Promises

2002, Movie, NR, 106 mins

Review

PROMISES
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Hope for a peaceful, lasting solution to the decades-old political, religious, social and territorial conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis seems more elusive than ever in the post-World Trade Towers attack world. But this insightful, Oscar-nominated documentary, in which children on both sides of the ever-escalating conflict have their say away from watchful parental eyes, gives peace yet another chance. Filmmakers Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg and Carlos Bolado spent three years (1997 to 2000) capturing the thoughts, beliefs, emotions and very real fears of seven pint-sized Palestinian and Israeli boys and girls (ages nine to 13) living in and around Jerusalem. They were welcomed into rarely seen Palestinian communities and settlements, including a Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) school and one of Islam's holiest shrines, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some sequences were shot on such familiar locations as the Western Wall, while others — like the one that takes place aboard an Israeli bus — offer an unfamiliar glimpse of everyday life in embattled Jerusalem. The kids themselves are talkative, opinionated and funny: Shlomo, an ultra-orthodox Jewish boy, provides one of the film's lighter moments when he settles a tense encounter with a taunting Palestinian boy in a most unorthodox way. Israeli Yarko and Daniel, a pair of engaging, volleyball-playing twins, are secular Jews, while Mahmoud, a blond, blue-eyed Muslim, is a staunch supporter of Hamas. A perky, articulate Palestinian girl and third-generation refugee, Sanabel's journalist father has been held in an Israeli prison for two years without a trial. Faraj, a scrappy Palestinian lad living in the Deheishe refugee camp, saw a friend shot and killed by an Israeli soldier when he was only five. His flipside is Moishe, a sullen, right-wing Jewish settler, who mourns the death of a playmate murdered by Palestinian terrorists and swears revenge when he becomes prime minister. The interviews with the kids are conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, and American-born/Israeli-bred filmmaker Goldberg — a mensch who puts all the diminutive talking heads at ease — narrates in English. As their stories unfold, it's hard to believe these young casualties of war live only 20 minutes apart. When, near the end of the film, four of them finally have their first encounter with someone from the "other side," the future briefly looks less grim. History suggests that such detente is fragile, but it embodies the "promises" of the title. (In Arabic, Hebrew and English with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Stephen Miller

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