I’ve just seen the 2002 documentary Promises, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Promises is a documentary made by B.Z. Goldberg, an American who grew up in Jerusalem. He returns to interview children on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to show us the world through their eyes. We glimpse the early stages of hate taking root in their minds and hearts, but there are moments… moments… when you can see a flicker of understanding, of hesitation, of conscience.

Gather your family and friends and watch this together. I believe it will be even more effective now, in the midst of current events, than it was when it first opened. In fact, I would recommend that viewers see this before watching Spielberg’s Munich, or Paradise Now, or any other significant film about the conflict. It can only enhance the experience of those.

It’s as potent a view of the world through the eyes of children as Born into Brothels is, and in some ways far more revealing. The film has a way of inspiring hope even as it smashes the heart.

In films like this, there’s always some question about how the presence of cameras and the documetnarian altered the behavior and attitudes of those participating. But Goldberg shows remarkable restraint, holds back from preaching, and lets his subjects speak for themselves. While I worried for a while that he would shine too admiring a light on those who dismiss religion entirely, the conclusion of the film will leave us questioning whether or not those with the greatest zeal for peace might come from the least likely corners of the conflict.

In the last fifteen minutes, just when I felt that Goldberg might not get beyond merely showing the punishing, paralyzing cycle of violence and prejudice, suddenly events swung into motion that took the film to a new level, giving us a vision of possibility that is both painful and heartening to behold.

I suspect it will change your experience as you watch the news. It may change the way we pray. It may cause us to think about how hard it is to stop violence, even well-intentioned violence, once it starts, and what kinds of chasms we’re digging with each year of aggression.

But it does offer glimmers of hope. They’re just glimmers, but they show us where to focus our attention.

Bump Promises to the top of your Netflix queue, or check your local libraries or video stores. If your library system doesn’t have it, put in a request. It’s also available for purchase, so you can watch it again, and share it with others. And then, pray for the peace of the children of Israel… and Palestine… and their neighbors.

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