Today, I viewed what has got to be one of the saddest documentaries ever made.
I stayed late on campus this evening to watch a showing of â€œJenin Jeninâ€ as part of Palestine Awareness Week at my university. As soon as the lights dimmed in the lecture hall, I busted out with my notebook and pen. I take notes on everything, ok. Must be that Wannabe English Major in me, or something.
Actually, the sadness wasnâ€™t restricted to just the documentary itself. You want to know whatâ€™s sad? The fact that I had to explain to the normally articulate and intelligent hijabi sister next to me what Jenin is. She leaned over to ask, â€œDo you happen to know what this film is going to be about?â€ â€œYes, itâ€™s about Jenin,â€ I answered, figuring that was self-explanatory. â€œOh,â€ she said, blankness written all over her face, â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€ Yes, we are in a sad state, peoples. What are we planning to do about it, is the question.
The attack on the Jenin city and refugee camp in Palestine ended a year ago today. For ten days, the Israelis bombarded Jenin with fighter planes, tanks, snipers and bulldozers. Following the massacre, the documentary-makers interviewed a wide range of surviving civilians in Jenin, varying from young children to feeble old men and women. Filmed solely in Arabic, with English subtitles, the documentary underscores the rubble and destruction left behind by the Israeli army, the strength and defiance of the Palestinian people, the heartbreak and helplessness and utter chaos that reigns in Jenin as a matter of course. â€œEvery time we build a home, they destroy it,â€ laments an old man. â€œEvery time a child is born, they kill him.â€
But the effects of the Arab-Israeli conflict are obviously not restricted to adults alone. One of the most heartbreaking images in the documentary is a series of interviews with a young Palestinian girl. Thin, light-skinned, with a dark fringe of bangs, she canâ€™t be more than eleven or twelve years old. A pretty child, the kind of girl youâ€™d involuntarily smile at if you were to pass her in the street, just because she looks like the quintessential little sister. Yours. Mine. The kind of child who, based just on her looks, should be living a happy-go-lucky and carefree life. Whatâ€™s jarring is that her eyes are the oldest Iâ€™ve ever seenâ€¦twin pools of pain and despair and defiance. For someone so young, she exhibits a bitterness and purpose far beyond her years. Her face remains deliberately blank most of the time. Itâ€™s her eyes that do most of the talking instead. Eyes that stare you down and bore into you unflinchingly and silently ask you what youâ€™re doing to alleviate her pain. The only time she comes close to breaking down is when she admits, â€œMy greatest wish is to go home.â€ But even that statement is mixed with defiance, as is everything else she says. She mentions that many of those massacred in Jenin were people she personally knew. â€œIsrael is not the only terrorist!â€ she flings at the cameraman. â€œThe whole world is the terrorist for allowing Israel to commit such atrocities.â€
â€œWhat is it about animal rights?â€ asks one resident of Jenin sardonically. â€œThe Western world is more concerned when an animal is killed than when a human being is.â€ Another man, ignoring his own advanced age and frailty, chooses to look to the future with hope: â€œBut thanks to the young, and with Godâ€™s blessing, we will rebuild this camp whether they like it or not.â€
One man sneers bitterly, â€œSo this is what we call the conscience of the world: when the world turns a deaf ear.â€ Another man, his face lined and strained from watching too many of his people suffer unnecessarily, says wearily, â€œHunger is not an issue; we are used to fasting during Ramadan. Smoking, they forced us to give that up in prison. But when a child dies in your arms, this will affect you for life. This is what hurts us most of all.â€
Later, speaking about the massacre, he adds, â€œWe made a legend out of our faith and our will, not weapons. I swear to you, not weaponsâ€¦ But what hurt us most was not the Israeli presence and their arsenal, but to be powerless to help a dying person. What hurt us most was that we were abandoned to ourselves while the whole world was watching. Nobody defended us. Nobody.â€
My greatest fear these days is that I will wake up one morning and not care anymore. I fear becoming detached or complacent. I fear that someday I may lose my sense of compassion or that I will become desensitized and refuse to concern myself with the state of our world. That would probably be the saddest thing of all. And yet I even wonder about that tooâ€¦ Because, does crying during a documentary make a difference? Does coming home and writing a long post about it do the same? I always tell people, â€œNever underestimate the power of duâ€™a,â€ but exactly how many duâ€™as does it take to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering all over the world? They undergo so much pain and harshness. They live such bleak lives; that is, if their situations can even truly be called â€œliving.â€ Every second of their existence on this earth is etched with anguish and blank terror, is fraught with humiliation and horror. And I can sit here and shed a few tears and type out several paragraphs and sympathize with their plight, and tomorrow, knowing me, Iâ€™ll probably come back in a state of deliberate denial and ramble on about french fries and chocolate and my own issues (or lack thereof, as I so often laughingly remark).
Every time I get tangled up in this dilemma about not caring enough, I get to thinking about Rachel Corrie. [See my March 23rd post for more.] She cared, and she proved it. Unfortunately, I lack that level of courage and selflessness. Rachel Corrie possessed so much conviction and purposefulness that she endangered her life to support the Palestinian people, because she felt they were struggling for something that was true and just. Did you know that her hometown was Olympia, Washington? Back in the summer of 1989, my family went on a road trip to Canada, driving north through California, Oregon, and Washington State on our way to visit my dadâ€™s cousin in Vancouver. There was a fair or carnival going on in one of the Washington cities we were passing through, so we stopped there for the day and joined in the fun. We have several photos from that day, but the one I remember best is of me astride a white pony on the merry-go-round. Iâ€™m wearing a pink-and-white checkered dress and my hair is in danger of falling out of its braid. Two of my front teeth are missing, but nonetheless Iâ€™m aiming a wide, gap-toothed grin at my dad and his camera. Eight years old, and I didnâ€™t have a care in the world.
Why am I talking about this? Iâ€™m not quite sure. I guess itâ€™s because whenever I thought of Washington State in the past, it brought back memories of the merry-go-round and the trip to Canada. Now, Washington reminds me of Rachel Corrie instead, and itâ€™s interesting to think that she grew up relatively close to me, just a couple years apart, probably with much of the same carefree upbringing as I experienced. And I canâ€™t help but wonder, how did she gain so much courage and strength of conviction? How is it that an American girl like Rachel Corrie, so like myself albeit non-Muslim, formulated her ideals and strengthened her resolve and actuallyâ€”ACTIVELYâ€”attempted to make a difference in the world?