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July 7th, 2009
Heart of Jenin
Filmmaker Notes

Leon Geller

The tragic death of 12-year-old Ahmed Khatib drove his family into deep despair. But in the first decisive hours after his death, his father Ismael was presented with a great decision and chose to transform his personal grief into a miracle for others. I heard about Ismael’s story on the morning of Ahmed’s death, and that same evening I began to film the incredible sequence of events that ultimately lead to the operations on the children who now live happily with Ahmed’s donated organs.

The families of these children owe Ismael Khatib thanks because he gave them the gift of life. We are indebted to Ismael Khatib because he gave us hope.

Marcus Vetter

In the fall of 2007, I received a call from the production company EIKON in Berlin asking if I was interested in joining this film. I quickly agreed: the theme intrigued me, and I was excited for the opportunity to work with an Israeli director.

Leon Geller had already begun work on the film. Geller is Jewish, and the two of us often had different opinions, especially regarding the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. More than anything, he wanted to tell the personal story of the relationship between Ismael Khatib and Samah, the Druze girl who received the heart from Ahmed. My goal, on the other hand, was to use Ismael’s story to shed some light on the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

Perhaps the most important goal of the film was to help break down prejudice. In the film, one comes to know only friendly and good people — for example the happy Bedouin father who is always laughing, even when explaining that his house could be destroyed at any moment. For me, the whole cast of protagonists is truly special, and they help expand our understanding of peoples and cultures.

  • Ken

    This is the most ingenuous documentary I have any seen. What is this epiloque in which the two commentaries analyze everything without any truth. The Isrealis connection to the land in Palestine go back centuries while the Palestinian connection is new to the 19th century? How about doing a simple genetic test of the “Isrealis” to see if they are indigenous to the region or just victims of European persecution. If the “Isrealis’ are original then there are sufficient scientific means to determine this. If not, they are just passive invaders. Cut the bullshit which involves the rest of the world relations and figure this crap out for real and then sort it out with science and rationality.

  • Doron L

    The comment above is nonsense. Jews have been living in the Holy Land for thousands of years. Throughout the 19th century, European travellers reported how they were persecuted by Arabs (such as James Finn in 1960’s). There was an ancient Jewish community in Hebron until the 1929 massacre – that happened many years before Israel came into being.

    Finally, more than half of all Israelis are descendants of Jews who were expelled form , or fled from Arab lands, after the failed 1948 Arab invasion of Israel.

  • Amy

    I think both comments are nonsense. The bottom line is that the bible is not a land deed, nor are genetics evidence of a right to any particular piece of land.

    If Israel was created and expanded because they purchased land from the owners, then there wouldn’t be this problem. Israel II was created using terroristic tactics, Palestinians were expelled using these same tactics. Palestinians fought back using these tactics.

    At some point, something has to give. It’s sad, because many of these people are very good people who were raised to hate the other side.

    Ismail is one of the few to rise above it, I hope that people on both sides can see that and perhaps even learn from it.

  • Olga

    This is a powerful story. It shows that both sides can make a human connection, despite political and religious obstacles. It’s possible. This brings a lot of hope.

  • Bill

    Ken and Amy, it is so painfully obvious from your posts that you don’t live in Israel or Palestine and all you know about the middle east comes from what you see on biased news channels and documentaries that have an agenda (usually pro-Palestinian). The situation in Israel and the relations with the Arabs is too complicated for you to comprehend so you simplify and reduce the problem to Jews=Evil Terrorist Invaders that came to the region last Tuesday and Arabs=Poor Defenseless victims that have all been here for centuries. Come live in Israel or Palestine for a few years and I guarantee you will see that the reality on the ground isn’t as simple as the “BBC: The World in 60 Seconds” makes it out to be.

  • Harry

    I just watched a segment on Channel 13 “Need to Know”. It is a superb documentary, sensitive and takes us into and beyond the conflict. As someone who has lived many years in Israel, whose children were born in Israel, and like so many Jews – does not know much about Palestinians or Arab life – I think “Heart of Jenin” is an important lesson for our community. It helps to break stereotypes, and uncovers some of the basic humanity underneath. I have no illusions. There are too many Arabs and Moslems filled with hatred toward Israel and Jews. And would like to see Israel wiped out. But this program gives reason for hope. And that begins with showing the film not only in US and Europe, but Israel and the Arab countries.

  • Hanan

    Thank u for presenting to the world this powerful, beautiful documentary. This conflict seems so impossible to resolve, but if we watch this documentary, we can see that we are all brothers and sisters and we can live together. Ismael gives us hope. He could have easily chosen the path of hate and anger and perhaps retaliation in the wake of losing his young son. Instead, he chose the more difficult path, the path that forgives and loves instead. You can see the love he has for the recipients of Ahmed’s organs in his eyes when he looks at them. It’s almost like he sees Ahmed in them. God bless you Ismael Khatib and God bless Ahmed as he rests in heaven. You give us hope when it seems like there isnt any when it comes to this conflict.

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