Fatah could have written The Promise

November 24, 2016 22:10

First, the good news. Peter Kosminsky's The Promise is a welcome and long overdue attempt to dramatise the final days of the British Mandate in Palestine.

The acting by a British and Israeli cast is excellent, as is some of the writing. Also, the series, made completely on location, has injected millions into the Israeli economy.

However, if this is, as Kosminky claimed in a recent interview with this newspaper, an attempt to tell both sides of what is a complex and contentious story, the four-part series is an abject failure.

Rather, it turns out to be a depressing study in how to select historical facts to convey a politically loaded message.

The hero is Len, played by Christian Cooke; a British soldier who, still traumatised by witnessing the liberation of Bergen Belsen, is transferred to Palestine. His initial sympathy is with the Jews, but as the conflict heats up, he becomes increasingly pro-Arab.

In a parallel story set in 2005, his granddaughter, Erin (Claire Foy), travels to Israel to spend time with her Israeli friend Eliza, who is about to start her military service.

At first, Erin is enthralled by the westernised culture of Tel Aviv, but guided by her grandfather's diary plus the friendship of disillusioned former soldier, Paul, and Arab-Israeli Omar, she also becomes attached to the Palestinian cause.

If you knew nothing about the conflict, you would infer from this that Israelis are impossibly wealthy (portrayed as living in large houses with swimming pools) and that the Israeli soldiers in the Territories are universally unfeeling and brutal.

The only stones we see being thrown are by Orthodox Jewish children at Arab girls. From Len's story you would view the pre-state Jewish militias as cynical, manipulative and murderous, while the Arabs of the time are portrayed as defenceless and fearful.

Jewish atrocities, such as the hanging of two British soldiers, the bombing of the King David Hotel and the Deir Yassin massacre are dealt with in graphic detail. There is no mention of the fact that the mainstream Jewish leadership condemned these actions.

Likewise, there is no mention of any Arab actions during this period - for example, the siege of Jerusalem (which might have merited a mention), as might the Hadassah convoy massacre of 79 Jews, including many doctors and nurses.

The combined invasion of all the Arab armies in 1948 against a tiny force of ill-equipped Jews is dismissed as almost an irrelevance.

Then there is the preposterousness of some of the storylines. For example, to make his narrative to work, Kosminsky has shifted Deir Yassin from its location near Jerusalem and deposited it just outside Haifa.

And in the Arab village, by some unimaginable coincidence, Len meets his radicalised Jewish ex-girlfriend who is now enthusiastically joining in the bloodbath.

Then, as he fights with Arabs near Haifa, who should he bump into but Levy, the Jewish soldier who had begged to stay with his unit in Palestine but who is now fighting with the Jews.

It also takes a considerable suspension of disbelief to imagine an 18-year-old English girl wandering around Hebron on her own (where she is arrested by soldier friends of Paul), then ambling around a suicide bomber's former home in Gaza, where, don't you just know it, she is arrested by soldier friends of Eliza's father.

Ultimately, the message, which becomes sickeningly apparent in the final episode, is put into words through heroic Len, who has been imprisoned after deserting the army to defend an Arab family.

He writes in his diary: "So now the Jews have their precious state. Good luck to them. But this is a state born in violence, in cruelty to its neighbours. I can't see how it can hope to prosper."

November 24, 2016 22:10

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