There’s a new and growing class of Israeli filmmakers, born in Israel to second or third-generation Israeli families, who have taken up the mantle of investigating the stories of the founding of the state they were raised to believe.
At well-known film festivals, such as Venice, Telluride and in the case of Tantura, the Sundance Film Festival, well-made, engaging, moving documentary stories are coming from Israelis who consider themselves Zionists but are intent on revisiting history.
One such film, Tantura, by Alon Schwarz, is making its Israeli debut at Tel Aviv’s Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival, beginning tomorrow.
It retells a long-contested story of events that occurred just a week after the founding of Israel at an Arab village located at the most beautiful bit of beachfront north of Caesarea, now known as Dor Beach, on May 22-23, 1948.
Schwarz’s Tantura spotlights the strain within Israel over both acknowledging injustice while denying Palestinians the ability to memorialize a history of the state’s founding that they called Nakba (the catastrophe) Day. The word had been used in Arab and Palestinian literature since 1948 to graphically describe the trauma Arab inhabitants of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages experienced, which resulted in death, destruction and the refugee status after the war resulting from the Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist.
Tantura is the story of one Israeli graduate student who documented personal testimony of atrocities committed in one Arab village whose residents experienced the Nakba.
The central character is Teddy Katz, who was studying for his master’s thesis at Haifa University in the late 1990s. The documentary follows Katz’s research and thesis by re-interviewing many of the Israeli and Palestinian Arabs he found who shared their first-hand memories. The film also tells the story of conflict within Haifa University and between 1948 Israeli war veterans, all within the context of the emergence of a movement called the new historians, publishing revised founding histories of the messy creation of Israel.
This is not new ground, yet Tantura weaves all the strands together to reveal a deep flaw in Israeli society, which Schwarz admitted in a recent conversation, “made me very angry.”
“If we don’t know our own history,” says Schwarz, “we will never be able to understand the whole context of what’s going on here is the story of ‘48.”
“My parents don’t know the history of this country, my friends don’t know. That we acknowledge what happened in ’48 is a necessity for our own society, which has nothing to do with giving back land to Palestinians. The movie is about that Israeli society can’t mature, unable to look in the mirror,” he explained.
“If we want to have a Jewish state, we need to look in the mirror, grow up and acknowledge this is our history.”
Katz’s master’s thesis and the Tantura film showcase competing members of Haifa University faculty, some of whom emerged as new historians. Also included are lawyers and the judge involved in the defamation lawsuit pursued against Katz by aged veterans of the Haganah’s Alexandroni Brigade, who spoke on the record to Katz and Schwarz. As well, featured are founding members of Kibbutz Nachsholim who personally moved into abandoned houses of Tantura after Arab Palestinians inhabitants were deported to refugee camps, and a few former Tantura residents who can still recall specific incidents of May 22/23rd 1948.
Schwarz also endeavors to provide context to extreme violence purportedly carried out by Alexandroni Brigade members who themselves had experienced horrific deadly attacks by armed local Arab militias based in Tantura or nearby. This was an up-close hand-to-hand civil war, disconnected from the invading Arab armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Iraq after the British evacuation on May 14th, 1948. Context is not meant to obscure or rationalize attacks on civilians but to help the viewer comprehend what seems to be incomprehensible. War is Hell.
Says Schwarz in summing it up, “The world is what it is, we can’t be responsible for what our great grandparents did, although in looking forward we can say we’re sorry, let’s find a way to live on, that’s the only way we have a future here.”
Tantura will be streaming for Israelis on Hot 8 and in theaters this summer.