It probably is too early for the history of Palestine, even television history. The lost lives of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters still enflame the words of those who tell it and those who hear it. Indeed, lives are still being sacrificed because of it.
As a result, attempts to give even-handed treatment to the story of that tortured region often turn into back-and-forth debate in which arguments are bolstered with more conviction
That, unfortunately, is what seems to happen to the ambitious three-part documentary by London's ITV on British mandate rule from 1918 to 1948, whose first segment airs tonight at 10 on Channel 26. On the one hand, Walid Khalidi, a Palestinian professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, sits talking to the camera about the Arab viewpoint of those tumultuous years. On the other hand -- of course there is one -- Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust studies professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, does his talking about the Jewish viewpoint.
In between is some interesting and unusual film of Emir Faisal and his camel-borne Arab insurrection forces rebelling against the Turks during World War I -- in return for a British promise that Palestine would be independent Arab land.
And there are the scenes, by now familiar but no less wrenching, of Jewish families fleeing the Hitlerian atrocities of World War II, headed no matter what the price for the Palestine that had become their dream -- and that the British had promised them as a Zionist homeland.
"I didn't think of anything else but coming to Palestine to help build my country, which was promised to us by God and the British people," recalls one of those who made it.
"Had Palestine not been inhabited, it would have been an ideal place, but in fact it was inhabited... by the Arabs," retorts Khalidi.
There you have it, the collision of two contradictory British promises and two irreconcilable claims to the hills, farmlands, beaches and holy places of Palestine. Tragic, yes, but rummaging through all the arguments another time without bringing anything new to them makes gray television.
Some drama, of course, does surface from such dramatic history, even in sit-down interviews. Consider, in the light of Israel's moral stand against Palestinian terrorism, this statement from Nathan Yalin-Mor of the Stern Gang: "in war, and especially a liberation war, you have to use violence. Of course killing many people is violence, and killing one person is violence. In one case, you call it war, in the other murder. I don't see any difference."
One aspect of the Palestinian tragedy that usually gets submerged in Arab-Israeli shrieks comes out with unusually clear focus, however, and that is the responsibility of Britain and its leaders.
As Lawrence of Arabia was leading Arabs against Turks on the strength of the promise of Arab independence, Britain was building an increasingly firm commitment to turning Palestine into Jewish homeland. When the clash of the two forces thus set in motion became an intolerable burden on a weary Britain, the Tommies fled and London left Palestine to a conflict now in its 31st year.