Friday, May 06, 2005

Make It Personal

The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.
I don´t remember where I read this quote, but I know, it is true.

We humans are social beings. We are created to live in groups and relate to each other. We can feel empathy for each other, even feel each others emotional pain. Some neurologists say that there are devices in our brains,neural patterns, for feeling empathy.
But we are also emotionally limited. We cannot feel for people we do not know. So when people get hurt or killed some place far away from us, people we never met, we never heard about on the other side of the world, our intellectual knowledge may tell us about the injustice being done to them. But intellectual knowledge is just not enough to act on it, to give up some comfort and conveniences for those who suffer injustice, we need emotional knowledge, we need to feel.
But then for us humans there are other ways of getting to know a person than seeing him or her face to face. We can see his picture, listen to her story told by others or watch a documentary on TV.
A few weeks ago there was a short documentary in a news-magazine on German TV about the Gaza withdrawal plans of Sharon. We saw an elderly Jewish couple who lived in one of those Gaza settlements. They had lost their daughter in an attack a few years back. Her daughter was buried in the cemetary of the settlement. We were told that in Jewish religion it was impossible to exhume bodies and bring them to another cemetary. We watched the mother going to the cemetary mourning for their daughter. She said she would never leave the settlement voluntarily.
Then the moderator of the news-show told us, that it was indeed difficult, the Gaza disengagement. Injustices would been done no matter what happened.
It would have worked on me, if I had not known better.
It would have worked,
if I had not known about the security zones around those illegal settlements, where Palestinians are shot at sight, when they came close,
if I had not known about the stealing of farm-land and water in a densely populated area, where Palestians went hungry and had to scrimp with water while Israeli settlers lived in luxury,
if I had not known about the little boy who was shot close to one of those security zones while trying to catch birds to sell on the market because his family was poor and needed the money.
I did not feel sorry for this elderly couple, I did not feel them to be justified for their attitude, but I would have, if I hadn´t known better.

The media can form opinions in the way they show an issue, in the way whose plight they show and whose they leave out. We need to see the faces of those who have suffered, we need to hear their stories. We need to get to know them.
Often even fictional stories told in movies or TV-shows can bring a point across.

Yesterday I watched a show from the TV-series "Without a Trace":
Here an old man went missing, a Peter Dusek. He had been a juror in a murder trial.As the story unravels we find out, that Dusek had recognized one of the witnesses of the trial,a Max Reinhard a former Gestapo officer who had lived in the US under a false name. During the war Reinhard had searched out Jews who lived in hiding with non-jewish families. Reinhard went up to children of the towns he was searching through to persuade them to become informers on their families or their neighbours. Peter Dusek was one of those children. He lived in the same apartment building as the family who were hiding Greta´s family. Greta was Peter´s friend, but he became an informer. He was maybe twelf years old. After Peter had recognized Max Reinhard, he went to Greta, who had survived Auschwitz and gave her a painting, her family had owned and Peter had taken into custody after their deportation. He also told her the truth of what he had done 60 years ago as a child, hoping for forgiveness, but he didn´t get it. So Peter Dusek went to Max Reinhard and turned him over to a Mossad agent, who was able to abduct him to Israel. In the end a policewoman said, that justice sometimes takes a long time.

Only a year ago I would have liked the show about fictional Greta, Peter Dusek and Max Reinhard, glad that justice was done in the end.
A year ago I knew so very little about the people of Palestine and of course I did not know anything about Ahmed Salah.
I read about him on Umkhalil`s blog. He lives in Al-Kahder village near the west bank city of Bethlehem. He is 14 years old.

(Ahmed)Salah(...),told reporters that soldiers arrested him from inside a grocery shop, took him to the nearby Road 60, and asked him to lead them to the homes of three teens who earlier had thrown stones at traveling Israeli vehicles.
"I told them I saw no stone throwers," Salah said.
Yet, soldiers took Salah to his home, searched the place and asked him to call his father. When the father, Taha Salah arrived, a soldier told him that his son threw stones at them. Taha then slapped his son on the face, but the officer told him that his son did not throw stones, but that they wanted him to lead them to the homes of three teens who had thrown stones at soldiers.
Salah told his father that he didn't see anyone throwing stones at soldiers, but soldiers didn't believe him and strongly pushed him and his father.
"I told them that you say my son didn't throw stones, leave him alone. You have no right to force him to lead you to the homes of other villagers" the father said.
One soldier pushed the father once more and warned him that if Ahmed refused to lead them to the homes of alleged stone throwers, they were going to arrest him.
"I told them to do what they want, and asked Ahmed to step out of the military Jeep. Ahmed jumped out and started to run towards our home. At this point, two soldiers started chasing Ahmed, a third soldier fired at him from few meters' distance," the father said.
"I jumped off the Jeep and ran towards home. I heard shooting and felt something penetrating my body. I fell on the ground besides the fence of my home, and woke up in the hospital," (Ahmed) Salah said.

Ahmed was wounded in the back and the chest. It happened last Wednesday.
Maybe Ahmed really didn´t see who threw the stones, but knowing the kids of the village, he probably knew anyway or he could have guessed. He knew he would be arrested when he didn´t collaborate. He probably had heard what happens to Palestinians in Israeli jails.
He did not become an informer.

Ahmed Salah´s story, the story of his family, his friends and his village would make a great movie.
Why doesn´t anybody make one?