Heart of Jenin

The death of a Palestinian boy, and a journey by his father, open a window into the Middle East conflict.

When a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in the West Bank city of Jenin by Israeli soldiers, it could have been just one more blip on the news: one more war, one more child, one more human tragedy that ripped the heart out of a family and a community, but rippled no further into the world’s consciousness.

But something extraordinary happened that turned Ahmed Khatib’s tragic 2005 death into a gift of hope for six Israelis: Ahmed’s parents consented to donating their son’s organs. Amid the bloody violence and entrenched hatred that permeates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a simple act of humanity rose above the clamor and captured worldwide attention.

This week, that part of the world has, once again, been roiled by conflict. Tensions have mounted after a deadly Israeli killed nine pro-Palestinian activists sailing for Gaza, and as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put it in a speech in Washington, support for a peace agreement may be “eroding.”

At a moment like this, it may be worth revisiting Ahmed’s tragic death, and the gift of life that came from it. Heart of Jenin tells the story of Ahmed’s father, Ismael Khatib, as he journeys to visit three of the organ recipients two years later. One of Ahmed’s kidneys went to an Orthodox Jewish girl and his other kidney went to a Bedouin boy. While his parents hesitated to donate Ahmed’s heart, it now beats in the chest of a Druze girl.

“I see my son in these children,” Khatib says.

Crossing from northern Israel to the Negev desert and ending up in Jerusalem, Khatib encounters every complexity of the conflict: deep-seated animosity, hardened judgments, and heartfelt generosity. While laying bare the deep divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, Heart of Jenin offers a rare vision of common humanity and hope.

 
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Comments

  • Edwina White

    Your story, “Heart of Jenin”, is intended to be heartwarming and positive, I’m sure. However it has some problems: It presents the erruption of violence by the Palestinians without context. It does not report that what came to be known as the Second Intifada followed the provocation by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon in “visiting” the Al Aqsa site and claiming he would take it back for Israel. The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories — not “disputed territories”, as your story has it — endure violence and humiliation every day. Without this understanding your viewers cannot understand the on-going conflict, nor see how the conflict can be ended.

  • Nicole C.

    I am a nurse in the United States who works with adult heart, lung and kidney transplant patients. I’ve been lucky enough to witness with patients and families the complexity of their joy, hope, despair and pain. Not one of their stories is easy or perfect.
    This humane story placed in this human created context was moving. It also forced me to look again at what I think, know, feel and hope for the people affected by the continued struggles in Palestine and Israel. Our history may shape who we are but does not completely command our individual conduct devoid of conscious and compassion for human life and spirit. Thanks to the creators of the piece.
    Thank you to the families for sharing their stories.

  • Edwin Rowe

    Aside from the facts of this particular story, which is moving, and the fact that the Arab father is a sensitive and generous man, I must say frankly, that when any program dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears on PBS I brace myself. And a story like this falls right into my concern. There are a million stories that could have been the focus of a film. For example, the story of the child of the Hamas leader, a little girl, who needed emergency surgery and was taken to an Israeli hospital where her life was saved. There were no thank you’s to Israel, and no acknowledgement in any Arab press reports. That was an interesting human interest story, too, but one I would not expect to find on PBS. Or perhaps the story of the Sbarro Pizza bombing in Israel where so many children were killed and injured. Later a museum was opened in the West Bank city of Nablus, recreating the Sbarros, complete with blood on the walls and body parts, as a pleasant reminder to the populace of a Palestinian victory, a “victory” that took the lives of many Jewish mothers and children. I doubt PBS will be funding a film on that tragic story and what it indicates about Palestinian attitudes.

    What the present film focuses on is a generous Palestinian father who lost his son to an Israeli soldier’s mistake. He responds with the noble act of donating the child’s organs to give other children the chance at life.

    When he visits the Druze family and the Bedouin family he is received warmly, as befits the situation. The meeting with the Orthodox Jewish family is awkward, and the Jewish father, though trying to engage, is insensitive and inadvertently insulting.

