Analysis: How Precious is Life?

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By Victoria Erhart


How far would you go to save the life of a child? Would it make a difference if that child’s mother wishes you dead? On what basis do we exempt people from mercy and compassion? These are not theoretical questions for Israelis and Palestinians living on mutually exclusive and contradictory sides of the Green Line separating Israel from Gaza.
The Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival will screen “Precious Life” 4 p.m. Sunday at the Reel Deal Theater.  The award-winning documentary depicts the insidious moral and emotional corrosion wrecked on both Palestinians and Israelis as a result of the current toxic stalemate between the two, but with a profound complication. A Palestinian baby with a life threatening medical condition must travel from Gaza to the hospital in Israel, there to be treated by Israeli doctors, representatives of a category of people his mother has ample reason to despise, a category of people his mother will teach him to hate, should he survive.
In Fall 2009, the United Nations issued an investigative finding that both Israel and Gaza are guilty of war crimes, possibly rising to the level of atrocities. The U.N. reports also states that within a decade Gaza will be unlivable. The sickening familiarity of the accusations exists because neither side understands the lived reality of the other. In his recent article “The American Jewish Cocoon” in The New York Review of Books (26 September 2013), Peter Beinart argues that lack of knowledge about the people and their lives on the other side of the Green Line allows each side to be self-righteous in their isolation, to justify otherwise appalling and irrational behavior. When Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2005, the Israeli government removed its settlers, dismantled its developments, and evacuated its soldiers from Gaza, locking the border behind it. Now only soldiers of border guard duty see the abysmal reality of life for Gazans. Tourists, politicians, media personnel rarely if ever venture across the Green Line into Gaza. The self-imposed isolation from Gaza’s people and their problems simply perpetuates failed policies that focus on imposing security constraints that make no one safer, not now, not in the future.
Gamilah Biso, a Jew forced to flee from Syria to Israel in 1985, founded Humans Without Borders, a volunteer group that provides person-to-person humanitarian assistance in the form of Israeli drivers to transport Palestinian children through security checkpoints to medical treatment in Israel. Her volunteers are not trying to make a political statement. They are simply responding to the needs of desperate parents trying to get medical care for their children. According to Biso, Palestinians who experience Israelis trying to understand life under occupation, trying to help, will not grow up to be terrorists. Her opinion is backed up by research from a Radford University study that found personal mistreatment by Israelis, usually soldiers forced to operate in an untenable situation, is an important factor in motivating attacks against Israel and Israelis.
“Precious Life” reduces the complexities and absurdities of lived reality on both sides of the Green Line into a recognizable, human-sized framework with gut punching emotional resonance. Following the screen, Shlomi Eldor, the film’s director will speak via Skype about his experiences filming the documentary, including the decision to stop filming when the mother stated on camera she hoped her son would grow up to be a suicide bomber. Was that her last word on her son’s life? Is there hope that attitudes and behaviors can change, for the better, even in the Middle East? Do not miss the opportunity to see this thought-provoking film.