Film triggers discussion of unrest in Middle East

Students from all backgrounds gathered at the Cosford Cinema last Thursday night for a screening of Promises, a film that explores the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. The movie was followed by a discussion between four panelists and the audience.
The Jewish Student Organization [JSO] and the Organization of Arab Students Instituting Solidarity [OASIS] sponsored the event. Co-sponsors included the Department of Judaic Studies and the Department of Communication Documentary Film Unit.
“We’ve been planning this event for about three months,” Jeffrey Shoulson, director of the Judaic Studies Program, said. “There was a screening of the film on Miami Beach during the fall semester.”
Rasha Uthman, president of OASIS, said that this event was an opportunity to bring both sides together to alleviate some of the tensions between the two groups.
“I don’t think there has ever been an event like this on campus,” she said.
Promises is a compelling documentary that follows seven Israeli and Palestinian children from 1997 until the summer of 2000. It won an Emmy for Best Documentary and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 74th annual awards ceremony.
The children in the film share an uncensored interpretation of their daily lives in the city of Jerusalem, a place that many describe as a city of violence and unrest, where prejudice between the Israelis and Palestinians exists and the exchange of dialogue between the two is rare.
“The movie was definitely an eye-opener,” said Andrew Figueroa, a freshman majoring in business who went to watch the movie at the advice of a friend.
The film was followed by a panel discussion of four UM students from Jewish and Arabic backgrounds.
“It’s critical to have both sides come together to talk,” Shoulson said. “These issues are tense.”
For one panelist, Deana Awad, watching the movie was very emotional and brought back memories from when she lived in Israel.
“[This movie] is just another reason why things like this should take place,” Guy Ravitz, another panel member, said. “For those who don’t really know what the situation is.”
Discussion mediator, Cory Cain, from COISO, urged the audience to ask questions related only to the film. The avoidance of political opinion was stressed, but it came up at some instances.
One audience member felt the panelists were being censored for not being able to express their personal opinions.
“I would have liked a more open-ended discussion, but I’m pleased that people stuck around and gave their opinion of the movie,” Shoulson said.
The event was not only for those individuals from either Israeli or Palestinian backgrounds, but also for those who wanted to learn more about the conflict between the two groups.
“It was important for those immediately involved in the conflict to see the human faces behind the rhetoric,” Shoulson said. “It was also important for those not immediately involved in the situation to see how costly and complex the conflict has been.”
For those who are interested in this issue, a course entitled “Jews and Arabs: Representations of Semitic Self & Other in Literature and Film” will be offered in fall 2003 by professors Christina Civantos and Ranen Omer-Sherman.

Angelique Thomas can be contacted at