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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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