Two Hours Too Few for Israel Documentary


The contentious rise of the Jewish homeland is the focus of
Israel: Birth of a Nation, a two-hour documentary premiering this month on The
History Channel.

The program is scheduled to coincide with the 50th
anniversary of the state of Israel, and it is hosted and narrated by historian Sir Martin
Gilbert, using material from one of his books. But the program (actually two back-to-back
hours) is too short to really do justice to the global, political, social and religious
tumult caused by, or resulting from, the attempt to carve out a new nation.

Viewers instead get a greatly abbreviated telling of the
military campaigns that occurred between the time of the United Nations' vote to
create Arab and Jewish states in 1947, through the creation of the governing Knesset in
1948. Military buffs will be disappointed, as this aspect is severely truncated. And the
uninitiated will be confused, as the timeline and its related changing boundaries move by
so fast.

Gilbert also fails explain several references. For
instance, he talks about the murder of the head of a U.N. peacekeeping mission by members
of the ultranationalist Stern Gang. The gang is mentioned, but not described, nor is their
role in the political structure of the emerging state explained.

The show also focuses almost exclusively on the Haganah
faction, led by David Ben Gurion, giving little attention to the more violent Ergun
movement. A dispute between the factions over a boatload of munitions destined for Ergun
caused a mini-Civil War, with Jews firing on Jews. It could have sunk the movement, but it
gets only a few moments of screen time.

The most accessible part of the documentary is the home
movies shot by a Brit, Bernard Beecham, which span Tel Aviv to Tiberius in 1949. The
movies are a travelogue of war-ravaged locales, but the destruction is offset by shots of
a populace whose faces radiate hope.

Israel: Birth of a Nation debuts May 17 at 9 p.m. (EST)
on "History Sunday," the network's showcase of new documentaries and