Tuesday, October 30, 2007
To Die In Jerusalem
When I was seven years old my brother and I were fighting in the back seat of my grandmother’s car. This particular skirmish had a back-story of recriminations and mutual dirty deeds. We were both angry. Each of us felt justified. As the fight escalated everyone in the car and others on the highway were endangered. So my grandmother turned sharply and simply said, “Stop it!” We both protested about who started what and when. My grandmother wasn’t having any of it and forcefully declared, “I don’t’ care who started it. It stops now.” We stopped. Grandma had spoken.
I recalled that incident from my childhood while watching a “screener” for the documentary, To Die in Jerusalem which premiers on HBO this Thursday at 9:00 P.M. EST.
To Die in Jerusalem recounts the tragic story about two teenaged girls – one a 17-year-old Israeli student named Rachel Levy, the other an 18-year-old Palestinian student/suicide bomber named Ayat al-Akhras – brutally entwined by fate in March 2002. They died together in a Jerusalem market when Ayat chose the path of martyrdom. Both girls made the cover of Newsweek as a result.
This documentary focuses on Rachel’s mother, Abigail Levy, efforts to coordinate a one-on-one meeting with her counterpart, Um Samir. Both mothers are in pain and victims of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On camera, Um Samir claims she would have stopped her daughter “by force” if she had known what Ayat planned to do. At the same time she blames the state of Israel for an occupation that has compelled Palestinians to resist by any means necessary. Naturally, Abigail Levy believes the act to be senseless murder making peace even more unattainable.
The mothers finally speak via satellite hookup. In fleeting moments there seems to be the potential for common ground. Um Samir proclaims they are both victims and observes that presidents and prime ministers who make decisions of war and peace were far above mothers like them. But as the conversation continued it was clear they were both culturally and ideologically locked and incapable of processing the other’s point of view.
Abigail Levy simply couldn’t accept that Israel’s occupation bore any responsibility for nurturing an environment of hate among the Palestinians. Um Samir seemed incapable of accepting that terrorism was only digging the Palestinians into a deeper hole of despair and therefore her daughter as well as other suicide bombers had sacrificed their lives for nothing.
The documentary ends with both giving up on trying to persuade the other because neither is truly listening to the other. When it ended my heart felt as if it were impaled on a dull blade. Um Samir had declared that presidents and prime ministers were above mothers like them. In reality the leadership of both societies largely reflect both of these mothers. Consequently, it’s doubtful we’ll see peace between both peoples in my lifetime.