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July 9th, 2009
Heart of Jenin
Video: Full Episode

When 12-year-old Palestinian Ahmed Khatib was killed in the West Bank city of Jenin by Israeli soldiers who mistook his toy gun for the real thing, his death could have been just one more blip on the news. Instead, Ahmed’s parents’ decision to donate his organs turned tragedy into hope for six Israelis and created a rare moment of optimism amid the violence and entrenched hatred surrounding an intractable conflict.

In Heart of Jenin, WIDE ANGLE tells the story of Ahmed’s tragic death and his father Ismael Khatib’s journey to visit three of the organ recipients two years later.

  • Amy

    Maybe I missed it, but did we ever see what the present was?

  • Linda Cohen

    I was quite moved by this program. As the discussion afterward pointed out, all people on both sides of this issue have stories – if more attention could only be paid to the people involved in the conflict and the difficulties for them all, perhaps some progress could be made. Instead the politicians keep spouting the same old rhdtoric and as the moderator said, nothing changes. I belong to a group in my homwtown which has been struggling to bring people who do not see eye to eye on the Middle East to some common ground and it seems impossible to get them past buzzwords and political positions. I hope they all watched this program to see how two people for whom it was very difficult to come together recognized the humanity in each other and allowed themselves to be moved, however minutely, past their political stances. I will recommend it to anyone who did not. Thank you for presenting this wonderful story.

  • Ryan Baghdad

    It is good to see programming like this on PBS. I’d definitely like to see more documentaries like this on PBS; I would certainly watch it more often.

  • tobi

    thank you for a new perspective from the inside…profoundly honest! thank you also to those involved who were willing to share this part of their lives with strangers.

  • Armen

    It’s sad that they can share organs, but not a patch of dirt. Very touching story, thank you.

  • Gary L

    The history of the region is quite complex, as are others, the documentary however, in my opinion it is as simple and cut and dry as is the reaching of a mutually beneficial, and for that matter world-wide beneficiary: if you want to go nowhere and simply rehash the history of the last millenniums keep on behaving just like Levinson and NOTHING will change … for the better, OR, put (far)less emphasis on history, think progressively, think of present and future generations, and the answers will come quite fast, with benefits to be reaped by ALL, and by ALL I am not speaking of just Jews or Arabs/Palestinians.

    An Arab/Palestinian, Ismael Khatib, who by self admission had fought against the Jewish army, at the worst possible time in ANY parent’s life, and more specifically, fatal shooting of his middle son, set aside the sentiments which drove him to join and fight, making a surprisingly (more than) generous decision, to donate his son’s organs which benefited 6 Jewish children.

    I am not intimately familiar with the regions statistical history in reaching such decisions, however, I’ll go on a limb here and speculate that, at best, such generosity is an infrequent occurrence.

    On the other hand to Khatib, during the transplant surgery, the father of a kidney recipient, an Orthodox Jew, when asked of his preferences of the donor’s religious orogin, declares that he would prefer that the donor be Jewish. Later in the documentary he made a feeble and lame attempt, at excusing his remarks, attributing them to having been made under the stress of the moment, which makes his true feelings even more obvious for he did not have time to polish his response, but rather, he exposed his true raw feelings. The very same raw feelings which drove the Arab father, to reach a decision few had made to then, and perhaps few would make, PERIOD.

    Another important aspect if this story, was the Arab father’s desire to, at the one year, then the 2 year, anniversary of the unfortunate incident, to travel, under less than hospitable of circumstances, to go visit and see, the recipient children of his son’s organs. The very children he gave the gift of life. The love in his eyes, for those children, was quite evident, as he saw his own child in each and every one of them.

    Although a good deal of time had passed since the surgery, and certainly long enough for “Mr” Levinson to fully digest the situation, it was evident that, at best, he had made only minuscule progress, if any, in his attitude towards the Palestinians, if any. He had the audacity to suggest the Arab move to America or UK, where to practice his profession as an auto mechanic since Israel had nothing to offer him, as a future!!!

    Levinson drove his foot, further down his throat, when asked if he wanted to meet the family of the Arab doner, by replying matter-of-factishly, that perhaps, maybe, but certainly he would be opposed to anything more meaningful !!!!

