JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Of the hundreds of tragic tales of children killed during decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ahmed Khatib’s must rank among the most remarkable.
Khatib was shot dead in 2005 by Israeli soldiers who mistook him for a gunman in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Still grieving, his father agreed to donate Ahmed’s heart, liver, lungs and kidneys to save the lives of Israeli children.
Offering a startling vision of hope while laying bare the deep divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, “The Heart of Jenin”, a new German-Israeli documentary film, recounts the story of Ahmed, his father, and three of the five people who received the donated organs.
“It’s not about politics, about Jews or Arabs, it’s about human beings,” said Ismail Khatib, Ahmed’s father, in an interview after the film’s premiere in Jerusalem.
“I see my son in these children.”
Khatib and his wife decided to donate Ahmed’s organs after doctors at an Israeli hospital in Haifa were unable to save him. Palestinian hospitals lacked the facilities to treat their dying son or make use of his organs.
They hesitated at first over whether to include his heart, but eventually agreed, and now it beats in the chest of Samah Gadban, a pretty Druze Muslim teenager from northern Israel.
One of Ahmed’s kidneys saved the life of Mohammed Kabua, a Bedouin child who lives in Israel’s southern Negev desert and rarely stops grinning in the film. Two other Israeli recipients of his organs requested to remain anonymous.
His kidney also saved Menuha Levinson, the toddler daughter of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem. But her father’s initial discomfort at the idea of an Arab donor betrays the deep personal suspicion that stokes this conflict, and gives the film a darker undertone.
Yaakov Levinson remarks shortly after his daughter’s life-saving operation that he would have preferred a Jewish donor and remarks that he would never allow his children to be friends with Arabs for fear of “bad influence”.
“The Heart of Jenin” splices original interviews with news footage from the bloody suicide bombings and army raids that marked the second Palestinian Intifida, or uprising. The German and Israeli filmmakers hope to show it internationally.
One of its most touching, and disappointing, sequences is toward the end of the film, when, two years after Ahmed’s death, Khatib and his brother embark on a road trip around Israel in a beat-up saloon to visit the children whose lives they saved.
The climax is a confrontation with the Levinson family, who, in an awkward exchange at their Jerusalem home, apologize for their earlier comments and thank Khatib, but betray a deep misunderstanding about life in the occupied West Bank.
Co-director Marcus Vetter argued the Levinson family showed personal progress in their treatment of Khatib during the making of the film, offering hope for reconciliation. He said he purposely ended with a shot of Menuha on a playground swing.
“That was our message of hope,” Vetter told Reuters. “She has the power to change things.”