A heavy price
A film about a little girl, that I simply can't get out of my head.
Once upon a time, many years ago, children, when I was a student at the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a ship brought to Israel the contents of one of the rooms in the house of Baron Rothschild. The furniture and decorative objects were arranged in the Israel Museum as they had originally been in the baron's palace and put on display.
We were young then, and fleet of foot, and immediately decided to take advantage of the break we were taking between sitting in the cafeteria of the Popick Building and lounging on the grass in front of the Wise Auditorium, to visit the museum nearby. In front of us in the line that stretched along the gold, braided rope leading to the chest of drawers once owned by the great man were two yentas whose heads had been liberally doused with hairspray. Already from a distance we could see the red silk and the gilded pulleys of the curtains in the reincarnated room, the embroidered brocades that adorned the walls and in particular the huge chandelier.
"Ach," the yenta on the left sighed. "You see that chandelier made from pure gold and crystals? That Rothschild, he's what's known as a dear Jew."
I think of that Rothschild whenever I accidentally zap to Haim Hecht's Channel 2 show "What Would You Have Done?" in which he presents moral dilemmas to people and uses a hidden camera to film their sometimes shocking reactions. To earn the epithet "dear" (in any sort of context ), Rothschild had to belong to a family that left its imprint on history, financed world wars, helped found settlements in Palestine, managed global commerce, was actively engaged in philanthropy, and so on.
In contrast, to be called "dear man" or "dear woman" by Hecht - his eyes tearing with emotion and his hands clapping in astonishment - you need only be what he considers a non-average Israeli. According to him, the average Israeli is apparently busy beating women and children, neglecting infants and showboating racism. Thus, any Jew or Jewess who is not willing, for example, to cooperate with the proprietor of a store who declares that he does not sell to Arabs, or will only sell them goods if they dress like Jews, is a righteous person - "a dear Jew, like you," who is involved in meaningful moments "of the kind for which we exist." In short, it's enough not to be a scumbag to be considered a terrific person.
But how does one become a "dear Palestinian"? Silly girl, you are undoubtedly thinking. Doesn't she know there's no such thing as a "dear Palestinian"? There is such a thing as a "good Arab," but usually the connotation is a Druze, like MK Ayoob Kara. But "dear" is something else again.
If I were Haim Hecht (and to everyone's delight, I am not ), I would certainly be a far dearer woman (in the financial sense, at least ) than I am today. But because I have no choice but to be me, I would probably scold the bad instead of praising the average, and would look for own my "dear Jews" elsewhere. In Sheikh Jarrah, for example, among the settlers and the Border Police who are dealing with Arabs and demonstrators, or at the checkpoints.
I would also try to find out where the "dear Jews" vanish when a five-year-old girl named Ahlam has to get through a checkpoint to receive substandard treatment at an ill-equipped hospital for her spreading leukemia. I would go and find out where all those Jews disappear to when her mother runs four times a week to every military office in the Hebron area, taking three or four taxis each time, dealing with checkpoints and leaving her six children, including Ahlam, alone - just to get a permit to accompany her daughter to chemotherapy. I would ask where the "dear" functionary/officer is who is in charge of giving her the permit.
If I were Ahlam's mother, who wears a head-covering and is 43 years old but looks like she is 70 - maybe I too would reach the conclusion that only Allah can help. If I were her, I would say the Jews whose occupation I am living under do not want to help or simply can't. The staff at the Hebron hospital want to help but can't, because they lack the medication for Ahlam's injection. I would say the military government doesn't want to help, because seven years ago, their records say, my brother became a shaheed because of some encounter with soldiers at a checkpoint. They don't care that my husband sometimes beats me and the children because he's unemployed, or that Ahlam's illness is tearing the family apart.
Since I am not Ahlam's mother, I ask myself why no one from the crew who documented her and her child in the film by Rima Essa called "My Name is Ahlam," which was recently screened in the Docaviv 2010 festival in Tel Aviv, offered any help. Not when they saw her carrying Ahlam, who weighs 22 kilos, in her arms for seven hours, climbing up stairs, walking along treacherous paths, traveling in taxis and being forced to explain pleadingly to her daughter, "I have to put you down - another second and I'll fall," even though the enfeebled and dying Ahlam is not capable of walking.
No one in Essa's crew offers the mother any help when she begs Ahlam to let her go to the toilet for a minute, because a long night of chemotherapy lies ahead. No one hushes her, instinctively, when she says next to her daughter that she is probably going to die. Or when she adds, "Daddy will come in a minute and beat us."
Yes, I know, in the name of journalistic authenticity such intervention is not acceptable. And after all, Ahlam is not just Ahlam. She's a symbol of a horrific situation in which many Palestinians have languished for so many years. She is just a test case.
So what will happen to all the other Palestinian youngsters and adults who have serious and chronic diseases, when the territories under Israeli responsibility have no hospitals to treat them? Where are the "dear Jews" who should build them advanced facilities or at least allow them to get to hospitals in Israel?
Please, Mr. Hecht, take your camera as speedily as possible to the Prime Minister's Bureau, to the meetings of the security cabinet, to the top-level deliberations of the prime minister, foreign minister and the defense minister, to the private conversations with the chief of staff - and also to the office of the mayor of Jerusalem - and tell us if you find one "dear Jew" who is ready at long last to end the occupation.