81. Promised Land
Music by Simon Stockhausen & Arvo Part
From the film Promised Land
Directed by Amos Gitai, 2004


On Promised Land: a brief synopsis

‘A night in the Sinai desert. A group of men and women keep warm around a camp fire under the moonlight. The women come from Eastern Europe. The men, who normally walk their herds in the area, are Bedouins. Tomorrow, they will secretly cross the border. Tomorrow, Diana and the others will be beaten, raped and auctioned off. They will be passed from one hand to another, merchandised by Anne into Hanna’s hostess club, victims of an international network of trafficking women. One night in the club, Diana meets Rose. Their encounter is a sign of hope into the women’s descent into hell.’ [1]

A review of Promised Land – ‘Promised Land is a stunningly audacious movie, for political reasons as well as for the aesthetical choices made. Gitai solves the problem of representing the ordeal, the nakedness and the descent into hell of these young women in an exemplary way. There are such films where the movie maker pretending to expose a situation, instead gives way to voyeurism. Not so in this film; the eye of the director never debases the actresses’ bodies. Amos Gitai’s concern for oppressed women goes a long way back in time (Bangkok-Bahrain, Kadosh). Promised Land questions the notion of territoriality (the traffickers speak all kinds of languages: Arab, French, Russian, Hebrew). Gitai depicts Israel as a huge capitalist brothel in the age of globalisation. The representation of enslaved bodies turned into a merchandise and contemptuously transported across borders and through checkpoints, appears as a metaphor of the way a scornful economic system conquers the world.’ [2]

On Sinai

‘Ancient Sinai (6000 – 600 BC): humankind’s presence in Sinai dates back eight thousand years, when early bronze age settlers arrived in search of valuable metals. They developed the peninsula’s copper and turquoise mines, which later drew the attention of Egypt’s earliest Pharaohs. By 3000 BC Egypt had asserted its control over the region. For the next three millennia, Sinai remained sparsely inhabited, serving primarily as a mining region and as a military route between Egypt and the great civilizations of the Fertile Crescent.

Biblical Sinai (c.1400 BC): even as great chariot armies clattered back and forth across its stony expanses, Sinai played host to a quieter but ultimately far more memorable set of events. Around 1400 BC, Moses led the Israelites through its ‘great and terrible wilderness’ on the epic journey recounted in Exodus. Three thousand years later, the sites and the episodes of that journey continue to stand at the very core of the history of Sinai.

Islamic & Ottoman Sinai (600 – 1900 AD): with the advent of Islam in the 7th century, the cultural and political landscape changed once again. Pilgrims from Egypt to Mecca prompted the construction of new towns to shelter and protect them. Medieval Europe launched the crusades, and Sinai once again became a thoroughfare for armies, and great fortresses like that on Pharaoh’s Island were built. As this period ended, Bedouin tribes from the east arrived and became the de facto rulers of the peninsula’s rough terrain. For the next several hundred years they lived relatively undisturbed, establishing migratory territories and cultural traditions that lasted well into our own time.

Recent History (1900 AD – Present): the story of Sinai in the last half-century is dominated by the conflicts between Egypt and Israel, the latter of which occupied the peninsula between 1967 and 1982. Since Israel’s withdrawal in accordance with the Camp David accords, a less militarized Sinai has welcomed ever-growing numbers of visitors from all countries. Its religious and cultural heritage, as well as its spectacular natural environment, have stimulated an era of economic prosperity that is unprecedented in the peninsula’s long history.’ [3]

Beneath Sinai

‘A ground-water assessment of Sinai, Egypt, was performed by Dames & Moore for the Egyptian Ministry of Development from 1980 to 1983 as a part of the Sinai Development Study. The basic data included existing stratigraphic data from 69 wells and 57 columnar sections, and hydrologic data for 716 water points (wells and springs).

Statistical analysis of the data for total dissolved solids (TDS) and for yields from the water points by ground-water province and by geologic unit showed that the Southern Mountain Province generally has the best quality ground water and the Suez Rift Province the worst. Among all the geologic units, the crystalline rock, the Middle Cretaceous sequence, and the Quaternary deposits yield water of the lowest total dissolved solids. The mean TDS value of ground water from all water points in Sinai for which data were available is 2,800 mg/1. Of all the geologic units, the highest mean yield (200 m3/day, or about 37 gpm) was from Quaternary deposits in the vicinity of El Arish in the north and in the El Qaa plain along the southwest coast.

