Al-Tantura: the memory of colonization

Alya Zoabi

Mondoweiss /  January 28, 2022 

“We don’t need their acknowledgment,” says Salah Abu Salah, a survivor of the Al-Tantura massacre. “The land will testify one day and tell what happened”.

In the early stages of 1948, the village of Al-Tantura was targeted by Israeli militaries; its houses were looted, its Arab Palestinian inhabitants expelled, and others massacred by the Israeli defense forces Alexandroni Brigade. Israel denied the existence of the massacre for years despite the testimonies of its original inhabitants until recently; a 2021 Israeli documentary revealed testimony from several Israeli veterans affirming that a massacre involving more than 200 Palestinian victims had taken place at that time. 

The original inhabitants of Tantura were forced to move to different places; most of them had relatives 50 km away in a town called Fureidis (which translates as “Paradise”), and they had no choice but to live with them. While revisiting the story of Tantura, Salah Abu Salah, who was 8 years old at the time, told me how his family and other families had to move to Fureidis seeking shelter.

In recounting his story Abu Salah told me that after the Israeli defense forces took their homes, “They put us all on a bus and took us to a nearby village and left us there.” For his luck, Abu Salah’s mother had family that lived in Fureidis and they welcomed them to stay with them; other families had nowhere to seek shelter, so they were forced to leave to other areas, and some even fled to Jordan. The mukhtar (the head of the village) of Fureidis was from the Bariyeh family and had no choice but to open the town to Tantura refugees and urge people to shelter them. 

The men had to fight, and the women had to stay with the children at home. Despite his young age then, Abu Salah cannot erase from his memory how his older brother was hungry that evening and kept nagging his mother for food. There was no food in the shelter, women and children had to stay there to stay safe, while men went to protect their homes. Abu Salah’s mom asked his brother to be patient, but he kept nagging. Finally she allowed him to return to their house and find something to eat. Abu Salah can still remember how his brother came back short of breath, mumbling words to his mom about bodies on the ground and dead people. He wasn’t hungry anymore.

The dead were not buried in the graveyard of the occupied village, some of them were buried in groups under the sands, and some were left outdoors on the beaches of Tantura. 

Abu Yaqoob, a Palestinian Jew who used to be the mukhtar of Zumarien, another village near Tantura, gathered some men (one of them was Abu Salah’s brother-in-law), two horses and a huge wagon and together they started to gather the bodies. “15 bodies at a time,” Abu Salah tells me. They buried them wherever they could find an empty spot to ensure the dignity of the bodies. Some were buried together; some were lucky enough to be buried alone. 

Conquering Tantura was very easy for the Israeli forces. According to Abu Salah, “They were very vicious, and they were everywhere. My brother used to tell me when I got older over and over how they surrounded the village from three directions: the land and the sea at first, and all of a sudden more soldiers stepped down from the train that used to stop at a nearby station.” They outnumbered the men of the village; they had guns and weapons, English ones the Brits left for them when the mandate ended. “It was so easy it took them only one night to kill the majority of men and get the rest of us out,” he said. 

Salah smiled at my naive reaction to people’s silence regarding Al-Tantura. “We don’t need their acknowledgment,” he said, “the land will testify one day and tell what happened.” He talked about how many were afraid to talk about the massacre before but not anymore; he has been talking to different reporters lately, and he provided me with the names of a few people who can testify what happened at Tantura. “They are older than me, but they still have a good memory,” he said. Salah was shocked when I told him that Israel still denies the Nakba until now. He looked at me. “Alas,” he said and hit his head with his hand.