Monday, February 18, 2008

To Die in Jerusalem, Part I

Judith brought to my attention the movie To Die in Jerusalem, which contrasts the lives and deaths of two seventeen year-old girls: a suicide bomber and her victim. In particular, Judith was disturbed by the Director's Statement.

I read the Statement as well, and decided that it was interesting enough to post it for all of my readers. You know, to see what you think.

With some minor amounts of commentary, of course.


While working on my master’s degree in film and television at Southern Illinois University, I read a newspaper article about a bombing in Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter, I saw an article in Newsweek about the event, with a close-up photograph of the two girls on the cover. I couldn’t stop looking at them! Here, at last, was my master's thesis! The more I read, the more I realized that this tragic story ironically represents everything I feel regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I started to learn more about the girls, it struck me that in a different time and place, they might have been best friends or even sisters who were simply out shopping together. Yes, and to quote the immortal Dave Barry, if your aunt had testicles, she would be your uncle. Whatever! Faith, or fate, or a friendly neighborhood Al Aqsa Martyrs brigade operative brought each of them to the end of her life in such a tragic manner!

Is it just me, or does "Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade" kind of sound like something out of a Monty Python skit? Come to think of it…there was a suicide brigade in "The Life of Brian". Wait…that means, oh my….YES! the terrorists are Monty Python fans! Who knew? Wow! And so am I!

Walla! A point of commonality!

I tried to put myself in Ayat’s place. With or without the bomb? I tried to understand what would lead a beautiful girl just starting her life and with plans for the future, to wake up one morning, take a bag of explosives and put an end to her life (because her plans were to be a suicide bomber, duuuh)-and in the process end the lives of others.

Forgive me, but again, I must interrupt.

There is just something here that is confusing me. I realize that this may make me come across as a particularly naïve American, but I always thought that it was the other way around. As in: she wanted to end the lives of others and in the process she would die?

But I suppose the director could be right. Maybe Ayat was just depressed, and simply wanted to kill herself. And that, like everyone's favorite for this year's
Darwin Award, Ayat was simply unaware of the unfortunate tendency of bombs to blow up over a large distance.

If so, then clearly, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. As a Poor, Sad, Heroic, Victim of Terror, I feel that it is my responsibility to take ownership of this issue, and to use the bully pulpit that is my blog, to Make A Difference and to Prevent Anyone Else from Making this Tragic Mistake.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Folks, bombs are dangerous. If you absolutely must kill yourself (which we do not recommend, as it tends to be fatal), please stick to OD'ing on prescription medication, jumping off of buildings and other activities which are not likely to injure others.

Remember, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Thank you.

The Bombing Victim Muppet

I contacted the mothers of the girls- Avigail Levy and Um Samir al-Akhras -and found them to be two wonderful women, each struggling to cope with her daughter’s death. They opened their hearts and shared their pain with me. This is where the real challenge began: Could I help close the gap between them or would cultural differences and hate ultimately stand in the way of reconciliation? Are their lives permanently unbridgeable in light of pictures/posters praising the young Palestinian’s actions and her parents’ hesitant pride as a result? Ya think?

The more I got to know the mothers and their stories, the more I felt a deepening desire, along with Avigail Levy, to embark on a journey in search of the answer to the most basic question, Why? The highlight of the journey -for all of us -but especially for me because, without it, hey, I have no movie, is an emotional meeting between Avigail and Um Samir

Just as seeing the pictures of Rachel and Ayat - so similar and yet so different - one an accomplished high school student, the other an accomplished suicide bomber-drew me into their story in the first place, the dream of a meeting between the two women stirred me to take my own personal journey with this film. I believe that theirs is a story that needs to be told, in part because we can all identify with the individuals (with Ayat? Well, not really....) in this tragedy. Most of us have been 17, after all.

Now this just begs the question: what, exactly were you doing when you were 17?

Hilla Medalia,



Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I totally identify with Timothy McVeigh, because we were both 17 once.

RivkA with a capital A said...

You can't post this and expect comments to be politics-free....

The cultural relativism that equates a VICTIM with a TERRORIST is offensive.

Terrorists don't need our sympathy.

If our governments had less sympathy for our enemies, and more for our citizens, there would still be Jews living in Gush Katif, and the children of Sderot would be able to go to school without fear.

Instead, while we continue to pay the electric bills for our enemies in Gaza, many of the former residents of Gush Katif are still homeless, jobless, and full of despair, and the children of Sderot, well, who cares about them anyway?

