A&E's 'Terror' chillingly documents deep-seated hatred behind terrorism

TELEVISION

March 02, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

It is hard to generate much hope for an end to hatred in the Middle East judging from the American television premiere this weekend of a timely cable documentary about the uses of terrorism around the world.

What is there left to say when you've heard a terrorist responsible for civilian bombings in Israel arguing "...and the Koran [the holy text of Islam] supports us?" Or a bespectacled Israeli who planted a car bomb that blew the legs off a Palestinian official saying he consulted several rabbis first, who approved the action as a moral act?

Perhaps it is this, as stated by one academic interview figure: "You have to make compromises with your neighbors . . . and let God, when and if he wishes, to make his mind known."

"Terror," seen at 8 p.m. tomorrow on the Arts & Entertainment basic cable service's "A&E Premieres" series, is a three-part documentary originally aired last fall in England. Part one is a survey of the post-World War II Middle East, produced before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf.

It has been updated somewhat to accommodate the war but, surprisingly, its thrust is really not affected by late events. For host/narrator Jack Perkins notes that the root cause of the area's tension is that "Arabs and Jews are locked in a struggle to the death over a small piece of ground."

The show is preceded by a viewer's advisory warning that subject matter is sometimes presented graphically. Mostly that means we see bodies, lots of bodies, from scenes of the Holocaust to bloody pictures of more recent bombings and assassinations, including the 1972 Olympics in Munich. We hear some accounts by both terrorist victims and perpetrators that are also pretty chilling.

An especially strong impact is provided by interview footage with Palestine Liberation Organization figure Saleh Khalef, also known as Abu Iyad and the head of the Black September group which conducted the Olympic slayings of 11 Israeli athletes. He's dead now, one of two top PLO leaders assassinated in January, reportedly by agents for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Grim irony is provided by the observation that the Olympic terrorists actually expected to generate international sympathy toward their cause, yet "what they got was revulsion and incomprehension."

The point emphasizes a voice heard early on saying, "they

cannot build a more peaceful society by diminishing people's human rights."

A weakness of the show, however, is that its Middle East overview starts with the end of World War II and the often bloody establishment of the state of Israel. Thus it offers little more than a nod toward the long centuries of enmity in the area between adherents of not just two, but three major faiths.

This tends to tilt sympathies toward the Palestinian cause for, as Perkins notes, "as one people gained their homeland, another lost theirs." Yet the show surely tracks the cause of second- and third-generation Palestinian hatred of Israel to the early Arab refuge camps in Israel and the memory of violence perpetrated in establishing the state.

It seems likely religious leaders on both sides of the issue might also be troubled by the documentary's implication that both Judaism and Islam can philosophically justify the indiscriminate taking of innocent lives.

Yet what comes powerfully through this first installment of "Terror" is that terrorists do precisely that. They believe, to paraphrase both President Bush and Saddam Hussein of late, that "God is on our side."

And perhaps the most memorable figure in the show is an Israeli mother with numbed eyes, calmly recounting how terrorists killed her husband and two daughters.

"There is so much hate here," she says. "It's impossible to make peace without crossing this river of blood."

Future installments of "Terror" look at violence in Peru (on March 10) and in Italy, Spain and Northern Ireland (on March 17).

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