The film that claims that the IDF committed war crimes in 1948 is well made, but it has a big problem
The Sundance Festival kicked off with the screening of an Israeli film returning to the research work that claimed that the Alexandroni Brigade committed horrific war crimes in the '48 war.
The cinematic making is exceptional, but academically the film is problematic
Friday, 21 January 2022, 05:27 Updated: 06:29
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The only Israeli in Sundance.
From the movie "Tantura" (Photo: Jonathan Weizmann / Reel Peak Movies)
Yesterday, the Sundance Festival kicked off, and already on its first day it presented an Israeli documentary, which is also the only feature film made in Israel to be accepted for the event.
Unsurprisingly, this is a very political and critical text.
This is "Tantura", Alon Schwartz's new docu.
His previous and excellent film, "The Secrets of Ida", dealt with the legacy of World War II and was a local and international hit four years ago.
His new documentary also deals with historical heritage, and this time of the War of Independence.
The film is called A Village which is located a total of about five kilometers north of Zichron Yaacov.
One thing is undisputed: in 1948, he switched from Palestinian to Israeli hands.
The debate concerns the way it happened, and the battle has crossed the lines to the academic, media and legal field.
The controversy over Tantura began as a jubilee after 1948. Teddy Katz, a master's student at the University of Haifa, submitted a dissertation in which he claimed that in their takeover of the village, Alexandroni Brigade soldiers committed war crimes. The work might have remained in the academic ivory tower Her findings, and the publicity led to a public outcry - yes, there were even before the age of social
media. The scandal escalated to the Tel Aviv District Court and from there to the Supreme Court. Announced that in light of the methodological errors discovered, it dismisses the work retroactively.
More on Walla!
"As long as we do not respect the Arab version of 1948, the war will not stop"
To the full article
"A man who has no past, no present, and his future is shrouded in mist."
From "Tantura" (Photo: Benno Rotenberg Collection, State Archives)
Schwartz's film re-examines Katz's research work as well as the trial that took place around it, and challenges it.
According to him, retired judge Drora Pepper did not even bother to hear the recordings that the novice historian had, and she did so only during the filming of the film.
Schwartz, as could be seen in "Secrets of Ida," is an excellent director, with mastery of the craft of storytelling and adherence to high production values and thorough work.
Unlike many previous films of its kind, which made only one voice, he also makes sure to put witnesses and witnesses from the Palestinian side in front of the camera.
Unsurprisingly, and as part of the trend of local bodies moving away from sensitive issues, no local fund has supported Tantura (though it will air later this year on HOT 8), and yet Schwartz has raised the funds to lift the project. Israeli society and culture and Israeli cinema in particular are world champions in repression, but the director insists here on echoing Yigal Alon's quote, which appears at the beginning of the film - "a man who has no past, no present, and his future is shrouded in mist."
Schwartz also strives to be decent, bringing in witnesses who deny that there were war crimes in Tantura. It also presents the position of Prof. Yoav Gelber, who generally opposes the establishment of historical research on the collection of eyewitness and hearing evidence. This is an important and respected historian, but the film puts him in a ridiculous light, and presents him as a smug and detached person.
The truth is, he says nonsense.
The director also seats in front of the camera those who were young warriors and today are very old people.
Some say there was a massacre, some say no, and even the exact meaning of the term "massacre" can be debated.
Either way, most of them speak in a particularly vague way, and confirm Gelber's thesis: Evidence should be relied upon on a limited guarantee.
The film does not.
It is clear which side he is on.
It is evident that "Tantura" is convinced that the Alexandroni Brigade allegedly massacred without gunmen and that one soldier even committed rape.
Alon Schwartz (Photo: Avner Shahaf)
There is no doubt that for our present and future, we must confront the past. The question is whether Katz's research is the right starting point for this. After all, the court threw him off all the stairs at the time. The film's solution is to claim that there are no judges in Jerusalem. The liberal camp in Israel protects the legal system when it is convenient for it, and condemns it in other cases. In the case of "Tantura," it is convenient to argue that there was a show trial.
Haaretz came out yesterday with bombastic headlines according to which the thesis of the film is Torah from Sinai, as if any film can at all present absolute truth. But what did he write in real time? Tom Segev, not exactly a far-right columnist, claimed that Katz's mask of evidence "collapsed like Shimon Peres' election campaign."
Katz's chief defense attorney, both at the time and in the film, is Dr. Ilan Pepe. This is a very controversial scholar, and not exactly in the forefront of historians. Like most Jewish artists and intellectuals who claim to deal with the history of the area, he does not master the language of these particular witnesses, so he also did not have the tools to do so. The
film also has far too many talking heads. Some of the Israeli academics speak to Schwartz in English. Why them? They and he are Israelis, especially since others speak Hebrew.
Apart from the academics and the judge, almost all the interviewees here are a founding generation of the state, people who in a few years will no longer have the opportunity to document.
Towards the end of the film, there is a fascinating debate between some of them over the question of whether the Palestinian heritage should be recognized.
Should a monument be placed where the village of Tantura once stood and today Kibbutz Nachsholim sits?
The majority opposes, and one suggests that "they put up a sign, as in every hole in Poland there are signs reminiscent of the Jewish past."
The article that exposed the Tantura affair at the time (Photo: screenshot, courtesy of the Maariv Archive)
Beyond the fact that the film falls under Godwin's law, it is also guilty of intellectual dishonesty. How can one criticize Israel for its unwillingness to acknowledge its past, and then give as a role model Poland, which recently restricted by law the right to tell the truth about its past?
The strongest parts of the film are the ones that deviate from the format of the talking heads. The most interesting and cinematic segment, for example, comes at the end, using three-dimensional simulations to describe how the Israeli authorities apparently hid and obscured the mass graves in Tantura immediately after the war.
It is interesting to note that both in content and in its making, this scene corresponds with what takes place in "Parallel Mothers" - Pedro Almodóvar's fresh feature film, which deals with the painful legacy of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish director ate a lot of bitterness in his homeland due to dealing with the sensitive issue, but received a warm embrace from the international community.
This is likely to be exactly what will happen to Schwartz from now on, from the world premiere in Sundance to the local premiere on HOT 8. The discussion of the film has just begun, and in the meantime I will summarize it on my part: In terms of net cinema, the director once again did an impressive and sweeping job.
But he pretends to be more than that, and if he had submitted "Tantura" as a university work, he would have gotten it back adorned with notes in a red marker.
The War of Independence