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Israeli T.V. Series Shakes The Myths Of The Country’s Founders

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 1998

A 22-part television series entitled Tkuma (Rebirth) has stirred widespread controversy in Israel, reports Joel Greenberg in The New York Times (April 10, 1998).  

This series challenges "the traditional Zionist tale of heroic return and nation-building in an empty desolate homeland" and has provoked reactions ranging from outrage to quiet approval.  

"The widely watched program," writes Greenberg, "is an unvarnished historical Zionist story with a variety of narratives, including the voices of Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Sephardic Jewish immigrants resentful of their treatment by Israel’s European-born establishment."  

The re-examination of Israel’s beginnings, Greenberg points out, "reflects a process that began more than 10 years ago, when a few Israeli scholars began challenging conventional accounts of their country’s history." Among the events highlighted by these "new historians" are the expulsion and flight of the Palestinians, "the killing of Arab civilians in border skirmishes and retaliatory raids and terrorist attacks in the 1950s, and what the scholars described as missed opportunities to negotiate with Arabs."  

Critics on the right charge that the series questions the justice of the Zionist enterprise. Cabinet member Ariel Sharon has urged Education Minister Yitzhak Levy "to ban the series from schools."  

Aryeh Caspi, writing in the Israeli paper HaAretz, declares: "The anger at Tkuma is because we don’t want to know and we can’t bear the sense of guilt. The establishment of the State of Israel was justice for the Jews, but it was accompanied by a terrible injustice to the Palestinians."  

Gidon Drori, the executive producer and editor of the series, said that, "There’s still disagreement over what the past is, and perceptions of the past are constantly changing. We’re dealing with unfinished business. The scars still haven’t healed."  

Tom Segev, an Israeli historian, said: "The justification for the State of Israel has been a certain interpretation of Jewish history, a Zionist interpretation. The minute you shake that, people get excited. History is more touchy than politics. Our past is more sensitive than our present."  

Mr. Greenberg reports: "There are scenes in the series that are bound to be troubling to Israelis brought up on historical accounts that have justified Israeli actions while glossing over the pain of the other side. In one episode, an Israeli Arab stands in the ruins of his destroyed village, reciting a bitter poem about exile . . . Other segments include unflinching accounts of massacres and incidents of indiscriminate killing of Arab civilians by Israeli forces in the early years of the state, using interviews with former Israeli officers and Arab witnesses to reconstruct events."  

The critics of the series represent "parts of society that have not matured enough to take a more sober look at the past," said Gidon Drori. "This series is a mark of maturity, and I doubt that something like it could have been produced by a television authority in another country. But I can’t expect everyone to handle it, or that it will be easy to digest."  

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