“Tantura” is an ensemble work with a lot of voices. But the main narrative thread is the story of a professor and historian named Teddy Katz. Katz conducted 140 hours of audio interviews with both Palestinians and Israeli witnesses to (and participants in) the events at Tantura, then published a thesis. The project sparked such outrage among Katz’s fellow citizens that he became the subject of a libel suit by a group of his subjects (even though they spoke to him voluntarily, and everything was on tape). He was found guilty and lost his teaching job as a result.
The judge who (barely) presided over the libel case listens to some of the tapes on camera for the first time and admits that if she’d heard them 20 years ago, when the suit was brought, she would have felt differently. But one still wonders if another result would have been possible, given how human beings are, how tightly nations cling to self-flattering foundational myths, and how the brain tends to process (and then reject) guilt, responsibility, and reckoning. Finally, near the end of the film, three women and one man who were residents of the original kibbutz created in Tantura after the massacre and displacement argue about whether a memorial to the victims should be allowed on site.
One of the on-camera interviewees describes the incidents at Tantura as having been not merely buried but destroyed. Willed forgetting is the movie’s focus, and the film predictably has limited success in attempting to compel remembrance in most of its participants, who tend to retreat into variants of, “Well, it was war, and bad stuff happens in war,” or “It was a long time ago,” or “We were trying to found a nation so we wouldn’t go through another Holocaust,” or “The Arabs were ruthless, so we did what we had to do.” Every existing nation is founded on the agonies of murdered and displaced prior residents, the United States included, and the descendants of the winning side always say things like that, so it’s no surprise when they are repeated here.