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Series / The Promise (2011)

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History Repeats Itself.

Erin, a rather average English girl who just graduated from school, decides to accompany her Jewish friend Eliza to Israel, where the latter, being half-Israeli herself, is due to report to her mandatory service in the Israeli Defence Forces.

As Erin sets off, she finds the diary of her secretive and estranged grandfather Len - now eighty years old and paralysed by a stroke - who was in Palestine himself for a few years, stationed as a soldier in the 6th Airborne Division during the end of its British colonial tenure.

Armed with her grandfather's memories, Erin proceeds to experience the controversial ethnic strife that has plagued the land for sixty-plus years for herself - in all its ugliness, brutality, injustice, and surprising subtleties - periodically stopping to look back on how things used to be two mere generations ago...


The Promise is a 2011 British four-part miniseries, directed by Peter Kosminsky and released by Channel Four, that juxtaposes two different periods of the Arab–Israeli Conflict - its beginnings in the post-World War II British Mandate of Palestine, and the (then-)current contentious situation between the State of Israel and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories - and comments on just how much or how little things have changed ever since then.

Unsurprisingly, given the highly flammable subject matter, this series roused some controversy upon airing, with some accusing it of taking an exceedingly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance, or even downright antisemitism (ironic, since Kosminsky himself is a Jew), while others just see it as a brutally honest and well-researched commentary on the moral vacuum that the conflict has turned the region into, brought on by decades of precedents and repetition.


Not to be confused with the 2016 film of the same name.


  • Been There, Shaped History: Len helped liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, survives the infamous King David Hotel bombing, and witnesses the Massacre at Deir Yassin first-hand.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:The Jewish private Hyman receives a "regimental scrubbing" from his comrades in the 40s, getting forced into an empty bathtub and violently scrubbed with steel wool.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Promise refers to Len's promise to bring Mohammad's son Hassan out of Haifa alive and return the house's key to the family - which he failed to do in 1948. On the other hand, it also ironically refers to the (theologically) Zionist assertion that "the promised land" Israel was bestowed upon the Jews by God.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The Irgun have a large amount of British military surplus (mostly their own, left over from their time in the Jewish Brigades), and regularly disguise themselves as soldiers. One time, an Irgun lieutenant dons a British officer's uniform to manipulate a (kidnapped) Len into revealing the military's secret plans.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Erin witnesses a group of Muslim schoolgirls getting stoned by Jewish settler boys while some IDF soldiers just stand idly by and watch.note  When she pressures them to do their job and shoves them, they just waggle a baton in her face.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Israelis are portrayed as having inherited their situation from the British - that of an organised armed force fighting a constant battle against a violent insurgency.
  • History Repeats: In the 40s, British soldiers are shown blowing up the houses of known Zionist guerilla sympathisers with dynamite. In the new teens, Israeli soldiers have adapted the same technique for dealing with the houses of Palestinian militants.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Implied. When British soldiers forcefully evacuate several kibbutzes in the wake of a large anti-guerrilla operation, one of the evacuees begs Len to let them go. When he refuses, she spitefully calls him "Nazi!" - just before a soldier loads her onto a crowded truck and smears a number on her forehead with paint.
  • Irony: The ever-so duty-bound Len ends up getting arrested by Hyman (a Jewish NCO who was falsely suspected of spying for the Irgun) for going AWOL during the evacuation of Haifa.
  • Nothing Personal: Erin meets an old Irgun veteran and asks him why he attacked her grandfather's comrades. He tells her, rather bluntly, it was because the soldiers stood in the way of the Irgun's ends - no more and no less. After everything that the Jewish refugees had to suffer through during the Holocaust, they would not take a "No" for an answer from the British.
  • Not So Different: The series makes this point explicit regarding Jewish militants in the 40s and Palestinian militants in the early 2000s. Both are fighting for a homeland and willing to use brutal tactics in doing so. They are viewed as freedom fighters by supporters, terrorists by enemies. Further, the British used some tactics to fight the Jewish militants that modern Israel also uses against Palestinians. The series implies that both conflicts will only end with the militants getting a homeland.
  • Red Herring: It is revealed that there is a Zionist informant operating from inside Len's unit. It's strongly implied to be Private Alec Hyman, the sole Jew among them, who suffers constant abuse from vengeful comrades. But Hyman is entirely loyal - it turns out to be Jackie Clough instead, who was seduced by a female Zionist and later defects to join the Irgun's ranks.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: In the 40s, the Zionist militias ambush servicemen on leave, bomb public places, kidnap soldiers, lynch them, booby-trap their corpses, and slaughter entire Palestinian towns. In the 2000s, almost exactly the same things happen at the hands of the Palestinian militants.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: In-universe (and Real Life), in modern Israel, the Irgun and Lehi are considered heroes of Israeli history, whereas Palestinian suicide bombers are celebrated as martyrs in the streets of Gaza.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Inverted. A trio of Irgun fighters infiltrate a British military hospital, disguised as doctors, to rescue one of their own from captivity. But their cover gets blown and they're promptly killed in a firefight with police and soldiers.
  • Stealth Insult: Upon departing from a successful raid on a kibbutz, Len and his comrades are bidden farewell by a chorus of schoolchildren singing to them in Hebrew and presenting them anemones. Only when they return to base do they find out that the flowers were meant to mock them - the red petals stood for the color of their berets, and the black stigma for the color of their hearts.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In-universe. When Len and his comrades get ambushed and gunned down as they ride through a Jewish neighborhood, absolutely none of the passers-by reacts, and casually continue running errands, reading their papers and sipping their coffee on the cafe terraces. note 
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters:
    • The Irgun and Lehi militias of the 40s, naturally. The movie portrays them as extremely ruthless, relentless and violent, though nevertheless as nuanced men of principle.
    • The same goes for the portrayal of Palestinian fighters operating within modern Israel, who are unquestionably mass murderers, but act as much out of desperation as zeal.


Video Example(s):


Deadly Doctors

In this scene, it only becomes clear that something is wrong with the doctors almost immediately before all hell breaks loose, owing to director Peter Kosminsky's strictly POV-tied camera direction.

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