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Israel History Series Is Criticized

March 12, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ A 22-part documentary by state television on Israel’s 50-year history has come under fire from right-wing politicians who want the series pulled off the air for being too sympathetic to Palestinians.

One of the episodes, using footage from PLO archives, shows the devastation wreaked by Israel’s bombing of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and includes interviews with PLO guerrillas.

The documentary’s makers say they wanted to show ``the pain on both sides,″ but Communications Minister Limor Livnat said they should be rallying around the flag instead.

``I don’t know of another normal nation that in a series on its rebirth presents the other side in a favorable light,″ she complained in a letter to Israel TV’s board of directors.

A popular entertainer, Yoram Gaon, who was narrating the series, withdrew from the project over the segment on the Palestinians, which is entitled ``Biladi, Biladi″ _ Arabic for ``My homeland″ and also the name of the Palestinians’ national anthem

But Israel TV said Thursday it would broadcast the episode April 5 as planned, and would follow it with a discussion.

The controversy has underscored Israel’s growing struggle to come to terms with the many difficult moments in its history. Debate has intensified as Israel’s 50th anniversary _ April 30 _ draws near.

Ilan Pappe of Haifa University, one of several historians who have espoused a more critical look at the nation’s past, said it was time Israel dropped its protective shield.

Pappe said the documentary, entitled ``Tekuma,″ or rebirth, marked a turning point in the way Israel sees itself.

``People would have not watched this kind of thing 20 years ago, but with all the self-doubt that accompanies the 50th anniversary, there is more willingness in the public to talk about the way things really were,″ Pappe said.

But not all of Israel is ready to embrace a new version of history.

``It’s nothing short of an outrage,″ said David Bar-Illan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser. ``It’s completely biased and dangerous and a one-sided presentation of history.″

Bar-Illan said he was expressing his personal views, and did not know what Netanyahu thought of the program. Livnat has asked Netanyahu to step in and cancel the show, but Bar-Illan said he did not know whether the prime minister would get involved.

Two other politicians, Deputy Education Minister Moshe Peled and legislator Hanan Porath, also demanded that the series be stopped and replaced by a more patriotic version. They also want to suspend negotiations on foreign sales of the series.

But Rina Shapira, the chairwoman of the board of directors that oversees Israel TV, said all segments would be aired.

``We must safeguard the opportunities for public debate; we are one divided society and we need to talk about it,″ she said.

She said she expected more criticism over segments on the founding of the Jewish settler movement, relations between secular and religious Jews, Israel’s three-year invasion and occupation of Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

A segment on Israel’s nearly 1 million Arab citizens aired last week drew some complaints from Jewish viewers who said it focused too much on the Arab point of view, Shapira said.

The program described life under military rule _ a reality for Israeli Arabs until 1966 _ and gave Arab witness accounts of the 1956 Kfar Kassem massacre in which 47 villagers were shot dead by Israeli border policemen for breaking a curfew.

The TV’s board of directors plans to meet Monday to discuss the complaints over the Palestinian segment, which covers Israel’s battles with Palestinian terror groups from 1967-1982, including its invasion of Lebanon in an effort to drive out PLO guerrillas.

``The purpose of the film is to show the pain on both sides of the story,″ its director, Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz, told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. ``I haven’t glorified terrorists, I only listened to them.″

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