'Promises' star speaks at forum

By Tali Kweller, the Justice, 11.19.02

Sunday, the Arab-Jewish Dialogue group showed the award winning documentary "Promises" in Pollack Auditorium. The screening was preceded by Middle Eastern food and followed by remarks from one of the main figures in the documentary, Faraj Faraj, from the West Bank. There was also opportunity to engage in small group dialogue.

Before the screening, members of the Arab-Jewish Dialogue shared their different experiences both before and after joining the dialogue group.

"One thing I learned in the dialogue group is listening. In the beginning it's really hard. After a few meetings, you begin to listen a lot; you see things from the other side's perspective," Taher Baderkhan '03 said.

"I realized we're talking about individuals here, and we all have a history full of pain and loss … what I've learned is that there is more understanding to do — our quest for peace requires patience," Manar Fawakhry '06 said.

Ayham Bahnassi '05 and Mitchel Balsam '05 further explained the purposes of the dialogue group.

"It's a learning center…a therapeutic center… a safe asylum … a place where you can make friends … Despite our differences, we have a common passion," Bahnassi said.

"Eventually, we have to make peace. Why not start now?" Balsam said.

The 90 minute documentary "Promises" followed filmmakers B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro as they interviewed and entered the lives of seven children on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle Eastern conflict.

"What the kids said was very poignant. They were very honest, and at the same time they weren't so naïve and innocent. The conflict is a part of them; embedded in their lives," said Zoe Lieberman '06, who attended the screening.

After the film was shown, Faraj, who now lives in America, spoke to the audience about his experiences being a part of the documentary, as well as the importance of peace.

"In 1995 I meet this guy B.Z., an American Jew … in my school … and then he started talking to me, saying 'can I hear about your life?' I think to myself 'who are you for me to share my life with?'" Faraj said. "So, I give in, and I talk to him and I find that he is like me. He has feelings, he talks, he swears, he's a human. So, then I started sharing about myself."

Faraj told of his first meeting with two of the Israeli children involved in the documentary, twins Daniel and Yarko.

"I am excited, scared, angry and nervous. Did I do something bad when I said I wanted to meet these people?" Faraj said.

Faraj said he was initially fearful of participating in the documentary because every person in his refugee camp had experienced the loss of some family member(s) to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His family was supportive of his decision to meet with the two Israeli boys, he said. However, the day after his meeting with Daniel and Yarko, others in his camp were hostile to Faraj.

"The next day, people didn't want to look at my face. They said 'kick this guy out of school — he worked with Israel.' … But, why do I have to fight back? Why do I need to hold a gun — for land?" Faraj said. "I don't need land … land doesn't move, but my friend, if he goes, doesn't come back,"

Faraj said he has been trying to convince family to friends to see things from his newfound perspective. He left the audience with a strong message.

"We have to say stop, look, I don't care who you are, I don't care how you look … you are a human … We're human beings, not animals, not enemies. I know the movie changed something for you," Faraj said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Hewlett Pluralism Grant, the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, the Indian-Pakistani Dialogue Group, and the Peace and Conflict Studies program.