    Every film has a political message as a subtext. I have seen repeatedly on PBS that the political subtext always casts Israel in a negative light. There are so many stories out of the area that show Israel and her people as beautiful and generous. Those aren’t the stories we see on PBS. This is the reason I have not donated a penny to PBS in years and why I tell other people not to do so either.

  • ejh

    The story is touching and a tribute to the humanity of this Palestinian man. It is also not new. The episode, according to your article, took place in 2005. It was the subject of a documentary, which I saw many months ago. So the question is: what is newsworthy about this story today? And since you decided it’s timely, did you look into gifts of life Israelis gave to Palestinians? And episodes of Palestinian refusal to do what this brave and humane man did?

  • Jan Newman

    I,too, watched the moving story, “The Heart of Jenin” this past friday evening. I am a retired RN, who had the honor of working in the arena of heart, lung, kidney and liver transplants. I am, as well, a practicing Reform American Jew. While I could not help but be so emotionally deeply touched by the incredible fortitude that it must have taken the kind and generous Arab father, in his personal grief, to go even to the Orthodox Jewish family (uncomfortable to say the least), I must agree with Mr. Rowe’s comment, above, in regards to the fact that, in my opinion, on Public TV, in general, presentations favoring and supporting the Palestinian position greatly out-number anything I have ever seen that positively reflects upon Israel. However, I remain a loyal supporter of public TV because I still believe that in totality it presents one of the only remaining civil forums for the presentation of these matters.

  • Elsa Marston Harik

    Thank you for this extremely moving story. But please, do not refer to the West Bank and Gaza strip as “disputed territories.” Having been taken by military action in 1967 and held by military occupation and hostile colonization ever since, they are no more “disputed territories” than France, Denmark, Poland, etc. were, during World War II.
    I can’t make a scientific comment on Mr. Rowe’s assertion that PBS is egregiously pro-Palestinian in its programming; to me it looks balanced–and far more fair to Palestinians than the overwhelmingly biased information that we get from most of the American media and officialdom. When I visited the West Bank in 2009 and met many educators, cultural workers, non-violent resistance leaders, and so forth, I was struck by the total absence of any expression of hatred–especially of the fanaticism that could have produced anything like the “Sbarros museum” Mr. Rowe describes. Anger, yes–because who wouldn’t be angry at what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for generations? But hatred for Israelis or Israel, no. Mr. Khatib looked and sounded very typical of the people I met. I can only hope that the Palestinians’ increasingly assertive voices for peaceful resolution, along with like-minded Israelis, will eventually play a determining role in the governments of both their countries.

  • Nicholas MacNeil

    Thank you for showing Heart of Jenin. The Arab father was very similar to the Palestinians a Westerner is likely to meet in Israel and Palestine.

  • Edwin Rowe

    Since the term “disputed territories” as used in this film has been brought up twice in critical comments I would like to attempt to clarify the reason I believe the filmmaker used the term, and why it is in fact the most accurate term to use. The facts may be boring, but they are very relevant.

    Some pertinent history:
    In 1950 Jordan annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Prior to that time it was controlled by Britain.

    In response to the annexation see Article 24 Of the Palestinian National Charter:
    Article 24 of the Palestinian National Charter of 1964, which established the Palestine Liberation Organization stated: “This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan …”

    Clearly, this means the West Bank was considered Jordanian by the people who after 1967 began to be known as Palestinians, including by those Arabs living at the time on the West Bank.

    In 1967 Israel was attacked by Jordan and fought a war of self-defense, entering the territories from which it had been attacked and establishing military control over the area. Resolution 242 was carefully crafted so that it would be acceptable to all parties, including Israel. It calls for withdrawal from “territories”, subject to negotiation. It does not call for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from ALL the territories gained as a result of the 1967 war. That is why the territories are called “disputed territories”.

    To summarize key points:
    The territories were not “Palestinian” in 1967; the Arabs who lived there recognized the West Bank as Jordanian, at least the PLO as their spokesperson did. Israel was attacked by Jordan in 1967. It brought the war right back into Jordan and took over the territory known as the West Bank. After 1967 the Arabs of the territories began to refer to themselves as “Palestinian”. Resolution 242 does not require unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. The territory is in dispute.

