In the twenty years after its creation by declaration of the United Nations, the new state of Israel was torn by war and internal conflict. In Search of Peace: Part One 1948-1967 recounts the events of those years, using extensive archival footage as well as interviews to give a detailed depiction of the birth of Israel. While it's not precisely a balanced or objective look at the topic, In Search of Peace offers a reasonably informative look at the subject.
In Search of Peace: Part One picks up exactly where the previous documentary from the same filmmakers, The Long Way Home, leaves off (thus mitigating some of the flaws of the earlier documentary, which stops very abruptly). It opens with a jump forward to1993, at the signing of a peace accord with Palestine. Of course, ten years on, we know that the conflict has continued, though varying in intensity; the peace of the film's title has proved to be elusive.
The film does highlight some interesting aspects of the origins of Israel. For instance, we see how the pressure to defend the newly-created state encouraged total gender equality, with women fighting equally side by side with men; for 1948, this was quite ahead of their time. It's also interesting to see a few glimpses of the economic and social difficulties of assimilating hundreds of thousands of refugee Jews, while also rebuilding the destruction of the war.
However, it's abundantly clear that In Search of Peace isn't really aiming for a balanced look at the Israeli situation. At the very beginning of the film, it's mentioned that the Arabs in Palestine objected to the creation of Israel, saying that they had lived in that area for 700 years and had a claim on the land. The counter-argument was that the Jews had a previous claim from thousands of years earlier; when we're talking about spans of time like this, far beyond living memory, does it even make any sense to discuss claims of precedence? This issue is not even discussed, even though it's at the heart of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. How can a documentary fairly treat its subject when it overlooks the core of the issue? The film does show that atrocities took place on both sides from the very beginning, from Jewish attacks on the inhabitants of an Arab village near Jerusalem to Arab retaliation on captive Jewish fighters. But the Jewish attacks are denounced as those of extremists, not representative of the new Israeli nation, while the Arab attacks are not.
We see the Jewish fighters and hear from them as they passionately describe their belief in their new state; we hear the sorrowful stories of the Jewish settlers who became refugees as the Arab armies shelled Tel Aviv and besieged Jerusalem. What about the plight of the Palestinians whose land was annexed? To be sure, some attention is paid to the experiences of the Arabs in Israel, including Israel's appropriation of Arab-owned property and its refusal to allow any of the Arabs made refugees by the Israeli war to return to their homes in Israel. Even so, this side of the story is given very little time overall, and the film even deflects the issue by blaming the Arab states for not accepting the refugees themselves, and for mistreating the Jews in their own borders.
Israel's aggressive nature is also clear from the beginning, though it's somehow given a positive slant. In the war for independence, Israel did not just defend its territory, but also expanded outward to seize Arab lands; even after conceding some of those gains in the cease-fire agreements at the end of the war for independence, Israel ends up taking over more land than it had originally been granted by the United Nations. The ethical problem of Israel's seizure of even more lands in the Six-Day War is also overlooked in the film's upbeat conclusion.
At 112 minutes, In Search of Peace: Part One moves along at a steady pace, sticking to a straightforward chronological structure. Dates of events are clearly indicated whenever archival footage of important events is shown, which is very helpful in following the sequence of events. The pacing does falter at times, as when the film sidetracks slightly to cover a war crimes trial, but for the most part it is smooth going.
In Search of Peace: Part One is presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio; it is not anamorphically enhanced. The image is satisfactory, considering that the majority of the film is made up of footage from 1948-1976. This archival footage is worn and grainy, but it's certainly watchable. The modern footage, in the form of a few interviews, takes up a very small percentage of the overall film; it looks reasonably good but it's not outstanding, with a slightly reddish tint and some grain present.
Two audio tracks are provided: a Dolby 5.1 and a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. The 5.1 track is slightly better, with a bit more depth, but on the whole the two are about the same quality. Michael Douglas' narrative voiceover is clear and always understandable; for the most part, the other voiceovers are also clear.
The only special features on the DVD are a trailer for the film, a photo gallery, and a section of filmmakers' biographies.
Some very poor DVD design is in evidence here: before we get to the menu, we get stuck with a preview for The Long Way Home. Not only is it unskippable, it's not even possible to fast-forward through it.
For viewers interested in the history of the Middle East conflict, In Search of Peace: Part One offers a look at rare archival footage from the events of 1948-1967 as they happened. It's not a particularly balanced discussion of the situation, but it may be worth a rental for modern history buffs.