As one might expect from a documentary entitled "Israel and the Palestinians: Will Reason Prevail?" this program is heavy going. In a somewhat roundabout and disjointed way, however, it does succeed in presenting a picture of a pervasive Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and raising some important, though apparently unanswerable, questions.
The hour-long documentary, being broadcast tonight at 10 on Channel 26, was produced on the West Bank before the Israelis closed it to unescorted foreign journalists on Dec. 12. The program thus provides a valuable airing of the views of some Palestinians who might not be so accessible to journalists in the future.
The program's writer and producer, John P. Wallach of the Hearst Newspapers, balances the interviews with these pro-Palestinian spokesmen with a number of other interviews with prominent Israelis, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The problem with all these interviews is that they jump around confusingly, with no coherent theme. Some of those interviewed are articulate spokesmen of the views they hold; others are not. Some address the key political issues dividing the Arabs and Israelis; others ramble on about more esoteric ones.
Thus we get a Palestinian feminist talking vaguely of sexual issues ("the subjugation of Moslem women plays into Israel's hands") as well as Palestinain mayors Elias Freij of Bethlehem and Rashid Shawa of Gaza explaining why they oppose the Camp David Accords.
Some of the problems can be chalked up to difficulties with English on the part of some Palestinian interviewees and to the program's effort to answer the broad question, "Who are the Palestinians?" In any case, all this does not make for terribly exciting television.
Another flaw is that some of those interviewed do not come across on camera as they are portrayed by the narrator, who makes some rather sweeping, sometimes fatuous, statements by way of transition from one interview to another.
Wallach also often seems to put words in the mouths of his subjects. For example, he interviews a couple of Palestinian artists, who complain of the confiscation by Israeli authorities of paintings showing prisonlike scenes or containing the colors of the banned Palestinian flag. One woman artist, Wallach says, "admits that Israel should be worried" because "art can be as dangerous as guns." What she says on camera, however, is that like literature and music, art "could be very political and could affect the feelings of the people."
An inevitable issue in any documentary on so emotional and complex a subject is that of fairness. While this program appears to go out of its way to be fair to both sides, Israelis already are critical and have called its sponsor, the Foundation for Middle East Peace (formerly the Merle Thorpe Foundation), a pro-PLO organization. The National Association of Arab Americans disputes that view, arguing that the foundation's aim is to promote peace efforts between "moderate" Palestinians and Israelis. In any case, the need for such a dialogue -- but not any particular proposals for achieving one or settling the issue -- is the idealistic message at the program's conclusion.