Regional ground-water flow in the sedimentary aquifers, such as the Lower Cretaceous (and older) sandstone, tends to be strongly influenced by large-scale folds and faults. In this aquifer, regional flow occurs generally northward and northeastward toward the Arava valley and the Dead Sea in Israel, but another component of flow occurs toward the Gulf of Suez on the western side.’ [4]

‘Marine geophysical data recorded offshore Egypt illustrate the presence of an active fault belt, trending N145°E, that obliquely transects the eastern Nile deep-sea fan. This belt, more than 150 km long, consists of a series of linear transtensive faults, with an apparent right-lateral horizontal component. These fault zones bound thick-sediment-filled grabens where linear salt ridges and diapirs represent likely Messinian salt reactive response to regional transcurrent geodynamics. We infer that this tectonic belt might correspond to an offshore extension of the Gulf of Suez rift system. If our hypothesis is correct, this fault belt might represent the western boundary of a Levantine-Sinai microplate, locked between the major Arabia and Africa plates and the Anatolian-Aegean microplate.’ [5]

On Amos Gitai

‘DS: Do you think that cinema can mirror the reality of the situation in Israel? Is that your role as a filmmaker?

AG: I think ‘mirror’ is much better than what I’m generally proposed, which is ‘to change’, because it’s not the medium to change reality in a direct form. I think films that have tried to do it have failed, in most cases, as films. I think we are too late in the history of cinema, after the great filmmakers of the Soviet Union, who were used [by the government]. But if we can sensitize some other way of thinking – and especially if we can avoid making a caricature of the Other in a state of conflict – I think it’s very good. If we can say to all the mechanisms which are active in such a conflict that we are not participating in their game, and we are going to propose another reading of things, then [that’s good]. As you know, the Middle East conflict is the one that consumes the biggest part of international news on a daily basis – sometimes in an excessive manner. I think we – Israelis and Palestinians – have become too auto-intoxicated by our own image. One image amounts to sympathy for one side and another to the other side. And this is not good, because it fetishises all the suffering. I think that bearing witness to it, and at the same time as a citizen – because I care about the destiny of this region and my country – is an interesting role.

DS: But I don’t see you as having a pessimistic vision of things, if only because of what we were talking about earlier, the ability of cinema to cross borders and reach people.

AG: I think that the two sides, Israelis and Palestinians, have a subconscious limit in spite of all the violence. When I speak in Europe about the films, I say, ‘Listen, the recent Intifada lasted something like four years. The war in Yugoslavia, which was in the heart of Europe, lasted four years. In all, about 190,000 people were killed, there were ethnic cleansings, there were women raped.’ In the Middle East, in the same period of time, roughly 3,000 people on both sides were killed. This is a lot: it’s suffering, it’s life, but 3,000 is not 190,000. No Palestinian raped Israeli women or vice versa. It means that two societies, although they are battling each other, know somewhere in the back of their mind that, at some point, they will need to sit down, finally […] and make an agreement.’ [6]


[1] The Films of Amos Gitai, www.amosgitai.com
[2] Review of Promised Land by Jean-Luc Douin, Le Monde, January 12th, 2005, quoted in The Films of Amos Gitai, www.amosgitai.com

[3] Sinaitic timeline www.geographia.com Copyright (c) 1997 by interKnowledge

[4] Ground-Water Assessment of Sinai, Egypt, by Andrew C. Mills, Principal Hydrogeologist, Geraghty & Miller, 290 Vincent Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey 07601 & Abdu Shata , Professor Emeritus in Hydrogeology, The Desert Institute, Cairo, Egypt. Received October 1986, revised October 1988 and February 1989, accepted March 1989. www3.interscience.wiley.com

[5] Marine geologic evidence for a Levantine-Sinai plate, a new piece of the Mediterranean puzzle, by Jean Mascle, Jean Benkhelil, Gilbert Bellaiche, Tiphaine Zitter, John Woodside, Lies Loncke and Prismed II Scientific Party Geology; September 2000; v. 28; no. 9; p. 779-782, Extract from Geology; September 2000; v. 28; no. 9; p. 779-782; DOI: 10.1130/0091-7613(2000)28<779:MGEFAL>2.0.CO;2 © 2000 Geological Society of America, via the GeoScience World website geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/28/9/779

[6] Cinema in a State of Conflict: An Interview with Amos Gitaï, by Damon Smith



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