Promises: The Middle East's New Generation


directed by Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldberg, and Carlos Bolado opens May 17 at Metro HATE STARTS EARLY in the Middle East. "The more Jews we kill, the fewer there will be," says a young Palestinian boy in this documentary profile of seven Israeli and Palestinian kids. With all the bloodthirsty adults shouting in this conflict, do we need to hear from the children as well? Yet by focusing on youngsters, the remarkable Oscar- nominated Promises vividly exposes the emotional affinities that ironically link hostile parties, providing an ultimately troubling mix of optimism and futility. Shot during the late '90s, a period of "relative calm," Promises follows genial American-born narrator B.Z. Goldberg as he shuttles across the infamous checkpoints between Jerusalem and the West Bank. He spends the most time with Faraj, a dynamic young resident of a Palestinian refugee camp, and a pair of disappointingly dull Jerusalem twins—the three of whom come together at the end of the documentary in a well-earned and apparently genuine climax. Though Promises was underwritten largely by Jewish sources, it could hardly be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. One of its most moving scenes shows Faraj and his grandmother wandering the now-empty landscape of their family's old village, left behind in '48. Predictably, the three secular codirectors treat pious Muslims more respectfully than religious Jews. A clearly staged scene of a boy reverently praying in a mosque contrasts with an ultra-Orthodox girl prattling like an automaton about Sabbath rituals. Which child is made to look like a fanatic? Where's the balance? Of course, searching out bias is part of the whole tired Middle East game. What Promises movingly conveys is the far-fetched yet utterly real possibility of getting past hatred and blame to a deeper, more humane level of connection—with children perhaps leading the way.

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