The controversy continues over what actually happened in the battle at the Arab village of Deir Yassin in April, 1948. Iâ€™ve discussed it in some detail here. The evidence doesn't support the ongoing allegations of a "massacre," but the myth is alive and well, nonetheless.
But there are many palestinian massacre myths, and they come in all shapes and sizes. You can find a comprehensive (and wholly unsubstantiated) list of them here. Of these, after Deir Yassin, the most infamous is that of the "massacre" at Tantura, an Arab village just south of Haifa.
The first interesting thing about the Tantura story is that itâ€™s a new addition. It exploded into public view in January, 2000, when the Israeli daily Maâ€™ariv first published details of a Haifa University Masterâ€™s thesis entitled "The Exodus of the Arabs from Villages at the Foot of Southern Mount Carmel." The study purported to document a massacre by the Israel Defense Forces' elite Alexandroni Brigade of over 200 residents of Tantura in late May, 1948. More â€œinterestingâ€ is that the author of this work was a middle aged Jewish kibbutz member named Theodore Katz. Katz is also a member of the group of Israeli anti-Zionist revisionists commonly known as â€œnew historians,â€ and a student of Ilan PappÃ©, one of the leading â€œlightsâ€ of that movement. But the most interesting thing about the story is that Mr. Katzâ€™s â€œresearchâ€ has been meticulously examined and revealed to be a complete and utter fraud.
The controversy has been described in a number of places and from a number of perspectives. PappÃ©, Katzâ€™s mentor and one of his thesis advisors, has published an exhaustive defense of both Katz and himself here. This article [original link defunct - this is an archive] in the Jerusalem Post presents quite a different view. An article in the Fall 2001 Middle East Quarterly entitled â€œIsraelâ€™s Academic Extremistsâ€ also includes an interesting analysis. And then thereâ€™s this version from Palestine Media Watch. Just the facts, please.
Mr. Katzâ€™s problems began when veteran Alexandroni Brigade members sued him for libel. After discrepancies were revealed between his interview tapes and the excerpts published in his thesis, Katz agreed to settle the case by publishing a public apology. In what he later described as a moment of weakness, Katz wrote:
I wish to clarify that, after checking and re-checking the evidence, it is clear to me now, beyond any doubt, that there is no basis whatsoever for the allegation that the Alexandroni Brigade, or any other fighting unit of the Jewish forces, committed killings of people in Tantura after the village surrendered. Furthermore, I wish to say that the things I have written must have been misunderstood [by the press] as I had never intended to tell a tale of a massacre in Tantura. . . . I accept as truth [only] the testimonies of those among the Alexandroni people who denied categorically the massacre, and I disassociate myself from any conclusion which can be derived from my thesis that could point to the occurrence of a massacre or the killing of defenseless or unarmed people.Within hours, Katz renounced his apology, but the court required him to honor the agreement nonetheless. When he refused, Brigade veterans published his statement themselves.
Back at Haifa University, a board of inquiry was appointed to review Katzâ€™s work. They, too, found discrepancies as well as coercive and leading interview techniques and selective editing. The thesis was pulled from the library shelves and Katz was given six months to revise the paper. Almost a year later, thereâ€™s no evidence that he has done so.
What has emerged in the interim, however, is the source of funding for Katzâ€™s legal defense. The PLO contributed $10,000 of its hard-earned cash to rescue the Tantura massacre hoax. [Update: Ha'aretz reported that it was $8,000 and paid by former Palestinian Authority minister Feisal Husseini.] When asked to comment, Katz said that he didnâ€™t see anything wrong with that. Of course, one could assume that his backers were likely displeased by his apology. Whether that displeasure might have had anything to do with his subsequent retraction and refusal to honor his settlement agreement is a matter of pure speculation.
As for what really happened at Tantura, contemporaneous news reports in the Israeli press appear to concur with the account given by one of the veterans:
"One of the reasons it was decided to take over over the village was to stop the smuggling of arms and food, and to make sure they didn't cut the main road from north to south, from Haifa to Tel Aviv. At one point, the coastal highway had been cut. Arab accounts naturally tend to differ:
"It was quite a battle. We lost 14 members out of the battalion. Katz's claim about the massacre is wrong for the simple reason that early on, by 10 a.m., 99 percent of the villagers had been transported. We first gathered the fighting men in one area. The women and children were put in another, and we gave them water; most of them were transferred to Faradis. The men were transferred to the police yard in Zichron Ya'akov, and then to the Arab area in Netanya, Um Halid."
Al-Tantura, a village of 1,500 people, sat gently on a hillside overlooking the beautiful scenery of northern Palestine, the rich land and the captivating sea. After a Jewish gang seized control of the area, and in the matter of a few hours one night, the village population was reduced by more than 200 men, women and children.But hereâ€™s the thing. Prior to the publication of Katzâ€™s thesis, there was no mention anywhere of a â€œmassacreâ€ at Tantura, save one: a â€œmemoirâ€ by a Tanturan villager, published in Damascus in 1951 by Sheikh Mohamed Nimr al Khatib, a â€œwell known Imamâ€ (and active member of the Arab National Committee) of Haifa. How strange. As â€œSolomon Socratesâ€ asks in the MEQ article:
By dawn, the village was empty; those who had not been killed had fled. Frightened, with no food and little else, Al-Tantura villagers ran north, south, east and beyond the sea.
But how could legions of anti-Israel researchers have overlooked a massacre in Tantura for two generations? Had such a massacre occurred, it could not have remained secret. Arab spin doctors, especially in the PLO, would long ago have raised any reports of a massacre and nailed it high on the same flagpole from which it has always waved the banners of supposed massacres at Deir Yassin and the Kfar Qasim. The events at Deir Yassinâ€”in sharp contrastâ€”were not only covered by the press at the time and used to great propaganda effect by Arab leaders, but have been a permanent feature of the Arab-Israeli debate ever since. Indeed, in late 1999 [sic], after the Israeli press had written about the Katz thesis, the PLO Ministry of Information and other agencies issued statements and posted news items about the new study on their web pages. Indeed. This account [link defunct], referenced by Socrates in a footnote to the preceding comment, first showed up on the PNA website on February 15, 2000, a few weeks after Maâ€™ariv broke the story. Today there is no shortage of â€œsurvivorsâ€ of the Tantura massacre who are anxious to tell their tales. But where were they from 1948 through 1999? Just too shy to come forward? Or is it perhaps more likely that that their memories were "jogged" by Teddy Katz, who had discovered Sheikh Nimr al-Khatibâ€™s book with its single uncorroborated horror story and set out the details for them to confirm?
The MEQ essay also points to ramifications of this hoax that donâ€™t bode at all well for the future of peace in the region.
Many Arabs who lived in Tantura in 1948 and their descendents now live in the Arab town of Faradis not far away; following the "discovery" of the massacre, Faradis schools began to organize trips to visit the site of the supposed massacre. Faradis, which sits astride one of the two roads to Haifa from the south, had been spared by and large from the rioting and violence that characterized other Arab towns throughout the years of the first intifada. But in September 2000, the town residents rioted violently, blocking highways and battling police, and live ammunition was used. Could the University of Haifa have created a first in academic historyâ€”a violent riot produced by fabrications in a masterâ€™s thesis?The implications of these developments were surely taken to heart by the perpetrators of the latest massacre myth â€“ that of Jenin, 2002. Itâ€™s going to take one more post to weave together the intended and actual consequences of these three fables. Suffice it to say for now that there's been an evolution in the fabrication and dissemination of such stories and that their potential effectiveness is largely unrelated to their verisimilitude.
This entry has been updated to redirect broken and defunct links where possible. 04/27/05