Last night, on a whim, my sister and I rented and watched Promises, a powerful and compelling documentary that follows seven Palestinian and Israeli children over the course of several years, between 1995-2000. I’d heard about this documentary for years, but had somehow never gotten around to watching it until last night. In 2002 alone, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, and won Emmy Awards for Best Documentary and for Outstanding Background Analysis.
We meet Yarko and Daniel, twins who are secular Jews and more concerned with volleyball than politics; Shlomo, the ultra-Orthodox son of a rabbi, and Moishe, a militant denizen of the Jewish settlement of Beit El. We meet Mahmoud, a blue-eyed little boy whose angelic face darkens with hatred when he speaks of Jews; Sanabel, whose father, a Palestinian journalist, has been in an Israeli jail for two years without trial; and Faraj, a refugee who clutches the key to his ancestral home in Israel as if it were an existential totem. [Washington Post]
The interviewed children are between the ages of 9-12 in the documentary, living in and around Jerusalem, and their views on their world are breathtaking and, at times, even gut-wrenchingly disturbing, because, understandably, there is anger and intolerance at both ends. The children speak for themselves, but their words are a reflection of their turbulent times, just as their strong political statements and religious views (or lack thereof) reflect their own experiences and beliefs, and the hopes and fears of their families and friends. But they are all articulate and brutally honest. There’s both heartbreak and hope here, and, at the end of the film, I wasn’t sure which to give in to, because there is no such thing as an easy sentimental solution.
There are lighthearted, giggle-inducing moments, too, because children are children the world over, because whether they are Israeli or Palestinian, they all have issues taking apart stacked chairs and they hold impromptu burping contests and drink coffee when their mothers forbid them to and spritz on cologne like there’s no tomorrow. Because maybe there isn’t.
Wisdom does emerge from the mouths of these children, who are anything but innocent. “In war both sides suffer,” one of the twins says. “Maybe there’s a winner, but what is a winner?” [New York Times]
Rent the DVD and make sure you check out all the Extras, like the Summer 2004 update on the not-so-little-(or idealistic?)-anymore children who are actually now in their late teens.
I, in my self-absorbed life, need constant reminders like this documentary. Over the past year, it has admittedly become exceedingly easy for me to forget about Jenin, it has been easy to forget about Rachel Corrie, it has been easy to forget about everyday life in Palestine and Israel.
It has been shamefully far too easy for me to forget what I myself have never had to know.