by Debroah Goss, Project Associate for NVR
Through the stories of seven children living in diverse areas of Israel/Palestine, the filmmakers interweave the complex political and geographic history of this region of the Middle East. Yarko and Daniel are secular Israeli twin brothers living in Jerusalem. They contemplate the odds of perishing from a suicide bomber. Faraj and Sanabel are Palestinans living in Deheishe, one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the West Bank. Faraj describes with anger how checkpoints are used to separate the Arabs from Israel and to "search and humiliate us." Palestinians cannot leave the West Bank, travel to Jerusalem, or travel from one Palestinian area to another without a special permit issued by the Israeli military.
In 1948, Israel fought the "War of Independence," known to Palestinians as "The Catastrophe." During the war, 750,000 Palestinians fled or were forced off their land and became refugees. In 1967 Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and many refugee camps came under Israeli military occupation. Moishe lives in the Beit El settlement, one of 150,000 settlers. Formerly Arab land, the Israeli government encouraged Jews to move there, considering it to be biblical land. Shlomo is an ultra-orthodox Jewish boy living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. He describes how safe he feels living there, because it is also the holy city of Muslims. Mahmoud is a Palestinian boy living in East Jerusalem who is able to move about the city with relative freedom.
The children contemplate God's existence, and what his "promise" means to them. To Moishe, it is the promise that God made to Abraham: "God promised us the land of Israel." Mahmoud questions how Jews can say it is their land when the Koran says that Muhammad flew from Mecca to Jerusalem.
Perhaps the act of grappling with the filmmakers' questions affects the way the children view their situation, leading one to wonder if they change their opinion of the political situation in their country as a result of the filmmaking process. When Yoarko and Daniel become acquainted with Faraj and Sanabel in the Deheishe Refugee Camp, a meeting facilitated by the filmmakers, it is apparent they begin to comprehend some of their differences, though they know that lasting friendship between them is impossible given the barriers that exist between them. Others of the children seem only more resolute in their belief that Israel and Palestine can never be joined as one nation.
Promises - Sanabel. Photo: Justine Shapiro
The film was shot between 1997-2000, a time of relative peace, but the statements and feelings of the children are perhaps now more poignant in the light of the current situation. This film is appropriate for young audiences, who will relate with the children depicted in the film and perhaps begin to examine their complex reality.