‘1913: Seeds of Conflict’ seeks to explain source of Israeli-Palestinian tensions

‘1913: Seeds of Conflict’ seeks to explain source of Israeli-Palestinian tensions June 30, 2015



This comprehensive and compact docudrama premiering tonight on PBS (10pm), “1913: Seeds of Conflict” reveals little known facts that conflated to become what writer/director Ben Loeterman proposes as the root causes for today’s ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Almost a half million Muslims, 60,000 Christians and 20,000 Sephardic (i.e. Mediterranean) Jews lived together peacefully enough in the years before World War I when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and ruled by Ottoman law. Then with the assassination of the Russian Czar Alexander II in 1881, things began to change ever so slowly and few people were paying attention.

Because Russia blamed economic problems on Jews, pogroms increased and Jews, almost all Ashkenazi or Eastern European, began leaving Russia. Many went to Palestine. With a second wave of Jewish emigrants in1903, Jews began buying property, often from absent Arab landowners. Problems soon arose when Jews tried to take possession of land they had paid for and for which they held legal title; Arabs protested that they had always lived on the land and didn’t grasp the legalities of the situation. Other struggles surfaced when Jews who were socialists and Marxist arrived and began buying more land, farming and creating collectives resulting in what historians call a Zionist land grab designed by Arthur Ruppin, a German Jew who had a vision for a Jewish homeland. Kahlil Sakakini, a rising Arab leader, protested to the Ottoman parliament in Turkey. But as long as Jews paid their taxes, the government was not concerned. And then came World War I.

Some of the historical themes the film discusses “the millet system” for Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish that allowed the diverse cultures in Palestine to be absorbed into the Ottoman administrative system and rising nationalism and constructing national identities that transformed the world before 1914 when World War I broke out.

These are just a few details that writer/director Ben Loeterman reveals in a fascinating documentary that tries very hard not to assign blame but to look behind at the history and culture of all sides of the conflict that continues to drive unrest in the what Jews, Christians and Muslims all call “the Holy Land.” Numerous historians contribute to the film. One of the most interesting techniques that Loeterman uses to frame his story are clips that come from a 1913 film, “The Life of the Jews in Palestine” depicting Jewish life in Palestine. All of the words the actors speak come from original historical documents.

“1913: Seeds of Conflict” is a typical docudrama in almost every way and it has a point of view: it obviously seeks to provide common ground for understanding about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How well it does this will be up to an informed and invested audience, and hopefully, this is all of us.




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