    Wide Angle is not a program known for taking sides, but rather one which asks hard questions, and presents the facts as they are. The bottom line of this sad episode is Levinson, represents the reasons why the Jewish-Arab conflict, as it stands today, will produce nothing more than more casualties. To be clear, the likes of Levinson exist ON BOTH sides. By contrast, Khatib, the donor father, represents the PROGRESSIVE THINKERS, those willing to put emotions aside, use their intellect, and choose the only sensible path for the future of Arabs and Jews alike.

    Before anyone jumps at all the wrong conclusions, I am far from being biased. As I look back to my past, I can name MANY close friends who are Jews, and even lived in Israel, but I can only recall one with Arab roots. I have no proverbial dog in this fight. And as far as I am concerned, this piece was NOT about, Jews = bad, Arabs = good, but rather about what will it take to make any progress, and perhaps even reach a mutually acceptable conclusion, and the answer is, again, PROGRESSIVE thinking with emphasis on the future rather than the past.

    If progress is to be made in this matter, the international press/media should give far greater weight and coverage to the Khatib’s of the world, and less of the Levninson’s, AGAIN, RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND ASIDE. A good start, would be for the Israeli government to openly recognize Khatib’s gesture in some form or fashion, and give the man the appropriate credentials, so he may cross the border with far greater ease than what we’ve seen – being treated as basically a nobody, when in fact SIX Jewish children are alive and well, due to his generosity.

    More could be said about this segment, but I’ve said enough.

    And come to think of it, a nomination for a Nobel Peace prize, would certainly be in order and go a long way in promoting Khatib’s present children’s cultural organization !!!!!

    Peace to all !!!!

  • Susan

    A very moving story! Sad that they can share organs but not the land…Maybe by this story and other stories like this, one can make a small step to peace until all parties in Israel and Palestine can live together peacefully!

  • A & M Alvarado

    The courage,strength and giving spirit of this young boys parents and the work his father is doing should make us all take a good hard look at our lives and see what we take for granted. Please provide links to provide resources directly to this mans family and cause without going through “charitable organizations”. Here is a family who knows how to give from the heart and they deserve to get some help to make their lives better.

  • donna marx

    Thank you for one of the best documentaries ever. I just wish you had given the name and address of Ismael so viewers could write personal letters to this courageous man and wife who are living peace.

  • Henry Quinlan

    A wonderful story of one man’s generosity of spirit and the good that can follow from one positive affirming decision.
    Very well done.
    Henry Quinlan

  • Marina Gutierrez

    I was touched by the tragedy of Mr.Ismael Khatib family, the killing of his little son Ahmed by the Israeli army, and Mr.Khatib decision to donate his son’s organs to anyone who needed an organ donation. I was shocked by the arrogance of Mr. Levinson, the orthodox Jewish father of the girl who got one of
    ahmed’s kidneys. Levinson said “he would prefer that the organ were from a Jewish donor instead of an Arab” He should have been ashamed of his arrogance and ingratitude and should have apologized to the family of Mr. Khatib. Another thing, his suggestion to Mr.Khatib to move to Istambul or London to get a job. Mr. Khatib and generations of his family were born in Palestine, it is their homeland, in contrast to Mr. Levinson who came from the United States.

  • LW

    Besides what has been said already, it is shocking how the Levinson’s kids are so afraid of this non European looking person, while the other palestinian kids so openly accepts Khatib. Either the Levinson kids are all extremely shy, or they have taken upon their father’s racist viewpoints.

  • JJ

    As one who has lost a loving husband and made that last minute decision of organ donations, this was a needed story. Sure it struck us ALL – RIGHT BETWEEN THE EYES. “An eye for an eye” as some live, but it was meant to strike us between the inner most parts of our hearts. I commend the Levinson family and the broadcast organization for making this story public and WKNO for airing it.
    None of us are innocent of being double-minded or guilty sinners, so none of us should think we know better than the next. No one wants to hear a sermon as some went to great lengths to give, but we’d rather see one living what is right. We have a conscious will to listen to the message, interpreting between the lines and thinking on our own.
    I’ve marked my donation on my official i.d. Have you? It might be an intended tool to lengthen their lives to accomplish what God intends for them.

