Creating people's geographies
The remarkable story of Ismail Khatib, a Palestinian father from the West Bank city of Jenin, continues. After his son Ahmed was shot by israeli soldiers in November 2005, the Khatib’s courageously donated their beloved 12 year-old’s organs to a number of recipients in israel, to both Arabs and Jews.
The story is the subject of the documentary film released last year, The Heart of Jenin, in which two directors, German Marcus Vetter and Israeli-American Leon Geller, accompanied Ismail for two years as he paid visits to the children who received his son’s organs.
Ahmed’s kidneys, liver, lungs and heart were transplanted to recipients ranging from a seven-month-old baby to a 58-year-old woman. Those who received organs included Arabs, Jews, and a Druze girl.
Despite having themselves suffered considerably under israeli occupation and despite the heart-wrenching circumstances in which 12 year old Ahmed died, his father also consents to one of his organs going to help a child from an illegal settler family, whose awful responses in the documentary are in stark contrast with Khatib’s dignity and humanity.
This Radio Netherlands audio is also worth a listen (12 minutes). It is significant that at the 2.20 mark the Khatib’s cast doubt on the IOF claim that their son was even holding a toy gun, and listen to the illegal settlers.
If you do an online search on either the film or the father’s name incidentally, you’ll find European media outlets and Middle East-related blogs on this rather remarkable story of generosity and caritas, but what about US media?
Except for an editorial in the LA Times, the US media has been noticeably absent in according the story the attention it clearly merits (the embedded links in the last sentence are from Canadian, UK and Australian media).
EI’s Maureen Clare Murphy has a very good review following the film’s screening in the Chicago film festival in April this year, in which she writes:
The message of the film is not that if only there were more brave Palestinians like Ismail willing to “reach out” to their oppressors, maybe more children like Ahmad would be spared such a violent fate (even if this is how the film seems to be marketed). The directors of the film do not play to this agenda. Rather, they present the more disturbing reality: that despite Ismail’s decision, and despite subjecting himself to an undignified meeting with the Orthodox Jewish family, nothing has changed in terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Although there are many scenes at checkpoints, illustrating very well the bureaucratic siege that weighs down on everyday Palestinian life, what is most remarkable about the film is how it shows the parallel, profoundly unequal existence of Jews and Arab minorities in Israel. The Arab citizens of Israel in the film all speak Hebrew; however, the Jewish family (the couple’s parents were not born in the country) do not speak Arabic. While the father of a Bedouin boy who receives one of Ahmad’s organs explains the discrimination his community faces (“I’m an electrician without electricity”), the Orthodox Jewish family seem totally unaware that their daughter was in the same hospital room as the Bedouin boy. It is clear that the family — the Levinsons — are incapable of imagining an Arab family in the same circumstances as they, and seem to think that all Arabs and Muslims roam around with weapons, seeking to kill Jews. Meanwhile, the other organ recipient followed in the film is a vivacious adolescent girl from the Druze community. (Another organ recipient didn’t survive the transplant, and two others chose to remain anonymous.)
Yaakov Levinson is portrayed rather unflatteringly — his blind righteousness probably the reason he volunteered to be included in the film. Yaakov characteristically says, upon learning that his daughter (still in surgery) was receiving the organ of an Arab, “of course I would prefer him [the donor] to be Jewish.” Later, in an interview conducted in his home, Yaakov says, without a hint of irony regarding how Ahmad was shot dead in his own neighborhood by an invading army, “I don’t understand why Arabs can work here freely and we can’t work in their villages … we would get killed on the spot.”
In an unfortunate oversight, the filmmakers fail to identify that the Levinson family are colonists living in an illegal settlement in the occupied East Jerusalem area of Shuafat (they are only identified as living in Jerusalem). This context is especially crucial when blue-eyed, fair-skinned Yaakov suggests (again, without any sense of irony) that if things are so bad for Ismail in Jenin, that he emigrate elsewhere — perhaps to the US, or maybe London or Turkey.
So if Ismail isn’t surprised that no hearts and minds were won over with his choice to donate Ahmad’s organs, why did he do it? “Do you think the Israelis liked what I did?” Ismail asks, rhetorically. He answers, they would have preferred he killed a child in a suicide bombing operation “rather than saving one.” For Ismail, it seems, keeping one’s head held high and refusing to bow to his oppressor’s agenda is his way of resisting the occupation, and Heart of Jenin movingly honors his struggle.