    On the question of Palestinian attitudes. I, too, have met congenial Palestinians who express a desire for real communication between the parties to this dispute. However, the fact remains that among the Palestinians are those who have strapped suicide belts onto teenagers and sent them out into Israeli cities. Sesame Street on PA TV teaches martyrdom to young children. Streets are named after suicide bombers. All of this is very much a part of the Palestinian landscape, and if we are to be real it cannot be whitewashed or minimized.

  • Edwin Rowe

    This statement by PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein is elucidating. It was made in 1977:

    The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.
    For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.

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    [...] Related:Video: Heart of JeninSlideshow: A curtain rises in Jenin [...]

  • Shadowofears

     Typical Israeli If he Hated Muslims so much why he accepted his sons organ in the first place and saying that Muslims are bad influnce on his kids WTF? Why was he saying to him move to turkey its his fucking land deluded person

  • Shery awan

     The meeting with the Orthodox Jewish family is awkward, and the Jewish
    father, though trying to engage, is insensitive and inadvertently
    insulting.
    Nobody has given him a script to Read to and it it is how they act just like you are justifying Occupation .Here are some facts regarding Gaza war
    Every Palestinian group has harshly condemned the murder of a family
    sleeping in their beds in Itamar settlement last Friday, as well they
    should.

    So why is there no equivalent renunciation by the Israeli
    government of its military, which kills children on a regular basis?
    Why, instead, did an Israeli internal investigation, which released its
    findings just two weeks ago, say that a 2002 missile strike in Gaza that
    tore apart the small bodies of 8 children asleep in their beds was
    ‘justified’, and that there was ‘no wrongdoing’ committed by the
    perpetrators of this horrendous act? (http://www.imemc.org/article/60728)

    The
    killing of children is never justified! Under any circumstances! Why
    does the Israeli government condemn the killing of children when the
    victims are Israeli Jews, and allow the killing of children when the
    victims are Palestinian Arabs? This kind of double standard is blatantly
    racist and unjustifiable.

    Why is someone like Rabbi Dov Lior,
    who said just last month that the killing of non-Jews, even children, is
    allowed under Jewish law, allowed to remain in his post as the Chief
    Rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron, in the southern West Bank
    (http://www.imemc.org/article/60606)?
    Even Hamas, among the most extreme of the Palestinian resistance
    movements, condemns the killing of children under any circumstances.

    In
    2007, a year which saw 92 Palestinian children killed (thankfully, no
    Israeli children were killed in 2007), Israeli reporter Gideon Levy
    wrote these words about a tour he made of the Gaza Strip: “The day after
    Rosh Hashanah we traveled to Rafah. Dam Hamad, 14, had been killed in
    her sleep, in her mother’s arms, by an Israeli rocket strike that sent a
    concrete pillar crashing down on her head. She was the only daughter of
    her paralyzed mother, her whole world. In the family’s impoverished
    home in the Brazil neighborhood, at the edge of Rafah, we met the mother
    who lay in a heap in bed; everything she had in the world was gone.
    Outside, I remarked to the reporter from French television who
    accompanied me that this was one of those moments when I felt ashamed to
    be an Israeli. The next day he called and said: “They didn’t broadcast
    what you said, for fear of the Jewish viewers in France.” (http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/twilight-zone-t…30132)

    And
    this is not to mention the 3-week long invasion of Gaza in 2008-9, in
    which Israeli troops killed 1400 Palestinians, 335 of whom were
    children. These children have as much of a right to be humanized,
    memorialized and remembered as the Fogel children: Yohav, 10; Elad, 4;
    and Hada, 3 months. Each of the 335 children killed in that invasion
    have names, families, siblings, parents. Why are their lives not worth
    reporting? Less than twenty of these children were even named in media
    reports of the invasion. They were killed in the most despicable,
    inhuman ways, living in sheer terror as Israeli bombs and tanks attacked
    their neighborhoods for three weeks straight.

