Explosive documentary about alleged massacre of Palestinians opens NY’s ‘Other Israel’ film festival


(New York Jewish Week) — A film exploring the alleged massacre of perhaps 300 Palestinians — and further allegations of an Israeli government cover-up — will open the 16th annual Other Israel Film Festival at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

Israeli filmmaker Alon Schwarz’s documentary “Tantura” will be shown on Thursday, Nov. 3, kicking off the start of the seven-day festival featuring films that explore Israel’s underrepresented Jewish and Palestinian societies.

In the film, Schwarz interviews several Israeli veterans who, in the country’s 1948 War of Independence, served in the Alexandroni Brigade. The regiment forcibly displaced Arab residents of the village of Tantura following the formal conclusion of the war in order to build Dor Beach and the neighboring Kibbutz Nahsholim. 

On camera, many of these former soldiers tell a disturbing story: They had participated in a massacre, one the Israeli government subsequently covered up. 

The film also relies on research by onetime historian Theodore Katz, who in 1998 amassed more than 140 hours of tape interviewing witnesses and survivors of Tantura (half of them Israeli, the other half Arab) to compile an oral history of the events. His research ignited a firestorm of controversy at the time, and to this day his findings are questioned by the government and some Israeli academics (including esteemed historian Benny Morris, who wrote in Haaretz Oct. 7 that Schwarz’s film offers a “false history of what happened”).

Schwarz defends his relitigation of the case, which includes playing Katz’s original audiotapes. Subjects offer a steady drip-drip of half-remembered firsthand details: soldiers chasing villagers with flamethrowers; a mule-drawn cart carrying corpses to a mass grave.

Organizers of the Other Israel festival say that airing these kinds of debates has long been their goal. “With Israel once again in an election year, the importance of amplifying messages of social change through these films feels more needed than ever,” Isaac Zablocki, executive director of the festival and JCC Manhattan’s senior director of film programs, said in a statement. 

Israelis headed to the polls for the country’s fifth election within four years on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

“Tantura” is one of more than a dozen films, mostly documentaries, in the lineup, which features mostly in-person screenings for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

Highlights include “Boycott,” which explores the legal debate surrounding recent U.S. legislation meant to shut down the anti-Israel boycott, and “1341 Frames of Love and War,”  a profile of acclaimed Israeli war photographer Micha Bar-Am. 

The festival will also include the North American premiere of “H2: The Occupation Lab,” a documentary about the ongoing clash between Israeli soldiers and settlers and the Arabs living in Hebron. 

The festival closes Nov. 10 with the international premiere of “Lady Amar,”  a scripted psychological thriller about the kidnapping of an elderly woman.

Along with in-person and on-demand screenings, the festival will feature Q+As with the filmmakers and panel discussions of the films and their themes.

Get tickets and the full schedule at otherisrael.org.

Andrew Lapin of JTA contributed to this story.