Basically the plot concerns a young British girl who accompanies her friend to Israel as the friend does her military service in the Israeli army. The story partly follows her experiences in Israel and the Occupied Teritories. Whilst she is there, she is reading her grandfather's diary about his time in the British army in Palestine in the final years of the British Mandate. The drama moves back and forth between the 1940s to the present day.
There are so many good things about this drama: An engaging and moving story (or stories), a brilliant script, believable characters, fabulous acting, an authentic feel (the whole show was shot on location in the Holy Land), an education (it is based on a lot of research), an attempt not to take sides, some real nuance (including having Israeli characters that actively oppose the actions of their government and Palestinian characters that are Christian as well as Muslim), and it does bring the last days of the British Mandate, in particular, to life.
But I do have a hesitation. It is not so much with what is in the drama as with what is not. Before saying more, let me offer some caveats.
I know that the issues raised are white hot and that however they were handled people would complain.
I know that every story has to leave things out. And I also appreciate that some of the ommissions that concern me are a side-effect of the chosen foci for the narrative.
I also appreciate that the show has tried to be relatively "neutral" on the conflict.
Nevertheless, the effect of the ommissions seems increasingly to present an overall message that simplifies the conflict and people's perceptions of it.
OK—so what makes me uneasy?
The 1940s plotline is effectively about the conflict between the British and the Irgun (a Zionist paramilitary group that existed prior to 1948). That is a legimitmate topic for a drama and it seems to me to have been well done.
But, inevitably, with such a focus the impression can be given that "the Jews" in Palestine were more or less equivalent to the Irgun and that "the Jews" were the initiators of the violence in the 1940s.
I have no interest in defending the Irgun (although the drama is very fair in helping to 'understand' their perspective and why they did what they did. It is also fair in showing some of the British actions against the Jewish imigrants as inhumane). But, of course, the Jews in Palestine in the 1940s were far more diverse than the illegal Irgun, and, whilst the TV show does not deny that and shows something of it, my worry is that viewers may wrongly imagine that "the Jews" as a whole supported violence against the British. Such was not the case.
In the present-day story there does seem to be an imbalance in what is shown. Israel is presented as using its military might to hold the Palestinians down. Now, again, all that is shown in the drama are indeed aspects of the situation and there is no reason not to present them in a drama in the way that they are presented. And I have no objection to constructive critique of Israel's actions (not least in the support of illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories).
But my concern is that the cause of the Israeli security concerns is underplayed (and when it is presented it may be presented as no more than a reaction to Israeli oppression). Now, that is an important dimension of it so I have no objection to it being presented as such. However, an important part of Israel's problem is that a significant root of opposition to Israel is the ideology of radical Islam. According to that ideology, the very existence of a Jewish state on land that was once ruled by Muslims is something that can never be accepted. As such, groups like Hamas are committed in principle never to accepting peace with Israel (except as a temporary, strategic move as a step towards destroying the Jewish state and most Jews from the land). In the past, when peace agreements seemed to make progress they would send suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians with the goal of hardening Israeli public opinion and scuppering peace negotiations. This context complicates the situation significantly and renders Israel's attempts to secure its citizens much more understandable. The threat of violence (lethal violence included) is very real.
I am not offering a defence of all that the state of Israel does—I don't know anyone who would. But my worry is that the drama presents a picture that, for all its attempts at complexity and fairness, is too simplistic. "The Jews" in the 1940s and the present day are presented as the initiators of violence (whilst the considerable—albeit understandable [NOTE: by "understandable" I certainly do not mean "justifiable"]—Arab violence in the 1940s is completely absent and in the present day the threat of Palestinian violence is underplayed and oversimplified). So the big story emerging from the drama may be this:
The Jewish people suffered an unimaginable horror in ther holocaust. We completely understand why they wanted a land where they could be Jews without living in fear of persecution. But they soon turned to violence and never turned back from it, becoming oppressors in the process.
My concern is that, for all its many virtues, this drama presents a very, very complex situation in which both sides have a real share of any blame as more straight forward than it is.