    In just one
    incident, 12 children, including 10 siblings from the Rayan family were
    killed along with their parents in a missile strike on their home in
    Jabalya refugee camp by Israeli forces on January 1st, 2009. These
    children: Asad, 2; Aisha, 2; Reem, 4; Halima, 5; Maryam, 5;
    Abdul-Rahman, 6; Abdul-Qader, 12; Ayah, 12; Zainab, 15 and Ghassan, 16,
    were as innocent and undeserving of their cruel death as the Fogel
    children.

    Kids like Hamza abu-Maria, age 7 months, who was killed
    on May 9th 2010 in her home in Beit Omar village, in the southern West
    Bank, whe Israel bombed them

  • Shery awan

     Every Palestinian group has harshly condemned the murder of a family
    sleeping in their beds in Itamar settlement last Friday, as well they
    should.

    So why is there no equivalent renunciation by the Israeli
    government of its military, which kills children on a regular basis?
    Why, instead, did an Israeli internal investigation, which released its
    findings just two weeks ago, say that a 2002 missile strike in Gaza that
    tore apart the small bodies of 8 children asleep in their beds was
    ‘justified’, and that there was ‘no wrongdoing’ committed by the
    perpetrators of this horrendous act? (http://www.imemc.org/article/60728)

    The
    killing of children is never justified! Under any circumstances! Why
    does the Israeli government condemn the killing of children when the
    victims are Israeli Jews, and allow the killing of children when the
    victims are Palestinian Arabs? This kind of double standard is blatantly
    racist and unjustifiable.

    Why is someone like Rabbi Dov Lior,
    who said just last month that the killing of non-Jews, even children, is
    allowed under Jewish law, allowed to remain in his post as the Chief
    Rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron, in the southern West Bank
    (http://www.imemc.org/article/60606)?
    Even Hamas, among the most extreme of the Palestinian resistance
    movements, condemns the killing of children under any circumstances.

    In
    2007, a year which saw 92 Palestinian children killed (thankfully, no
    Israeli children were killed in 2007), Israeli reporter Gideon Levy
    wrote these words about a tour he made of the Gaza Strip: “The day after
    Rosh Hashanah we traveled to Rafah. Dam Hamad, 14, had been killed in
    her sleep, in her mother’s arms, by an Israeli rocket strike that sent a
    concrete pillar crashing down on her head. She was the only daughter of
    her paralyzed mother, her whole world. In the family’s impoverished
    home in the Brazil neighborhood, at the edge of Rafah, we met the mother
    who lay in a heap in bed; everything she had in the world was gone.
    Outside, I remarked to the reporter from French television who
    accompanied me that this was one of those moments when I felt ashamed to
    be an Israeli. The next day he called and said: “They didn’t broadcast
    what you said, for fear of the Jewish viewers in France.” (http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/twilight-zone-t…30132)

    And
    this is not to mention the 3-week long invasion of Gaza in 2008-9, in
    which Israeli troops killed 1400 Palestinians, 335 of whom were
    children. These children have as much of a right to be humanized,
    memorialized and remembered as the Fogel children: Yohav, 10; Elad, 4;
    and Hada, 3 months. Each of the 335 children killed in that invasion
    have names, families, siblings, parents. Why are their lives not worth
    reporting? Less than twenty of these children were even named in media
    reports of the invasion. They were killed in the most despicable,
    inhuman ways, living in sheer terror as Israeli bombs and tanks attacked
    their neighborhoods for three weeks straight.

    In just one
    incident, 12 children, including 10 siblings from the Rayan family were
    killed along with their parents in a missile strike on their home in
    Jabalya refugee camp by Israeli forces on January 1st, 2009. These
    children: Asad, 2; Aisha, 2; Reem, 4; Halima, 5; Maryam, 5;
    Abdul-Rahman, 6; Abdul-Qader, 12; Ayah, 12; Zainab, 15 and Ghassan, 16,
    were as innocent and undeserving of their cruel death as the Fogel
    children.

    Kids like Hamza abu-Maria, age 7 months, who was killed
    on May 9th 2010 in her home in Beit Omar village, in the southern West
    Bank, when Israel Bombed them