Rob Rinder: “It is possible to be a Zionist AND hear the other side of the story”

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Rob Rinder: “It is possible to be a Zionist AND hear the other side of the story”

Broadcaster speaks to Jewish News after first episode of 'The Holy Land and Us', following the lives of four families of Jewish and Palestinian heritage, aired on the BBC

The first episode of a new BBC documentary series exploring the ways in which four families have been defined by events in Palestine and Israel aired on the BBC on Tuesday evening.

Co-presenter Rob Rinder says The Holy Land and Us: Our Untold Stories, will be difficult viewing for many members of the community.

“A lot of people are angry activists but thoroughly uninformed,” he told Jewish News.

The Holy Land – Our Untold Stories,Rob Rinder,Wall to Wall,Tom Hayward

Co-presented with Sarah Agha, the new documentary series follows the lives of four families of Jewish and Palestinian heritage and aims to get to the heart of what happened to people on both sides of the conflict as the Middle East was reshaped with the 1948 founding of the state of Israel.

Rinder says key to understanding where we are today is to hear the stories from both sides. Sarah learns about the circumstances under which her family fled their village in Galilee in 1948, and Rob follow his relative’s journey to escape the horrors of the Holocaust and start a new life in the recently established state of Israel.

“I’ve made clear that I’m a Zionist,” he tells Jewish News. “But that means many things to many different people as we’ve discovered in recent weeks. But at the same time we all have been aware, a dark shadow in our minds, that there is another story, another perspective, another experience. And there are those, that we know, amidst our communities, who find that story too uncomfortable to hear.”

Series co-presenter Sarah Agha

Rinder says his mother didn’t want him to do the series “because she doesn’t want me to be disliked.” But, he continues, “at the same time we know as Jews that we are held, I think to a different standard and that doesn’t mean a double standard. It’s not about equivalency but it requires us to do the work of hearing the accounts and feelings of those who lost lands at the result of the creation of the State of Israel, which was the end of yearning and wandering of the Jewish peoples.”

Rinder says: “I wanted to make a programme to proudly present Jewish, Zionist narrative in all of its truth, in terms of what it means to British Jews but at the same time of making the programme we can’t pretend that there isn’t another story. To hear those stories can be really hard and I found it really hard but doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”

A lot of people are angry activists but thoroughly uninformed

He says he gets, “that sense that like a beloved family member’s behaviour, they don’t want to talk about actions Israel takes. I don’t criticise Israel. Just even having the conversation feels like having a quiet whisper because its dangerous and we are rightly worried about giving succour to those who would conflate reasonable criticism with outright antisemitism and that malignant point of view. But we have to risk it.

A Jewish father and son discover the key role a family member played in the creation of the state of Israel.

• The print version of this article incorrectly states that the father and son above are Palestinians. We apologise for our error.

He knows “people will get uncomfortable, nay angry, and have different views. One person’s defence is another person’s terrorism.”

British Jew Leonard Gance (centre) fought for Israel in 1948

But, he continues: “It hasn’t changed my views on the State of Israel and its enduring importance in the world. I specifically do not mean about any issues going on today, but I have at least done the complex work of trying to understand those who lost their homes in the complex way of creating the state. They are real feelings.

“I’m not an idealist. I don’t think it will change minds. But it will enable people that have a strong antipathy to Israel to come away thinking this place is really complex.”

Rinder didn’t see the documentary until it was completed. “I found it really hard to listen to a lot of it,” he concludes. “It made me uncomfortable and angry but to anyone watching it, that’s the point. But you should’t feel scared, threatened or concerned about the State of Israel. It can endure hearing these stories. In fact it will be improved.”

  • The second part of ‘The Holy Land And Us: Our Untold Stories’, will be aired on Tuesday 21 March. Both episodes will be available on iPlayer.
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