  • maria isabella

    The documentary reminds me of the story of the Native Americans from the United States, the Palistinians will only continue to be pushed off their land, making their lives and their childrens’ unsustainable. The bible is no different that any history book authorizing and legitimizing the authors’ right to dominate and create boundries. It is no different than the whole notion of manifest destiny that Native Americans continue to experience. The Old Testament continues to gives the “chosen” people a right to continue to kill, murder and destroy others. Of course it’s too convenient to believe in a book that gives a people the god given right to do as they please. We will live in peace when we stop believing in fairy tales and start taking responsibility for our own greed. Ismael took a giant step toward creating peace through his individual pain. His incredible love and generousity could teach us all that peace is a personal responsibility, like saving the earth is. We can only do it one conscience at a time. Hurrah Ismael you are a hero, in a time when true heros are hard to come by!

  • JHR

    First, I want peace for this region. But there can be no peace without justice. The premise that so many people work with is that there is injustice on from sides. But this is a flawed premise that wants to see this conflict as the fault of everyone, when this is a crisis maintained by an apartheid regime in Israel (with the able backing of the USA). While this ‘injustice on all sides’ theory MAY be true, what is more true it that Israel has the force of a modern military and Palestine simply does not. There is in this way (and others-economically, environmentally, etc) an inherent power differential between the two sides.

    This story breaks my heart, then makes me angry. What madness is the government of Israel feeding its population if a man is terrified/disgusted to even meet with the people who gave life to his child through organ donation?! In the end this story is supposed to be one of uplift, but it makes me think of how far there is to go until Palestinians see justice and all people know peace.

    As a question to the filmmakers: Why such little focus on the razing of Jenin that happened in 2005…I remember this being a massive and ongoing story even in normally cloistered US news reporting…Why such limited time spent on these important events??

  • Craig Randolph

    This was very moving on some conflicting levels. My basic summary: the Israelis killed the kid and only Israelis got the organs. Why are we not surprised? I also agree with Susan’s earlier comment! As a documentary, it is excellent but sad.

  • STK

    The arrogrance of the Levinson’s mirrows the problems of the Palestinan issues.He listens to God, but what God? He will continue to teach hatred. Mr Khatib on the other hand is a forward thinking humanitarian. Palestine needs more like him.

  • Marjorie ford

    So good, and yet. . .
    Why did you not acknowledge that the first intifada was mainly non-violent?
    Why did you present Ahmed’s story as if it were an event among a few others? while speaking of suicide bombings as if they were more frequent that Palestinian deaths?
    Why did you not say that the overwhelming number of deaths were to Palestinians by Israel?
    Why in the post film discussion did you limit the Palestinian “narrative” to be only about a relatively recent attachment to the land rather than point to their history of domination by the West while Jews “narrative” being about a compelling personal history of suffering?
    The film was so artfully made and undoubtedly raised the consciousness of many otherwise uninformed people; It would have been well within your remarkable skill to include these essential truths you missed w/o turning the film into something biased.

  • Shabina Hussain

    A very moving and realistic depiction of middle-east present day reality.Donor’s father sums it all in the end- What else do they want from us? On the other hand Levinson appears ungrateful and suggests that they should migrate.Shouldn’t “religious and orthodox” be human first? but sadly that is not the case….

  • Joan C

    I wish the analysis afterwards could have added a more accurate perspective. Gideon’s statement that Palestinian self identity was a nineteenth century phenomomenon ignores the reality that Palesinian families just like Greek and Italian families around the Mediterranean have lived on their land for centuries. Religious Jews were a tiny accepted minority until political Zionism began.

    They could have mentioned some statistics about “violence” which is so often atributed to Palestinians. A military occupation of forty years is inherently violent. Many, many more Palestinians are being killed or wounded by Israelis than the other way round. Assassinations, land, water and property grabs, house and orchard demolitions, 10,000 in prison and documented torture all include violence or the immediate threat of it. Since Israel insists on continuing settlement expansion, I don’t see any bona fide wish for peace.

    Aaron Brown could have pointed out that Levinson had tremendous chutzpah in suggesting that Ishmael the Palestinian could easily leave his hometown of Jenin and find work elsewhere. Levinson’s parents were from New York and Chicago in a country so many long to come to and his wife had a British Midlands accent. They have somewhere else to go whereas Ishmael doesn’t and shouldn’t have to leave his ancestral town of Jenin.

  • Heidi L Mischler

    Awesome indepedent film-very moving. Unfortunate that one child had to give his life, hoping spare the other children. How innocently does a child look at his/her health? Yes this was a different and difficult decision for a parent to make. Especially when it comes down to two different regions of thought, concept, religion,and beliefs. Who is right to choose the right from wrong? Children ultimately are a blessing from one God/Allah. A gift above all things. If this is what it will take to “tear down the walls.” Then so be. Maybe we should all be more the children and look through butterfly wings and rainbows. Peace will come in time. Like a childs steps.

