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    Un-young heroes

    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.


    (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.

    Produced by: Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado.
    Featuring: Moishe, Mahmoud, Shlomo, Yarko, Daniel, Faraj, Sanabel..
    In Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

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  • 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.

    "My name is Moishe. I live in Bet El. It's a settlement, a place where people who hate Arabs live."  

    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.

    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

    Reader comments on Promises:

  • promises   from husain, Aug 14, 2001
  • Re: promises   from aaron, Oct 1, 2001
  • Re: promises   from anna, Apr 13, 2010
  • Re: promises   from Gulten, Dec 14, 2001
  • Re: promises   from , Dec 17, 2001
  • Marry Me, Justine Shapiro!!   from Ned, Oct 14, 2002
  • Re: promises   from HÄctor Cavazos, Mar 31, 2004
  • justine shapiro   from Oz Cochrane, Aug 26, 2001
  • Re: justine shapiro   from Shayna, Dec 12, 2001
  • Re: justine shapiro   from Ekla, Dec 17, 2001
  • Promises in Warsaw   from Tomasz Kluk, Oct 19, 2001
  • Re: Promises in Warsaw   from Heidi, Dec 17, 2001
  • Promises on PBS   from Tina, Dec 17, 2001
  • Promises   from Kristina, Dec 20, 2001
  • May God help is all   from Mela, Dec 20, 2001
  • really good   from ibrahim, Jan 3, 2002
  • Respect   from Mahmoud Alayan, Jan 4, 2002
  • At last!   from Anna Bansel, Jan 10, 2002
  • Promises   from Shel, Jan 16, 2002
  • Justine Shapiro   from Izzat Jamal, Jan 19, 2002
  • Re: Justine Shapiro   from Soprano`s Rule, Apr 21, 2002
  • peace in the middle east?   from riyad sood, Mar 24, 2002
  • Re: peace in the middle east?   from Allison, Apr 5, 2002
  • Re: peace in the middle east?   from Natalie, Aug 25, 2002
  • growing up together   from linda, Apr 14, 2002
  • in my mind   from Emma, Dec 19, 2002
  • world peace   from Ryan, Apr 20, 2002
  • Justine   from Corey, Apr 27, 2002
  • Part of me   from Mark, Jun 14, 2002
  • Re: Promises   from bec, Oct 8, 2002
  • Touching   from Linn, Jul 21, 2002
  • Promises BRASIL   from Roberto Turquenitch, Jul 29, 2002
  • Promises   from sean, Oct 21, 2002
  • The KIds   from Alyssa Murfin, Oct 30, 2002
  • Re: The KIds   from Lizzy, Nov 9, 2002
  • Re: The KIds   from yo, Mar 4, 2009
  • truly amazing   from nour, Sep 10, 2003
  • Inspired   from Jem, Feb 5, 2004
  • Must see   from Kiran Rajaya, Feb 11, 2004
  • Truly amazing   from Meredith, Jun 7, 2005
  • Awesome!   from Goda, Aug 16, 2005
  • Eye-Opening!   from Josh, Oct 18, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Samantha, Dec 14, 2005
  • Great Movie   from Samantha, Dec 14, 2005
  • Daniel&Yarko   from Shalay, Dec 28, 2005
  • inspires children all over the world   from Ann, Jan 6, 2006
  • Daniel and Yarko   from Mariel and Becka, Jan 10, 2006
  • Re: Daniel and Yarko   from Maria, Jan 4, 2008
  • great doc!   from Emily, Mar 20, 2006
  • I loved the film   from rebecca, Apr 29, 2006
  • wow i love faraj   from coolio, May 28, 2006
  • Re: wow i love faraj   from Mariel & Becka, Oct 30, 2006
  • [no subject]   from kaity, Sep 15, 2006
  • amal hasan   from Amal, Sep 25, 2006
  • Heartbreaking Story!!!!   from Karam Al-Ghossein, Oct 30, 2006
  • I loved the movie! I want to go back to Palestine   from Tanya Haddadin, Feb 4, 2007
  • "Promises" to keep   from Victoria, Mar 15, 2007
  • i cried   from paige, Mar 15, 2007
  • i meet Faraj today   from Aleka, May 25, 2007
  • Re: i meet Faraj today   from Imani, Nov 6, 2007
  • Faraj   from Lauren, May 30, 2007
  • the kids now   from bri, Jun 10, 2007
  • I love it.   from klaudine, Jan 11, 2008
  • "Promises"   from Heather, May 18, 2008
  • Hope   from Aimee, Oct 16, 2008
  • just hilarious   from lola, Jan 30, 2009
  • promises!!   from Rida, May 15, 2009
  • promises   from jocelyn, Dec 22, 2011
  • promises   from jocelyn, Dec 22, 2011
  • Promises   from Joss, May 31, 2012

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