Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of world news will surely know about the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine. But while current newscasts keep us abreast of the today’s struggle, many are unaware of the historical events in this extensive timeline. Director Alon Schwarz seeks to address this collective amnesia with his disquieting documentary Tantura, by uncovering the truth behind the destruction of the titular Palestinian village in the mid 20th century.
Tantura revisits the aftermath of a pivotal moment in history, when war broke out in response to Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. For Israelis, the subsequent conflict would come to be known in heroic terms as the War of Independence. But for the Palestinians, it is forever remembered as “Nakba” (The Catastrophe). The extreme discord between perceptions of the “truth” is reflected in discussions surrounding the depopulation of Palestinian villages such as Tantura. Despite recorded confessions of the atrocities committed against the Palestinians, Israeli society refuses to reckon with its shameful past through willful ignorance and denial.
Indeed, the truth is up for debate throughout Tantura, as we listen to conflicting accounts of what happened to the once vibrant village. Central to the discussion is the work of an academic named Teddy Katz, whose recorded testimonials and subsequently published thesis exposed atrocious war crimes committed. As Schwarz rekindles the conversation surrounding these events, excerpts from these tapes prove invaluable to both the film’s power and the audience’s understanding.
From this academic foundation, Schwarz dedicates much of the film to interviews with former soldiers, Palestinian survivors and other elderly citizens with memories of the time period. The resulting statements are equally as shocking as the tapes, especially from the former soldiers. While denying the unsanctioned killings, they simultaneously recall their wartime attacks with a nonchalant confidence and pride.
Admittedly, this reliance on the soldiers’ dubious accounts eventually feels somewhat redundant and makes for a challenging watch. Thankfully, the intermitttent perspectives of Palestinians and more sympathetic Israelis provide a welcome nuance and counterpoint. In addition, the largely unresolved nature of the discourse and investigation may feel unsatisfying for some viewers. But this dilemma is emblematic of the ongoing difficulties facing true reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. In doing so, Tantura ultimately makes astute observations about post-truth politics and the ways in which those with power can wrongfully define history. As such, it sends a sobering message for us all.