“The Promise”- Channel 4 Mini-Series

The Promise is a British mini-series set in modern day Israel, with repeated flashbacks to British Mandate Palestine. The story is centred around Erin, a wealthy British girl come to Israel to accompanying her Israeli friend, Eliza, who has just started her compulsory army service. Just before leaving, she found the diary of her Grandfather from his time served in the British Army in Palestine after the war. The story procedes with two concurrent and interlacing storylines separated by about 60 years, which eventually becomes the modern girl’s search for a family who her grandfather harmed in some way, in order to find out what it was that he’d done, and to give them back a key found in the diary inside an envelope.

The mini series has the distinction of presenting the contemporary and past situations in Israel/Palestine in a great deal of their complexity.  Eliza’s grandfather turns out to have been in the Irgun, and one of the bombers of the King David Hotel. Erin’s grandfather had been in the King David Hotel when it was bombed, narrowly escaping death. Eliza’s father is a former IDF general, and her older brother is a former soldier now involved in Combatants for Peace. Erin’s grandfather, Len, has a Jewish girlfriend who’s involvement with the Irgun becomes increasingly apparent. It is but one of many ways that the show presents the difficulty the British Army has in keeping its plans private, secret from the Irgun during the late mandate period. Their civil service “leaks like a civ”, and the Irgun are highly effective in using their inside information to protect themselves against searches and to undertake a terrorist campaign against the British forces.

The Irgun opposed the British quota policies on migration to Palestine, which attempted to keep a balance between Arabs and Jews in the region and to keep Jewish-Arab relations peaceful. The Irgun advocated Zionist settler-colonialism; unlimited Jewish migration to Palestine and the formation of a Jewish state. This campaign was eventually successful – pressuring the British into Withdrawal, and allowing the Irgun along with other zionist paramilitaries like Yehi and Hagannah (who were already unified in 1945 as the Jewish Resistance Movement), to form the IDF and seize the majority of Palestine for exclusively Jewish Migration.

The film isn’t politically neutral – it is initially sympathetic to Irgun in the flashbacks, and towards the anti-occupation viewpoint in the present day story. It really emphasizes the fact that the Irgun are carrying out terrorist attacks against the British in order to allow Jews from newly liberated concentration camps to flee to Israel – something which it is hard not to have sympathy for. On the other hand, the sympathy is drained as the story moves on to depict the massacres of Arab civilians by Zionist militants.

In the modern story, it shows how contemporary Israel remains a racist state, with very different rights in practice for Israel-Jews and Israeli-Arabs, and imposing an occupation and annexation wall on the Arab population which has the primary goal of making people’s lives impossible rather than safety. The different Jewish viewpoints offered agree on this much, but differ sharply on how the occupation should be opposed – for instance, Eliza’s brother and father differ on whether those who oppose Israeli policies should treat the state as a democracy, or a military dictatorship. Eliza’s father, the former general, insists Israel is a democracy and the courts can be appealed to to remove or at least mitigate the negative effects of the separation wall, whereas Eliza’s brother believes that such legalistic action legitimizes the military dictatorship as a “democracy”, and instead chooses to meet with former Palestinian fighters, and to supports refuse-nick organizations of former IDF soldiers who expose state violence for what it is.

Unfortunately, the series has only been screened in Europe, and probably would be denounced as anti-semitic by Michael Ignatieff if it were. You can’t watch it online either, because while Channel 4 has all their content available to stream from their website, you need a UK ip address in order to access it. If you are in the UK, you can watch it here. I’m not sure if it is available for purchase on itunes or some other for-pay video site, but if it is, it would be worth shelling out for.


4 thoughts on ““The Promise”- Channel 4 Mini-Series

  1. Yours is one of the more measured reviews of this fine film. Nice work.

    I believe there were major differences between the Irgun (violent, extremist) and the Histadurt run Haganah. The former was Military and the later a Militia. The former did some heavy-duty PR
    in an effort to promote agressive and violent policies. Menachem Begin was the last commander of the Igrun.

    I see you wrote this over a year ago. Now there arehree parts of the series available for view on Hulu (United States) and the fourth one coming soon. It is also on YouTube where it is dubbed in French. No substitles.

    1. Thanks for the commend. Personally, I don’t see a big difference between the Haganah and the Irgun/Stern gang. They all participated in ethnic cleansing, they all committed war crimes. The major differences between them was size (Haganah much larger), and ideology (Irgun was revisionist zionists, lehi were revolutionary zionists, Haganah were labour-zionists). In fact, Irgun was organized in a military way, with companies, and up until the incident with the Atelena, the Irgun were able to join the precursor to the IDF (I think at the time it was called the “Hebrew Military Organization”) as fully formed companies. After that incident Irgun militants could only join as individuals.

      Begin was also the commander in chief when Sharon allowed the massacres in Sabra and Shatila to occur. I don’t see a big difference between the “violent extremist” tactics of the Irgun during the Nakba/War of independence and the IDF military tactics of the Unit 101 in the 50s, or the tactical alliance with the Phalange in ’82.

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