Guy Zuzut, as seen in In the Land of Pomegranates (First Run Features)

In the Land of Pomegranates is not a rousing endorsement of how dialogue between young Israelis and Palestinians can help promote peace efforts, and it may make viewers even more depressed about a solution in the near future. Director Hava Kohav Beller closely documents a two-week “summer camp” session of the Vacation From War project. Sponsored by the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy, it has involved 1,600 participants over a dozen years. In between tense airings of grievances, context is set against the beautiful images of the disputed homeland, archival footage, and extensive personal testimonials of clashes and some cooperation.

In a seminar setting, the two groups of a dozen each first have problems just pronouncing and remembering each other’s names while trying to get their tongues around unfamiliar syllables. Worse, most do not share a common language, besides those who speak broken English, and so they are dependent on one or other of their number to translate—accomplished with sarcasm, abbreviation, and weighted shading. (A couple of the Palestinian women wear head scarves, but no Orthodox Jews seem to be present.) Meeting in the organization’s home base in Germany, ostensibly because the participants can’t legally meet together in Israel or on the West Bank, the locale adds Holocaust references and field trips that set the Palestinians’ teeth on edge. The result is less dialogue and more confrontations, resentments, accusations, and stipulations.

The Palestinians consider all the Israelis complicit with government oppression because they have, as required, served in the military—and are presumed therefore to have killed children on the West Bank. Denials bring forth sniggers of “Liar.” The Israelis consider the Palestinians complicit with terrorism for not denouncing Hamas, and they defend the Israeli West Bank wall as a security necessity; the response is a cacophony about Palestinian politics that the Israelis can’t decipher.

The too few background interviews with the individuals are helpful. An Israeli man has been struggling to understand the Palestinian point of view since leaving his activism with a right-wing party. One Palestinian woman, who is proud to have become a manager of a McDonald’s, bitterly recounts daily prejudices she encounters from Israelis.

To be optimistic from this ultimately discouraging film, one could consider that maybe the participants are too old, compared to the young children followed in Joseph Boyle and Marjan Safinia’s Seeds (2004) that documented the similar Seeds of Peace program. Or maybe they haven’t had enough life experience, such as the Combatants for Peace activists cooperating in Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young’s Disturbing the Peace (2016). Maybe learning to speak the same language of the people who both claim the same, beautiful land would be a useful start toward peace.

Those who see this may share the hopeful view of the organizer, Mohammad Judeh, an ex-Intifada rock-thrower and ex-prisoner, who shrugs: “It’s a process. But change happens.”

Directed and Produced by Hava Kohav Beller
Released by First Run Features
Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles
Israel. 125 min. Not rated