  • m.Deeb

    Great project! On top of what #s 18 and 20 have said; When does the realization of the capable film maker to create the fake balance of casualties, and price paid, by the human lives mostly by the Palestinians, as equal to the suffering inflicted on the Israelis by the Palestinians. He could not have been that naively deceived by any one else but his own intentions to portray it in such form. I rested assured, after reading the comments, that he really did not fool any one but himself. You have done a good job; Integrity would have elevated your labor ten folds more. Humanity will always prevail, it does not matter what color blood runs in it veins. Ismael and his family have shown us that.

  • Nadia

    Thank you for this documentary. What a generous and loving father to have given the gift of life to children after losing his own child. Good bless this father and his family during their grieving process.

  • Miriam

    One could feel the love that Ishmael Khatib carries for his dead son Ahmed in the affection and hope he bears for the children he visited who received his son’s heart, liver, kidneys,etc. It was a generosity unimaginable that perhaps sustains him in his grief. He is extraordinarily compassionate stalwart and humane despite his suffering. You could sense his genuine affection for each of the children that he visited but I kept waiting for some spark of humanity, warmth, engagement from the orthodox jew who would have preferred a jewish donor he said and later appeared to apologize for saying. It was like entering a meat locker in terms of lack of welcome there. The summation lacked any depth at conclusion from Brown and Litchfield–instead lots of platitudes and cliches. I thought the Swedish film a profoundly beautiful statement about moving thru loss, grief with dignity.

  • Joe

    I want to thank PBS for their bravery in airing this documentary. I found it heartbreaking but also very informative in showing that there are radical Jews in this conflict. It is crucial that Americans are exposed to this and that they understand extremism doesn’t only possess Arabs.

  • E

    I am not here to judge Mr. Levinson on his actions, however viewing them were disheartening. As a jewish person who has grown up and went to the same kind of ultra-religious schools as him, we were taught, and if it were any of the vast majority of those ultra orthodox jews who may have received an organ donation as well, to believe in certain jewish concepts such as, “hakoras hatov” which means to acknowledge the good done to us, -no matter who it from, and the concept of one who saves a life is as if he saved the entire world. In this case, I speak matter of factly that, no matter if the donor’s father is a muslim arab, he would and should have been thanked just as much as had come from the other families.

    Watching certain things that Mr. Levinson and his wife said made me cringe, but speaking from someone from that world, I can promise you, that utmost gratitude would, and rightfully so, should have been shown to Mr. Khatib and his family.

    If Mr. Khatib and his family will eventually get to read this post, I am not sure. But I hope he and they do, to know that it is our view to show him eternal gratitude for saving the lives of 6 children and in particular one jewish soul.

    The almighty should bless you and your family with health, happiness, material and spiritual success, in all that you do.

  • C

    Please, please provide contact information so that all of the people so inspired by this little boy’s family can support their generosity and vision for peace.

  • Luis Hernandez

    This should teach us here in America at what magnitud the hatred can scalate if not properly contain.
    this is happening to the Immigrant comunity here in the USA, They are isolated, discriminated, Marginated and can no longer provide for their little ones. You heard it all over the news.
    God help us all!!!!

  • Roxanna

    What an moving story. It brought tears to my eyes and what a compassionate man who would donate his sons organs to whomever in a region where such segregation and prejudice is practiced generation after generation along with obvious inequities……..
    May real good come from that kind of generous intention.

  • khaled

    Very touching story, thank you.

  • James Ruiz

    Episodes like this one make me wait one year for Wide Angle’s each season. This is a deeply profound and insightful piece of global journalism. I anxiously await the next season. Excellent Work!

  • seth

    What an incredible story. Thank you so much for giving us this beautiful representation of Palestinians which is all too often absent from American media. I found it very hard to swallow that the one offering of hope from Levinson was that perhaps the man whose son gave his daughter her life back, should go to London or Turkey, because there was nothing for him in Jenin. Unfortunately, I feel that is how many western Jews view the Palestinians. I hope his daughter comes of age realizing that were it not for a Palestinian, she would not be here today as I cannot imagine her father will ever come to this realization. I hope some day I visit Palestine and Israel and see Jews, Christians and Muslims sharing this beautiful part of the world together, in peace.

