From Socialist Voice, March 2011


A rare and compelling political drama

“The Promise” (Channel 4, 2010), directed by Peter Kosminsky “The Promise” is the latest in a number of programmes critical of Israel to have been shown on British television over the past few months. However, unlike Jezza Neumann’s “Children of Gaza,” Nurit Kedar’s “Concrete,” and “Louis Theroux and the Ultra Zionists,” “The Promise” is unique in that it is a work of serious political fiction.
     “The Promise” is a four-part serial that tells the story of an eighteen-year-old Londoner, Erin, who uses the year before starting university to visit Israel to emotionally support her dual-nationality school friend, who has been conscripted into the Israeli military. Just before embarking she finds her dying grandfather’s diary, which describes his life as a soldier during the Second World War. The diary begins with the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, then sees Len sent to the British mandate territory of Palestine between 1945 and 1948 as British imperialism prepared the ground for fulfilling the promise of the Balfour Declaration: the creation of the “Jewish state” of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians already living there.
     The diary is a narrative device that allows the series to exist in two historical time frames: Erin’s journey of discovery in Israel in 2005 and Len’s experiences in Mandate Palestine. This is an approach that pays off, allowing the director, Peter Kosminsky (himself Jewish), to juxtapose imagery and events from past and present.
     A striking example is the British policy of destroying the homes of Zionist militants and Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian resistance fighters. Also interesting is the comparison drawn between suicide attackers (viewed with revulsion in Israel) and the King David Hotel bombers (widely viewed as heroes). Kosminsky also allows us an insight into how—whatever about British imperialism—squaddies posted in Mandate Palestine in large part initially sympathised with the idea of a “Jewish homeland” but by 1948, after seeing comrades die and Palestinians ethnically cleansed, had come to view Zionism with extreme distaste.
     While it is brilliantly acted (by Israelis and Palestinians), scripted and directed, “The Promise” is not without its flaws, both political (for example a relative softness on the role of British imperialism in the Palestinian catastrophe) and dramatic (such as an over-reliance on unlikely coincidences—though this was probably unavoidable to advance the plot), in general it is a fantastic piece of political drama, made all the more amazing by virtue of the fact that it was shown not as part of a niche film festival but over four weeks in a prime-time slot on a British television channel.
     It is also worth noting that it was shot entirely on location, using an Israeli crew; and, interestingly, the scenes depicting Gaza were shot in Jisr az-Zarqa, one of the poorest villages in Israel, populated (not coincidentally) by Palestinian citizens whom the state has effectually abandoned.
     If it took many British soldiers some three years to change their attitude towards the racist colonial project called Zionism, it has taken large segments of the world population significantly longer to begin to move in the same direction. However, in recent years there has been something of a sea change in opinion in relation to Israel. Events like the building of the Wall, the siege of Gaza and the wholesale slaughter of “Operation Cast Lead,” the murderous attack on the Freedom Flotilla and the increasing repression of progressive forces within Israel have exposed the true apartheid nature of the Israeli state.
     That “The Promise” could be shown in 2011 is a sign of this shift in opinion; and while it may never have the same impact on collective consciousness that, for example, “Roots” had when it was first shown in the United States, it is to be hoped that Kosminsky’s work will reach out, speak to and engage a new audience that were unaware of the great historical and contemporary injustices perpetrated against the people of Palestine.

■ “The Promise” is a must-see. Catch it on line at Channel 4oD ( 04i) while you still can, or buy the DVD or Blu-Ray box-set, which has some interesting-looking extra features.

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