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Promises Movie Review: Promises

Starring: B.Z. Goldberg
Director: B.Z. Golderg
Rated: NR
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genre: Documentary

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Boys just want to have fun. One day they'll get their thrills by throwing stones at men in uniform. The next day they'll play with the soldiers' children. B.Z. Goldberg, Justine Shapiro and Carlos Bolado's nonfiction drama "Promises" deals with such kids, showing that not all children are alike after all. Jewish boys from Israel live differently from Palestinian kids in the same area. They're officially enemies and yet they play together. Sometimes. "Promises" is about one such time that Jewish boys and Palestinian-Arab boys and girls get together to hang out, to wrestle a bit, and afterward to talk about their experience. Did peace break out in the Middle East because kids from opposite sides of the track got together to "understand" one another? Not yet. In fact only an unreconstructed hippie overdosing on Ecstasy would think that the way to achieve peace among discondant folks is have them chat so they can understand one another. When two filmmakers, Justine Shapiro and B.Z. Goldberg, traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories, they got the inspiration to see what the fighting is all about from the mouths of babes. Not only did peace not break out after the meeting between the young 'uns who are victims of the conflict: both groups held firm to their initial opinions. The Arab kids concluded that the Koran gives all the land of Israel and the West Bank to them. The Jewish kids "proved" through a reading of the first book of the Torah that God gave the land to Abraham and his descendants.

If there's one thing that this stunning, well edited and fast paced nonfiction story brings out it's that the children whose ages range from about nine to thirteen are sharper, more involved in politics and in the art of argumentation than Americans are. Notwithstanding 9/11, American high-schoolers (if one may make such a generalization) are still thinking more about whether they have dates for the prom and for New Year's than they are about the future of the United States, now under the gun from terrorist groups. Then again, maybe Goldberg and Shapiro chose the best and brightest for their doc. Here's the story...

Goldberg, a journalist who grew up in Israel during the first intifada (Arab rebellion against Jewish rule in the West Bank), is determined to interview some kids of what we'd call Middle- School age. He takes a cross section from both sides secular Jews, a Hasidic Jews, a secular Arab, a Hamas supporter, a refugee living in a camp just twenty minutes' ride from Jerusalem. Yarko and Daniel are twins who seem about 13 years old and who wear annoying grins on their faces throughout. Mahmoud could pass for a European anywhere and yet he is a fervent Arab supporter of Hamas an organization on U.S. terrorist lists that has made life miserable for Israelis. Shlomo is ultra-orthodox, speaks fluent English, and dovins (prays) twelve hours a day. Sanabel dances the story of her people and from time to time takes a four and one- half hour trip to the Israeli town of Ashkelon to visit her imprisoned dad, an alleged terrorist who sits in jail though he was not officially charged or tried for any crime. Faraj, the most bitter of the Palestinian kids, never forgot seeing a friend killed by an Israeli soldier some years back. He insists that the pal was simply throwing stones but was shot dead on the spot. Moishe, one of the 115,000 or more Jewish "settlers" in the West Bank, is what we'd call a Jewish fundamentalist in that he insists that God gave Abraham all the land now embracing Israel and the West Bank.

The filmmakers interview the youngsters separately to get their distinct points of view. While per expectation each side embraces a predictable point of view in opposition to the other, there are degrees of vehemence. At least two Jewish kids dig what the Arabs are saying and believe that if they were Arabs, they'd probably be mighty angry. Two other Jewish kids are into the Biblical interpretation, while on the Palestinian side Mahmoud and Faraj, who sound awfully angry when interviewed separately, seem to melt during the time they are with the Jewish kids.

This is thankfully not a talking-heads documentary. Film- goers, both those who have visitied Israel and those who do not know the Middle East from Greenland, are exposed to some dramatic scenery that varies from the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to some barren lands just over the border that allegedly held houses blown up by Israelis during the 1948 war.

I don't believe Goldberg and Shapiro and Carlos Bolado who expertly edited the shots to give balance to the two sides think that what they did, even if practiced on a large scale, will lead to peace. The trouble with such "talks" is that the people can be friendly: they can play volleyball and patty-cake together for days at a time and yet when the dust settles, they have near-irreconcilable differences that must be settled, if at all, by compromise. Bravo to the folks involved in this absorbing, entertaining and informative film for giving us more insight into the issues than we could have learned from a few weeks of following CNN.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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