  • Tamir

    Ismael Khatib is now looking for friends to support the Cinema Jenin project. Please visit http://www.betterplace.org/projects/450 for details of the areas of support needed. Anyone interested can also visit http://www.cinemajenin.org. Also in the works is a film school to provide a world-class film making education to local Palestinians. Please show your support by visiting these sights and also look for Cinema Jenin on Facebook.

  • Sam

    Yet another very well done PBS program.

    It showed that wacky religious thinking is strong in Jews as well as Arabs, or right wing Christians. As it and other media have shown, many Jews in Israel clearly see themselves as superior, the old Chosen People ego-trip I guess. While I believe in the basics of the Bible it has been edited and changed, and so reflects old fashioned tribal thinking more than a rational compassionate God too many times. I do not think there are any Chosen people, any closer to God than anyone else, and certainly we mere humans would not know if so.

    The last part of this program pointed out that the parlimentary [sp?] system in Israel promoted extremism. The political parties must group together to form a government, and this seems to require taking in some of the really wacky right wing religious nuts, as in the current one. So in an explosive region, you have the most extreme groups, even if only representing 5-10%, pushing for insulting the Arabs and even the US !

    The major parties in Israel should get some guts and never let the extremist’s influence the government, or there will never be peace. I’ve had enough of this mess and want no more US money going into the region, for anyone.

  • bob

    Touching program .. but these peolpe need to start building bridges or religion has alot to answer for..

  • Martina Goggin

    As a mother of an organ donor, I found this documentary most moving, enlightening and uplifiting. The dignity, courage and generosity shown by Ismael, father of Ahmed, depicted true humanity in the face of unspeakable grief, tragedy and suffering.
    My son and only child, Éamonn was in car crash in 2006 from which he never regained consciousness. As were his wishes his organs were donated for transplantation and it gave, and continues to give us, great comfort and consolation to know that Éamonn’s death was not in vain and that his last act was that of supreme generosity in giving life to others. In his honour and in memory of all organ and tissue donors, such as young Ahmed, we set up a specially dedicated organ donor awareness website – http://www.strangeboat.org and we invite you to visit the site and communicate with us if you so wish. I was aware of this amazing story of Ahmed and his family’s extraordinary generosity and it has been included on our website since 2008, but there is now a link from the site to this site so that anybody who visits strangeboat.org will have the opportunity of viewing the documentary. In the world we live we need to hear about stories like this.

  • E Green

    A beautiful film, an amazingly generous gesture by Ishmael, sad that so many of these comments try and politicise the interaction and do not know enough about a very orthodox Jew to know his life is so sheltered that he would likely be unbelievably reticent to take an organ from someone he knows was brought up to hate him. True too that Gary L clearly, as he says, knows nothing about the ‘history’ of organ donations in the region or he would know that most organs come from Israelis – soldiers, accident victims etc. – and donations are made purely on who is next on the list with more organs going to Arab recipients than to Israeli. Please don’t cheapen the generosity of the donor and the humility and humanity of the recipients by politicising this film.

  • Barbara

    today it was the second time i saw this document… taking part in a church service helt in a cinema..
    unusual..
    moving
    i deeply felt the heart..and love in Ismaels eyes.. his wifes sadness.. his childrens love..and the warmth showing up when touching the children living a new life through his dead sons organs..
    ..I wish I d know more about jakobs orthodox way of life and culture about sharing emotion and simple humanity… I do wish he is a human being different inside than showing up out.. I do hope he just is not able to share his heart..and doesnt mean to be as cold as ice.. I was shivering…

  • Safa Jarrar

    is there any chance you can provide me with the full film, or a free link to watch it?? I need it badely, and searched over the net but could not find it full. Please help me with that, I do need to watch it full. Thankful i remain

  • admin

    You should be able to watch the whole show here if you are in the United States. Unfortunately, we do not have broadcasting rights outside the U.S. but make DVDs of some of our programs available here: http://ffh.films.com/wideangle

  • Adelaido

    Es injusto
    No puedo ver ningún capítulo.
    Acaso será porque no vivo en US.

  • thompsonc

    Si, desafortunadamente, solamente podemos transmitir nuestra programa en Los Estamos Unidos.

    Wide Angle Staff

  • Hana

    Thank you PBS for showing this beautiful documentary. Thank you for keeping the public abreast as to what is happening in the world. Keep up the excellent work!!! RIP Ahmed Khatib and God bless Ishmael Khatib and his family!!!!

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