The prematurely politicized Jerusalem-area kids of the documentary "Promises" have a chance to break through the barriers that perpetuate hatred between Jews and Palestinians.
By JOSHUA TANZER
(Originally reviewed at the 2001 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, Lincoln Center.)
"Promises" is an inspired documentary that tries to find the last shred of innocence in the Middle East by interviewing kids on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities about their lives.
Who could be more innocent than a bunch of 10-year-old kids? Well, as you might guess, these youngsters living in and around Jerusalem have already seen plenty in their pre-teen lives and have easily adopted the groupthink of the adults around them.|
A bookish Orthodox Jewish boy rides his bicycle to school in his settlement a defiant Jewish enclave in the middle of an otherwise Palestinian area and he tells you all you need to know about where he's coming from. "My name is Moishe. I live in Bet El," he says, "It's a settlement, a place where people who hate Arabs live."
The boy rides serenely past the military firing range near the village's outer fence and notes, "If the soldiers miss their aim it's okay because they might hit an Arab."
We hear equally reactionary comments from Palestinian youths the same ones, we soon realize, who would have been throwing stones in the streets 10 years ago and would eagerly do so if there were an intifada today. But then the film enters a kind of second stage, in which we start to see the weight of history and personal experience that are combining to make these kids who they are.
Most of the Jewish kids can tell of a friend killed by terrorists and the daily threat of sudden death. Meanwhile, Palestinian kids live confined in their own territory, bullet holes in the walls reminding them of the deaths of siblings and neighbors. One of the most emotional moments of the film comes when a Palestinian grandmother brings her grandson to see the rubble of the family's house in a village destroyed by Israeli troops in 1949. As she shows him deed documents from the 1930s and '40s and hands him the key to the house his grandfather built, he vows that someday the village will be rebuilt and the family will live there again.
|"My name is Moishe. I live in Bet El. It's a settlement, a place where people who hate Arabs live."|| |
Finally, the movie enters a third stage as filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg an Israeli-raised U.S. citizen who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic and gradually starts to move from behind the camera to in front of it begins to think about bringing some of these young people together. Two secular Jewish brothers have started asking questions about the Palestinian kids Goldberg has also been interviewing, and it seems natural to breach the very real border between the two groups and let them meet.
The results are interesting, although the lessons of this experience and of the whole film are mixed. In a way, it's awfully simplistic to think that if people in such a ruptured society would just get together then they could learn to get along. And yet, if there's one big point to "Promises," it's that nothing can change while physical and psychological barriers keep the sides from speaking even one word to each other. Whether kids like these can change the world I don't know, but they're ready to find common ground even if the adult world isn't.
|JUNE 14, 2001|
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Reader comments on Promises:
Respect from Mahmoud Alayan, Jan 4, 2002
The KIds from Alyssa Murfin, Oct 30, 2002
Must see from Kiran Rajaya, Feb 11, 2004
Faraj from Lauren, May 30, 2007
Hope from Aimee, Oct 16, 2008
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