Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

American-Israeli journalist, B Z Goldberg, returned to Jerusalem in 1997. Over the next four-years, he and his co-directors filmed the lives of seven Israeli and Palestinian children.

Twins Yarko and Daniel are secular Jews, their grandfather a Holocaust survivor, who questions the existence of God.

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Orthodox Shlomo is the son of an American Rabbi.

Moishe lives on a settlement in the occupied territories, while Faraj and Sanabel are displaced Palestinian refugees, the latter's father imprisoned without trial by the Israeli authorities.

Mahmoud lives within Jerusalem itself. Whether because, or in spite of, routine day-to-day contact, he does not believe that he will ever be in harmony with the "other".

Although they live within 20 minutes of each other in the Jerusalem area, the seven children are frequently worlds apart in other respects, all victims - perhaps, unfortunately, future perpetrators - of age-old conflicts.

With a fine awareness of the nuances of labels and identities, Promises succeeds in conveying the complexities of a conflict that ultimately cannot be reduced to any single axis of unity, or division.

Israeli/Palestinian, Jew/Muslim, Arab/Jew, religious/secular, Israeli/Israeli-American and refugee Palestinian/Jerusalem resident Palestinian are just some of the identities that the children must struggle with, sometimes displaying an awareness of issues far beyond their years.

Eventually, the filmmakers succeed in bringing together some of the children. The discussions between Yarko, Daniel, Faraj and Sanabel provide hope for the future, as they explore the stereotypes of each other and the reality before their eyes.

Such dialogue occurs haltingly in English, or, in this case, through an interpreter, thereby highlighting one of the recurring themes of the film, that the Israelis and Palestinians are often literally incapable of speaking each others' language.

At other times, the children's comments suggest irreconcilable differences and utterly incommensurable world views. For example, the filmmakers cleverly juxtapose Moishe and Faraj, presenting their respective rights to the land.

Moishe consults the religious text, citing God's promise to Abraham; Faraj produces land deeds from the first half of the 20th century.

This illuminating documentary transcends our preconceived vision of the Holy Land and its inhabitants, revealing the human complexities beneath. Well worth seeing.

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2001
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Illuminating documentary showing the realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of seven children.
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Director: Justine Shapiro, B Z Goldberg, Carlos Bolado

Year: 2000

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: USA/Palestine/Israel


EIFF 2001

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