Promises: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and the Rights of Refugees
by Andrea Holley, Manager of Outreach and Public Education, Human Rights Watch
Promises deals with the long-standing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The film's unique approach involves looking at the situation through the eyes of seven children who live in and around Jerusalem. Their experiences and observations hint at a range of possibilities for the region.
The human rights issues pertaining to refugees and occupation are inherent to this conflict. The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees explains the special status of refugees and guarantees them certain rights. The law governing occupation is embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention (see the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War). These documents provide a legal context in which to consider the harsh realities presented in the film.
The children's discourse reveals the ever-present "us versus them" dynamic endemic to conflicts of this magnitude. The level of fear existing between the Palestinian and Israeli children is largely attributed to the fact that they do not know any children from "the other side." Once they meet, they have to re-assess their preconceptions. While the process is at times painful, from it a new understanding can begin to emerge.
When the filmmakers arrange for meetings between several of the children, the children acknowledge that if the new relationship established between two people from differing backgrounds is only temporary, it has little chance of making a difference. The filmmakers acknowledge that interactions between Israeli and Palestinian children are unusual. As the political and social situation in the Middle East continues, it is increasingly less likely that the misconceptions will be dispelled. The film does not seek to answer questions of politics. Rather, it affirms the theory that getting to know those whom we perceive as "other" can go along way towards resolving intractable conflicts.