battle for the holy land
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press reaction

The New York Times - Ron Wertheimer

"Watching 'Battle for the Holy Land' may not give you a better understanding of the horror there. It surely won't give you hope. But the program...does put a human face on the intractable conflict, even if that face is seen in shadow or mostly wrapped in a scarf.

Most of this documentary was shot by British film crews in December [2001], when the confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians had not reached the current desperate state. Still, between grim scenes of confusion and death, fighters on both sides speak calmly in interviews about their determination to carry on. Neither side will consider any outcome except its own version of victory. ...

Modern warfare, even this gut-level conflict, has its public-relations aspects. And all the interview subjects here are clearly posturing for the viewer. If today's headlines are not enough, these bitter speeches show why the killing is likely to continue."

The Baltimore Sun - David Zuarwik

"For years, PBS executives have vowed to make their news and public affairs programs more timely -- usually with little or no success. But it would be hard to imagine a more timely or relevant report on the escalating warfare in the Middle east than Frontline's 'Battle for the Holy Land.' ...

The report, produced by British journalists for the BBC and Frontline, takes viewers deeper inside the world of Palestinian suicide bombers and the Israeli commando units designed to intercept them than anything I have seen on American television. The access alone is remarkable. ...

...[W]hat truly distinguishes the report is the understanding it offers into the current standoffs in Bethlehem and the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as the mounting body count from suicide bombings and warfare in the Middle East. Watch this report, and you will understand the military strategy on both sides, especially the new realm of warfare into which the daily suicide bombings targeting civilians have taken the Middle East. ...

'Battle for the Holy Land'...divides the hour between the two sides to offer a structural balance. But it also succeeds in the far more difficult task of letting us see a little bit of both military cultures from the inside out, through the lieutenants living on the edge of death in the promised land."

New York Daily News - David Bianculli

"... depressingly topical -- and even more depressing in that it not only offers no solutions to the escalating conflict, but infers that no solutions, no peace, may be possible. ...

Both sides passionately defend their bloody tactics, and no one asked seen an end to what is called the 'balance of terror.' If you're looking for ways in which the peace process in the Middle East could be expected to resume, or the current showdown between Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat resolved satisfactorily to both sides, 'Battle for the Holy Land' couldn't offer less hope."

The Boston Globe - Mark Jurkowitz

"'Battle for the Holy Land' ... won't tell you anything new about the deadly cycle of violence and retribution that wreaks havoc on both populations. But it will show you things you've never seen.

From a trip in an Israeli helicopter gunship targeting a Hamas leader to an interview with a 'living martyr' preparing to embark on a suicide mission, the hourlong documentary succeeds in its fascinating and grisly task of capturing the daily routine (if that's an appropriate word) of warfare between Israel's sophisticated armed forces and the Palestinians' determined militants. ...

Tonight's 'Frontline' wisely limits its mission, refraining from taking sides or refereeing competing claims. It's true that Israeli officers are quoted about the need to spare innocents, while Palestinian fighters talk openly about the need to sow terror in the hearts of the Israeli public.

Depending on one's view of the struggle, that can be seen as either a reflection of the asymmetrical nature of the battle or as a moral yardstick. But decidedly, politics takes a back seat to tactics in 'Battle for the Holy Land.' ..."

New York Newsday - Noel Holston

"...Ali Sufari, head of the Islamic Jihad, contends that suicide bombings, which he calls 'martyr missions,' are a means of achieving a 'balance of terror,' so that Jews in Tel Aviv will know the same fear that his countrymen feel when a rocket-bearing Israeli helicopter swoops low over a Palestinian camp. 'The human being who dedicates his soul to Allah and his people strikes at the heart of the Zionist enemy by turning his body into a bomb,' he says.

The just response to such an indiscriminate threat is the fundamental question raised by this deeply perplexing documentary. ...

If there's a remotely optimistic note in the documentary, it's sounded by the mother of a 'martyr' shot dead after he and a friend killed two Israelis and injured 14 more in Afula. 'If someone had told me,' she says at his wake, 'I would have chased after him and stopped him and then surrendered him to the Israelis. Before the death of my son, when I heard of Israelis killed by us, I felt both happy and sad. As I am a mother, they are also mothers. May Allah help them, too. Just as I raised my child, they also raised theirs.'"

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