I’ve spent the last few days watching the mini-series The Promise, alternating between anger, frustration and uneasiness. The uneasiness came first. I started watching and, having read a review about it beforehand, was expecting it to be far worse than it appeared to be at first sight. I mean, here they are, showing what is very likely the truth. It was an uneasy truth to watch, it made me sad. Yes, Israeli soldiers harass Arabs at check points. Yes, the Israeli underground militia did blow up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem all those years ago. Not a comfortable truth to see, but a truth nonetheless. Yet while watching this truth, I realized that there is something else causing my uneasiness. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first. It wasn’t until after I finished the first two parts, stepped away from my computer and had time to think about it, that I started realizing what my problem was. It wasn’t the truth they were showing, it was the truth they weren’t showing. All the little things that they showed that create a big misconception. The little things that people who are not from here, can’t even see as faulty.
The first thing that caught my attention, although it really shouldn’t have been the first thing, was the story of Ein Hod. When Erin comes to Ein Hod, the viewer can see this pastoral village, full of sculptures, statues and artwork all around. We then learn that this village was first occupied by Arabs who fled, and came back to find the houses have been taken over by Jews. I don’t doubt that this is true, a sad, unfortunate truth that it is. Again, it’s the little things that bug me. The fact that the movie makes it seem like the Arab Ein Hod was the same pastoral village, artwork and all, when it was taken over by the Jews. Because it’s not common knowledge that Ein Hod nowadays is an artists’ village, that all the things that make it special, beautiful and pastoral were added by its new Jewish occupants. Another thing that made me angry was the story of the old man who hasn’t seen his house since the day he fled as a boy. Again, I don’t want to make the Arab’s tragedy any less of a tragedy, but there’s no need to make it any more of a tragedy as well. When I visited Ein Hod just over two months ago, there was an Arab boy standing at the entrance to the village, handing out flyers for a restaurant in Ein Hawd, the new Arab village right up the mountain. He wasn’t physically or verbally abused. He was just working. And I’m sure that if he stood deeper into the village, or if he brought his grandfather to walk around and find the old house he used to live in, no one would cause them any trouble for just walking there. Yes, the old man will probably never get his house back. But he can still walk into the village and see it. He can still drive through. The extreme to which it was taken in the movie is infuriating.
Then I realized the second thing that has been bugging me, which was even more obvious than the Ein Hod story. The only Jewish family portrayed in the movie live in fucking Ceasarea. And again, this is the view of Jews in Israel people get, never knowing that Ceasarea is the single most prestigious, rich city in Israel, that most of us Israelis don’t even dare dream about living there. And what message does that send? Here are the Jews, living in mansions with a pool. Here are the Arabs, living in bare concrete, rusting metal, with plastic chairs and tables for furniture. And again, yes, I don’t doubt that the standard of living for Arabs is much lower than the standard of living for Jews. But a fucking mansion in fucking Ceasarea is over the top. There are entire blocks in the town where I live, where people have half their furniture in sheds on the street, because they have a 1-bedroom apartment for a family of 5. So again, watching this being the representation of Israeli Jews is, like before, infuriating.
In general, the lack of balance in representation makes me want to tear my hair out. While on the Arab side, both throughout the modern and the past storyline, we see the average Arab person, average Arab family, for the Jewish side, it’s always the extremes, except very few people are aware that these are the extremes. For the historical story line, we have dealings with Jews in the National Military Organisation (The “Ezel” or the “Irgun” as it is most commonly known), but it’s barely mentioned that this was the most extreme of the underground organisations, that many of the Yeshuv population opposed its actions. What they did is set out as the norm in the movie, and it wasn’t.
The present storyline shows two types of Jews – the disgustingly rich, living in mansion Jews, and the batshit crazy living in Hebron Jews. And, once again, the movie fails to show the viewer that this is the extreme of the Israeli society, not the norm.
In addition, the historical storyline seems to completely ignore the unflattering background of the situation. The fact that, for example, it was the British government that promised a homeland for Jews in Israel (I believe the gentleman’s name was Balfour, for he gave me nightmares in high-school studying for exams). It was the British government who first allowed them to enter the country, and then, when suddenly its interests in the region changed and they were more interested in maintaining a good relationship with the Arab population, started making quotas, putting refugees in camps etc. The movie doesn’t show that the British, in their attempts to please the Arab population, often overlooked violence towards Jews, and then later arrested Jews who tried to protect themselves from this violence (on charges of illegal holding of weapons, usually). The movie shows the story of one soldier, and I even believe that mostly, it doesn’t stray too far from actual events, but it fails to put them in a fair context. It shows parts of the “how”, but it fails to show the many layers of “why”.
Having said that, and having just finished watching the fourth part (everything until now has been written about parts 1-3), I just want to say that I don’t agree with many things Israel does. There are many things that put us to shame, that shouldn’t be done. But showing only those things, and making it seem as if this is the agreeable norm, is not right.
I had other things to say, things about the separation wall that, stupid and horrible as it is, has lowered the amount of suicide bombers drastically. Things about how the entrance to the weapons bunker in Kibbutz Yagur was under a tool shed, not through a classroom floor. Other things that matter, but I just don’t have the energy anymore.
This was my truth, added to theirs.