In The Promise, Kosminsky's uses the dual time frame device he employed in his 1999 drama Warriors, which depicted the experiences of British soldiers on a UN 'peace-keeping' mission in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Warriors evokes a parallel between the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews in the 1940s and those committed in Bosnia by Croat and Serb forces against Muslims in the 1990s. The argument of the film is that the British should have been mandated to 'intervene' in the conflict and save lives. Similarly, The Promise intercuts the story of Len (Christian Cooke), a British soldier who witnesses the chaos as the British forces leave Palestine in 1948, with that of his granddaughter Erin (Claire Foy), who, equipped with her grandfather's diary (there are echoes of Ken Loach's Land and Freedom here) visits Israel/Palestine in 2005 and discovers the extent of Israeli violence - both military and civilian - against Palestinians in the present day. The contemporary treatment of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli army, Kosminsky implies, is at least in part a consequence of the British 'betrayal' of Palestine 60 years ago.
Kosminsky argues that the British forces left the Palestinians to the mercy of the settlers and the 1940s scenes unsparingly depict the terrorisation of Palestinians in some of the key events of the Nakba, notably the Deir Yassin massacre and the Battle of Haifa (events that have received relatively little attention from film-makers). In the scenes set in 2005, Kosminsky foregrounds the ideological dimensions of the Israeli-Arab conflict in the scenes featuring Erin and her British-Israeli friend Eliza (Perdita Weeks), who is completing her army service in the Israeli Defence Force and happily participating in the bulldozing of Palestinian homes (the political polarisation of close friends or family is a theme Kosminsky caries over from his 2007 drama Britz, in which a British Muslim brother and sister adopt two very different responses to the British state's 'war on terror' following the 7/7 bombings: one becoming a suicide bomber, the other a state spy). Thankfully, however, Kosminsky does not fall into leftist trap of glorifying Hamas. In fact, a Hamas militant is portrayed negatively and when her guide in Gaza takes her to the home of family grieving for the death of their 'martyred' daughter, Erin expresses her visceral disgust at suicide bombing. Kosminsky thus quite rightly condemns the terrorism of both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships - while at the same time identifying Israel as the overwhelmingly more aggressive 'side' in the conflict (if only on account of its overwhelming military supremacy).
So far so good. But as I have argued in relation to Warriors, Kosminsky may be better at diagnosing problems than proposing solutions. As in Warriors, the British forces in The Promise are seen as neutral intermediaries capable of 'keeping the peace' if only they were allowed to do so. Yet the history of British colonialism in Palestine makes this perspective implausible, to say the least. As Richard Seymour notes in The Liberal Defence of Murder:
"The British had relied to a great extent on the Zionist movement in the crushing of the Arab revolt between 1936 and 1939. Jewish settlers were integrated into a Jewish supernumerary police and Special Night Squads, led by the British army officer Orde Wingate. The latter in particular acted as death squads, and became notorious for their brutality in the suppression of the Arab revolt, fully availing themselves of torture, beatings and summary executions."
Such facts rather undermine one's faith in British neutrality, just as the bloody history of British military involvement in the Middle East (and pretty much everywhere else in the world) undermines humanitarian justifications for British interventionism today.
Indeed, since Warriors, Kosminsky seems to have developed a rather bad case of 'interventionitis', an increasingly widespread condition among liberals since the 1990s. From a Marxist perspective, however, it is impossible for capitalist states (or indeed states-in-waiting such as Hamas) to impose 'peace'; that is the task of the Israeli and Palestinian working classes and it will only be achieved through their struggles against their respective bourgeoisies. These struggles (such as the protests against rising prices in Israel) had been developing in the past year, but seem to have been eclipsed by the recent increase in hostilities.
Despite this criticism, The Promise is an unusual and valuable drama that is underpinned, like all of Kosminsky's work, by careful research and by Kosminsky's determination to tell controversial stories (such as his 1990 Yorkshire Television docudrama Shoot to Kill, which alleged widespread corruption in the Royal Ulster Constabulary), whatever the consequences. It is surely to Kosminsky's credit that the Ministry of Defence has instructed its employees, following the David Kelly docudrama The Government Inspector, not to speak to the film-maker. Although Kosminsky has stoutly defended the historical accuracy of The Promise, the production has already been condemned by pro-Israel individuals and organisations. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has even compared the production to the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß! Indeed, the controversy surrounding The Promise will ensure that Kosminsky's work continues to be hated by all the right people for many years to come.
Finally, here's another thing for Kosminsky's Zionist critics to consider. Working class Jews could hardly have cared less for the British 'promise' of Jewish statehood. The Greek socialist Aghis Stinas writes in his Memoirs – Sixty Years under the Flag of Socialist Revolution:
"We knew about the 'Balfour declaration', the official promise made to the Jews by the British government during the First World War that it would set them up on the soil 'of their fathers.' The Jewish community and the Thessaloniki synagogue had called the Jews together to celebrate the news. The gathering took place in the morning, and behind closed doors. The afternoon of the same day masses of Jewish workers and intellectuals took to the streets, waving red flags, with these slogans: 'It is not in the state of Israel but in the world socialist society, united fraternally with all the peoples of the world, that we, the Jews, will guarantee our lives, our security and our well-being,' 'Long live the world socialist revolution,' 'Down with Zionism.'