Bogeymen Unmasked

“Promises” is a beautiful documentary and, in light of thedaily body count of Israeli and Palestinian victims, a heartbreaking film.

A nominee for best documentary at last year’s AcademyAwards, “Promises” was filmed in and around Jerusalem between 1997 and 2000,while the Oslo treaty hopes for peace were still flickering.

Its “stars” are seven kids, four Israelis and threePalestinians, between the ages of 9 and 13, whose normal childhood pursuits andproblems are overlaid by the suspicions and hatred of the “other,” transmittedby parents, teachers and religious guides. The children live in West and East Jerusalem, in a religious Jewish settlement and in a Palestinian refugee camp.And although their homes are within a few miles of each other, none has evermet a youngster from the other side.

As the 106-minute film introduces us to the homes, schoolsand playgrounds of each of the children, it dawns on the American Jewish viewerhow little is known, not only of the lifestyle of an Arab family, but even ofthe daily ritual in a strictly Orthodox home.

Co-director B.Z. Goldberg (with Justine Shapiro), a youngAmerican raised in Jerusalem, has a rare knack of bonding with the youngsters,and they reciprocate by unaffectedly telling their stories, often with brutalhonesty. We meet Sanabel, a lovely Arab girl, whose journalist father has beenheld for two years in an Israeli prison as a security risk; Mahmoud, a blond,blue-eyed Hamas supporter, and Faraj, who lives in the Daheishe refugee camp.

Their Israeli counterparts are Yarko and Daniel, bright andhandsome twins living in a secular home; Shlomo, a fervently Orthodox yeshivastudent, and Moishe, who grows up in a Jewish settlement surrounded by Arabs.

Though separated by generations of hostility, some of thekids express a natural curiosity to meet the fabled bogeymen on the other side.With Goldberg as the intermediary, Yako and Daniel visit Faraj, and, speakingin halting English, the boys soon find a more common language in their sharedenthusiasm for soccer and volleyball. This scene was shot in 1997 and during arevisit two years later, the small spark of tentative friendship had all butatrophied, more by neglect than animosity.

Looking at the situation in Israel today, the precariousmoment when the children saw each other as human beings, rather than enemies,has passed again.

It may well take another generation to rekindle the spark,but “Promises” is a needed reminder that there can be an alternative in the Middle East to hatred and bloodshed.

“Promises” will be screening Sunday,Feb. 23, at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. at Tarbut V’Torah, 5200 Bonita Canyon Drive,Irvine. For more information, call (714) 755-0340, ext. 134, or visit .