From Al-Ahram Weekly archives: Fifty years of dispossession 1948-1998*
Issue: 16 April 1998
Last week, Israelis tuned in to watch the latest episode of Tkuma (Hebrew for "Resurrection"), a 22-part televised history of Israel being shown on Israel's Channel 1 TV to commemorate the State's 50th anniversary.
The entire series has been controversial, especially earlier episodes which showed how the establishment of Israel was at least partly realised through the deliberate expulsion of Palestinians from their lands in what had been, prior to 1948, mandate Palestine. But the latest episode succeeded in causing an outrage even before it was aired.
Entitled the "Path of Terror - Biladi, Biladi ("My country, my country"), the programme looked at the emergence of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a national movement advocating and practising armed struggle as a strategy to liberate Palestine. It began with a 1969 interview with Yasser Arafat vowing that "Palestinians will return to their homes" and ended with some archive PLO footage of Palestinian guerillas evacuating Beirut in 1982 to the strains of the Palestinian national anthem, "Biladi, Biladi".
In between, nine Israelis and six Palestinians gave contrasting interpretations of such events as the killing of nine Israeli athletes by the PLO's Black September movement at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the 1978 Camp David accords signed between Egypt and Israel and Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
For most Palestinians, the episode was largely a conventional Israeli reading of the years 1967 - 1982, though some admitted that in allowing Palestinians to speak of their own history there was at least an attempt at balance.
"Tkuma has shown bits and pieces of the real history, but not the complete history," PLO spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif said. Israeli reviewers associated with the Labour and Meretz parties also saw the "Biladi" documentary as an attempt to place the PLO's armed resistance (or "terrorism," as the Israeli interviewees insisted on calling it) in the wider context of Palestinian nationalism, so as to "know the motives of the other side in the war, the side we will have to make peace with in the not too distant future," as the retired army general, Shlomo Gazit, expressed it in Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper on 6 April. Yet, for other Israelis, any attempt to understand the PLO as a nationalist phenomenon rather than a "terrorist" one proved a transition too far. Nor was their criticism limited to reviews.
Prior to "Biladi's" screening, the episode's writer and director, Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz, received death threats and hate calls accusing her of being an "Arab lover" who "glorified terrorism". On the day of transmission, Israel's High Court of Justice heard a petition from a Jewish Organisation dedicated to "protecting the state of Israel's identity".
It called on the Court to ban the entire Tkuma series for "twisting history and making Israel the aggressor and not the victim". The Court threw out the petition on the grounds that it was not the "censor" of the Israeli Broadcasting Association (IBA). Communications Minister Limor Livnat also lambasted the programme, warning ominously that she looked forward to the day when the IBA would "carry out its duty to produce a Zionist broadcast which doesn't purport to represent only the Palestinian side".
Why the furore? For Tom Segev - one of Israel's "new" historians who has done pioneering research on Israel's early years - Tkuma was bound to be controversial because it deals with history. And "history in Israel is a sensitive subject in ways that politics is not," he says. This is because "Zionism is a particular interpretation of Jewish history. So, in addressing this history, Tkuma is addressing the most basic ideological and existential discourses of Israeli society."
Another "new" Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, agrees. He believes that the fuss whipped up by Tkuma is due less to the answers it provides - which are couched in traditional Zionist terms - than to the questions it poses. "The very language Tkuma uses to describe Israel's establishment is provocative to many Israelis," he says.
"The series refers to the war of 1948 rather than the liberation of 1948. It talks about the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands. It concludes that the expulsion was morally justified, but it no longer disputes that expulsion took place. This is to strike at one of the founding myths of Zionist history."
And this - according to the Israeli writer, Arie Caspi - is what has triggered the various attacks on the Tkuma series and its makers. Writing in Ha'aretz newspaper last week, Caspi says that "the anger at Tkuma is rooted in the fact that the series ruins the denial mechanisms we [Israelis] have developed to repress the wrongs done to Arabs during the establishment and growth of the state". In commemorating Israel's Jubilee, "Tkuma's critics would have preferred a history without [Palestinian] refugees, without a military government, without occupation and, indeed, without Arabs at all."
Tkuma thus reveals -- however partially -- that in the end such denial can be no defense against history, and that until the Palestinian question is fully acknowledged, there can be no solution for the future.
This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly’s special pages commemorating 50 years of Al-Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe when Israel was created on 15 May 1948. These pages, published in 1998, were part of a year-long series of articles documenting the history and nature of the Arab-Israeli struggle, as well as that of Palestinian dispossession and exile.