Paul F. P. Pogue

The documentary Promises is a thought-provoking, often painful movie, presenting the complicated issue of Palestine and Israel through the eyes of young people on both sides of the divide. Every point that can be made has a counterpoint and a counter-counterpoint, round and round - a seemingly endless circle.

Yarko (left), an Israeli living in Jerusalem, and Faraj, a Palestinian resident of the Deheishe refugee camp, are two of the youths profiled in "Promises."

Promises screened three times over the weekend at the Children"s Museum and the Jewish Community Center as part of the Spirit & Place Festival. Each presentation was followed by a panel discussion, sponsored by the youth journalism organization Y-Press, including students from the Islamic Center in Plainfield and local Jewish students.

In the film, children demand explanations from their elders and receive little in return - their elders don"t understand it any better than they do.

"Our needs are our fears. Let"s face it," one of the Israeli parents sighs, writing the conflict"s epitaph. "It"s their land but we don"t want to blow up. It"s complicated."

Friday"s Muslim speakers included Omar Malk, Hasan Mukhtar, Mohsin Mukhtar, Mariyam Kham, Hiba Suleman and Shejea Kham. Sunday"s presentation included Jewish student Shoshana Effron.

On Friday, the panelists pointed out that in the film, understanding among the children came from the unlikeliest of sources.

"Faraj was the one who was most against meeting Israelis, but he was also the one who was like, "Hey, what"s up guys, let"s talk about soccer,"" Mariyam Kham said. "In the end they were all like normal kids, Jews and Muslims, not fighting."

Several people in the audience and on the panel commented that both sides seemed willing to continue an ongoing cycle of ignorance and blame.

"It only takes a few crazies to start and sustain a war," said Carl Miske, an audience member from Columbus. "And it"s like a horrible gift to pass onto these children, to see these children parroting the previous generation."

At the Sunday session, audience members questioned whether the filmmakers might have had some intentional or unintentional pro-Palestinian bias in the documentary by leaving out historical context explaining Israel"s presence in the West Bank.

"The Palestinians are all shown as submissive and downtrodden, and the Israelis are shown being uplifted, and it"s not always that way on both sides," said one of the audience members.

Students on both sides of the issue said the documentary gave them new insights.

"We didn"t ever visit the occupied quarter. This gave me an opportunity to see it from the Palestinian side," Shoshana Effron said. "I don"t agree with suicide bombing and with throwing stones, but I have a better idea of why they do it than I did before."

Shejea Kham added that she hoped youthful energy and education could help bridge the gap.

"We can still change," she said. "We"re the future of the world. Even though they"re not friends over there, we can still try to be friends here."

But as with the documentary, the pressures of growing up sometimes take precedence over making connections.

Emma Hulse of Y-Press had been planning a trip to Saudi Arabia last year, and abandoned the plan in the wake of Sept. 11.

"When I was younger, I might still have wanted to go anyway," she said. "And as I grow older I realize I wouldn"t have."

And Shoshana Effron was unsure if she would continue the dialogue with the Muslim students she met in the course of the project.

"I don"t know," she said after a moment"s thought. "I hope to stay in contact, but I don"t know. I"m only going to be here for the rest of the year, then I"m off to college. I just don"t know."


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