Tantura massacre

Deaths Disputed: 200≥ Palestinian Arab villagers
Location Tantura, Mandatory Palestine (now Israel)
Injured Unknown
Date May 23, 1948; 73 years ago (1948-05-23)
Criminal penalty Unknown


The Tantura massacre took place on May 23, 1948, when around 200 Palestinian Arabs were massacred in Tantura, a village of roughly 1500 people (in 1945) near Haifa, by the Israeli Defense Force's Alexandroni Brigade.


The first published account of a massacre in Tantura appeared in the book "The Catastrophe of Palestine" by Nimr al-Khatib in 1950 or 1951.

In January 2000 Israeli journalist Amir Gilat published an article regarding a massacre in Tantura in Ma'ariv which was mainly based on a master's thesis submitted 1998 to the University of Haifa by graduate student, Theodore Katz. In a paper on The Exodus of the Arabs from the Villages at the foot of Mount Carmel, Katz said Israeli forces killed 240 Arabs from Tantura during the 1947–1949 Palestine war in 1948. Katz did not use the word massacre, although other scholars were quick to use this term. The Alexandroni veterans protested, and Gilat wrote a follow-up piece including their denial that a massacre had occurred.

Katz originally received a grade of 97%, but the veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade sued Katz for libel (asking for 1 million shekels in damages, or $321 thousand current value), and the legal case drew into question the accuracy of the oral testimony upon which Katz's claims were based. After two days' cross-examination in court, Katz signed a statement saying:

"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 killing of people in Tantura after the village surrendered."

Katz retracted his statement 12 hours later, asserting that he had agreed to sign the retraction "in a moment of weakness" under pressure of family members, because he had suffered a stroke a year earlier and his family were afraid the strain of the court hearings will cause a relapse. However, the court already registered his stated retraction, ruled against him and refused to re-open the deliberations.

Katz appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, but it declined to intervene. He also tried to place paid ads in the Haaretz and Yediot Aharonot papers, declaring that he was taking back his retraction and reaffirming the conclusions of his paper - but the papers' lawyers advised that publishing such ads might make the papers themselves liable to a libel suit.

Detailed map of Tantura in 1942 from the Survey of Palestine.

In the wake of this case, the University of Haifa suspended Katz's degree, inviting him to revise his thesis. The paper was sent out to five external examiners, a majority (3:2) of whom failed it. Katz was subsequently awarded a "non-research" MA.

Subsequent related developments

The historian Ilan Pappé supported Katz and his thesis, and has challenged the Israeli veterans to take him to court, saying he has evidence that the massacre occurred. In a 2001 article in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Pappé defended the use of oral history with reference to the USA. He pointed out that that history was obtained by Katz, not only from Palestinian villagers, but also from Israeli soldiers. Pappé provided new evidence that had come to light after Katz had presented his thesis, in one case quoting (with reference to the IDF source file) "from a document from the Alexandroni Brigade to IDF headquarters in June notes: 'We have tended to the mass grave, and everything is in order'”, and in another, published testimonies by eyewitnesses who had been located in Syria. He also related the background to Katz's original signed repudiation of his thesis.

In 2004, Israeli historian Benny Morris extensively reviewed the Tantura controversy and recounted himself coming away "with a deep sense of unease". He suggested that, while it is unclear whether or not a massacre occurred, there was no doubt that war crimes were committed by the Jewish forces (Haganah) and that the village was forcibly cleansed of its Arab inhabitants. Morris believes that one village woman was raped, Alexandroni troops may have executed POWs and there may have been some looting, based on an army report that uses the Hebrew word khabala (sabotage).

Morris underlined the fact that in interviews conducted by himself and by the Ma'ariv reporter Amir Gilat, all refugees confirmed that a massacre had taken place, while all IDF veterans denied it. Regarding the latter, Morris describes what he calls “troubling hints”, such as a diary by an Alexandroni soldier, Tulik Makovsky, in which he wrote “… that our boys know the craft of murder quite well, especially boys whose relatives the Arabs had murdered... or those harmed by Hitler [they are the same fascists]. They took their private revenge, and avenged our comrades who had died at their hands, against the snipers”. Morris also noted that, given the political sensitivities at the time, the word khabala may have been used as a euphemism for a massacre.

Morris further pointed out issues with the scoring of the second version of Katz's thesis in that the two referees who gave anomalously low scores had been co-authors of an IDF book in which it was argued that ”… the Israeli Army had carried out only a ‘partial expulsion’ of the populations of the Arab towns of Lydda and Ramlah and dismissed the charge that the troops had massacred Lydda townspeople, some of them inside a mosque, on July 12, 1948”, whereas IDF records from the IDF archive show that a full-scale expulsion had been carried out and that Yiftah Brigade troops killed some 250 townspeople.

There were plans in 2004 to exhume bodies from a site between Nahsholim and Dor believed to be a mass grave, but this has not happened. In 2006, Katz's presentation of the facts was disputed again by the Israeli historian Yoav Gelber who was to play a key role in discrediting Katz's research.

In early 2022, a documentary film came out in which several Israeli veterans confirmed that they had witnessed that there had indeed been a massacre at Tantura after the village had surrendered. Several of them gave descriptions, with the numbers of victims who were shot dead from “a few” to “several dozen” or “more than 200”. The latter estimate was provided by a resident of Zikhron Ya'akov who stated he had helped bury the victims. They confirmed that soldiers in the Alexandroni Brigade had murdered unarmed men after the battle had ended, and the victims were indeed buried in a mass grave, now located under the Dor Beach parking lot near Nahsholim kibbutz.

Cultural depictions

In 2022, Alon Schwarz' film Tantura was shown at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.