shoulder. Being young, I was unconscious of the danger. I grabbed an empty bottle and ran to the dispensary nearby. Zahabiyya, the nurse, was there. She was one of the Christians of the village. She filled the bottle with alcohol, and I ran back to my uncle. The women cleaned the wound and took my uncle to our house where he hid from the soldiers in the grain attic. But the soldiers saw the trail of blood and soon burst in, asking my grandfather where my uncle was. My grandfather said he didn’t know. They left but came back several times with the same question. At some point my uncle, who was in pain, asked for a cigarette and my grandmother gave him one. When the soldiers came back again, the smell of the tobacco guided them to him. They took him away. On their way out, they insulted my grandfather and called him a liar, and he answered back that anyone would protect his own son.
“My uncle survived thanks to the intervention of the mukhtar of the Jewish colony Zichron Yaacov. He had good relations with my grandfather, who was the mukhtar of Tantura. At 9 in the morning, the shooting stopped and the attackers rounded everyone up on the beach.
“They sorted them out, the women and children on one side, the men on the other. They searched the men and ordered them to keep their hands above their heads. Female soldiers searched the women and took all their jewelry, which they put in a soldier’s helmet. They didn’t give them back when they expelled us to Furaydis. During the entire operation, military boats were offshore.
“On the beach, the soldiers led groups of men away and you could hear gun fire after each departure. Towards noon, we were led on foot to an orchard to the east of the village, and I saw bodies piled on a cart pulled by men of Tantura, who emptied their cargo in a big pit. Then trucks arrived and women and children were loaded onto them and driven to Furaydis. On the road, near the railroad tracks, other bodies were scattered about.”