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The Promise

28 Feb

Channel 4’s ‘The Promise’ was an amazing film, very long and shown in four parts totalling about 7 hours in total. Starting with the Nazi Holocaust depicted by the horror of British soldiers discovering the Belsen concentration camp, it showed how the State of Israel was born thru violence which continues to the present day.

This brave film utilized a dual storyline alternating between the 1940s when Palestine was administered by the British till the establishment of Israel, and a modern-day story. The link was a diary read by the grand-daughter of a British soldier who was in Palestine in the three years between the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel.

The film took us from sympathy with the Jewish plight after the horror of the Holocaust, thru the violent terrorism of the Jewish Irgun group to the suicide bombings of the Palestinian Hamas. On the way we witnessed the uncomfortable sight of British soldiers rounding up early Jewish immigrants, some with Nazi concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms, and putting them in British detention camps. Also the voice of a woman on a Zionist radio station calling the British occupation forces ‘Nazis’, and when Irgun terrorists were hung by the British authorities, Irgun executed British soldiers in reprisal.

The modern-day story showed the inhumanity shown by some Jewish Israelis to their Palestinian neighbors, and of course how the Palestinians lost homes and lands to the Israeli settlers.

The film depicted violence by all parties in this tragedy – the Zionists, the Palestinians and the British. In the final episode, however, we see the British soldier, once sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland, writing that Israel was a state born in violence and meting out cruelty to its Palestinian neighbors. Not only its neighbors, he might have added, but to the former Palestinian residents of homes and land stolen off them by the Israeli settlers.

The message I got from this film was that the establishment of a Jewish homeland on land stolen from Palestinians was a great mistake, that the British failed in their mission to protect the Palestinians and eventually abandoned them to their fate. Of course a UN declaration supporting the establishment of the state of Israel gave Britain little option but to withdraw, and what wasn’t stated in the film was that the British had promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine decades earlier.

The real message of this film was that people are just people whatever race or religion they belong to, and if we fail to recognize that atrocities occur on all sides. Even a terrible thing like the Nazi Holocaust couldn’t justify stealing land and homes from completely innocent Palestinians, let alone erecting walls and treating them like second-class citizens in modern day Israel/Palestine.

Indeed it would have made more sense to establish a Jewish homeland in the countries responsible for the Holocaust, namely in Germany/Austria and those countries like Britain and the USA that were reluctant to accept Jewish refugees en masse immediately before the Holocaust. Or indeed in those countries with plenty of land to spare in which to establish a homeland such as the USA, Australia or even the Soviet Union, rather than in tiny Palestine.

However the very idea of a homeland based on race and religion is very questionable, since it implies anyone of a different race or religion is excluded, has less rights or is at least regarded as a second-class citizen. Also Jews were not the only victims of the Nazi Holocaust: gipsies, gays and the physically and mentally handicapped were also victims, but none of these groups got homelands, only the Jewish and Communist victims got these.

Also, many of the Israeli settlers came from places like Britain and USA where there never was a Holocaust, so as also came across in the film, the modern State of Israel with its affluent Jewish homes sits very uncomfortably with the squalor of the Palestinian homes nearby in this tragic land. The whole Israeli thing smacks of old-fashioned settler colonialism, with middle-class Americans, British and others who have never suffered persecution just grabbing land and homes from people abroad they regard as their inferiors.

The whole lesson of the film for me was that the Jewish people, having suffered so from the Nazis and others, ought to have learnt to treat other races with a lot more understanding and compassion. Ethnic cleansing, wherever it occurs, is not a pleasant thing and causes untold suffering and misery.

It is not, of course, only Israelis who are responsible for ethnic cleansing and grabbing land and homes formerly belonging to another race. It has happened elsewhere in the world, not least nearby Cyprus where my father comes from, both Greek and Turkish communities being guilty of expelling members of the other community from their homes and land by the use of violence and terror.

The solution in Cyprus has inevitably been a two-state one, albeit that the Turkish state is still unrecognized by any country but Turkey. The solution in Israel/Palestine must now be a two-state solution, with Palestine universally recognized as a truly independent state.

None of these two-state ’solutions’ is ideal because people of different races and creeds should be able to live together in a secular state which does not differentiate or give preference to one race/creed over another. However at least with officially recognized fully independent states no race or creed is denied a homeland where they can feel relatively safe.

It is, of course, an irony that Jews are less safe in Israel than probably anywhere else in the world, but that is what happens when people just use violence to grab land and homes from others. Not to mention the undeniable and quite obvious fact that it would be physically impossible for all the Jews in the world to claim the ‘right of return’ proclaimed by Israel (citing ancient religious scriptures by unknown authors that this land was promised to them by God).

The only way all the Jewish people could be settled in a Greater Israel would be by that country continually expanding and creating more  living room by invading and occupying all its neighboring lands. This together with the idea of a ‘chosen race’ sits very uncomfortably with the Nazi notion of an Aryan ‘master race’ needing more ‘lebensraum’ (living room) by invading all its neighbors to create a greater Germany or Third Reich and treating other races with cruelty and very much as ‘untermenschen’ or as sub-human.

I wonder if  The Promise will be shown on Israeli TV?

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