Unknown said...

I removed my first comment because I realized it was a rehash of my comment on the other post.

I really identify with Ilse Koch because we were both 17 once. (I needed to make the genders the same.)

Anonymous said...

This is not really a comment, I am just trying to figure out how to post a comment if and when I have something to say. I bet this won't work. Jason

Anonymous said...

Wow, it worked. OK. Now I have something to say. Did you (Gila) ever try to contact any of the family of "your" suicide bomber? Just curious. This is Jason again. I still don't know how to post a comment with my name, so I am just telling you. Maybe I need a password or something. OK, sorry. Bye.

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

RivkA did you really think that GILA is equating the victim with the terrorist? I sincerely hope you didn't think that!

Gila - you are a naive American and I love it. People far away simply are not getting how sick a people are that glorify homicide bombers (there - that takes away the idea that they are suicidal and just have collateral damage). They just don't get it. American's want things to be fair, so this poor woman who made this film is trying to be FAIR. Let's get everyone together and suddenly there will be peace. NOT!

Maybe you don't totally agree with me, but you don't totally disagree with me either.

Dev - who has to go to work because there's not enough snow :(

Gila said...

Yehudit: chortle!

Rivka: Actually--it can be politics free. The cultural relativism that equates a victim with a terrorist is offensive, yes, but that is as true for me as it is for those being blown up now in Iraq. And one cannot really cite Gush Katif when discussing Iraq.

Jason: No, I did not get in contact with them. What would I want from them?

Gila said...

Dev--sorry about the lack of snow....

Unknown said...

"...Jason: No, I did not get in contact with them. What would I want from them?...."

You could be in the movies! We could make you a star! I think you should email Hilla and ask for a screen test. If she wants to make any movies about live Israelis, that is.

BTW I read the entire site and the word "murder" does not show up once. "Kill" does show up 4-5 times, and not always in the passive voice. Good for her.

BTW I was googling to see if you were in the same bombing (you weren't) and I ended up with a long list of suicide bombings.

1994-1998: 14 suicide bombings (These were the peaceful confidence building Oslo years)

March 2002 in Jerusalem alone: 5 suicide bombings (inc the one in the film)

March 2002 all of Israel: 12 suicide bombings (of which 5 were in Jerusalem)

Yours Gila was in April. April was a slow month.

Anyway I read all these descriptions and the only people killed in that one was Ayat (the teen murderer), the guard, and Rachel Levy.

Do you notice how many times guards are the heroes in these bombings? Because of the guard, only a few people were killed and not as many wounded, and Ayat didn't get to be the mass murderer she was intended to be.

Those people making minimum wage sitting on stools in front of clubs checking your bags are the unsung heroes of Israeli daily life and someone should make a movie about THEM. Maybe we can convince Hilla to make that her next project. But she would have to find some Palestinian equivalent to balance it out.

Gila said...

Yehudit--am going to refrain from responding as that would kinda sorta give away Part II....

Part II is harder to write--it should be ready in a day or two (giant public thank you to Rachel for her help on this!)

programmer craig said...

Jason, do you have a gmail account? If so, you can pick "Google/Blogger" and then type in your e-mail account name (without the @gmail) and your gmail password.

Otherwise, you can select "Name/URL" and just type in your name (URL is optional) but that's not as convenient.

Hope that helps.

Please comment. I am putting these out so that people will read them. Let me know that you are reading.

Gila, just wanted to say I'm reading, as per your request :)

Anonymous said...

When I read the director's statement, I was sure that she/he was just some naive, ideological American who just didn't get it. That, I could "accept". I was shocked to discover that the director was actually born and raised in Tel Aviv, which made her words far more disturbing.

I honestly don't understand how any Israeli could write/feel the things she does. Her naivete is mind-boggling.

Your commentary was spot on.

originality is dead, long live originality said...

People reject concrete ideas of morality because it's inconvenient for them. My three year old nephew never wants to be told he's wrong. Adults are no different. Of course that means that they have to rationalize behavior like suicide bombing in order to maintain their insane premise. It's not naivety, it's willful ignorance.

Soccer Dad said...

Yehudit is right that the guards are often heroes. In the case being discussed that hero was Chaim Smadar whose last words were reportedly, "You are not coming in here. You and I will blow up here." He knew he was going to die but that didn't stop him. Unfortunately, he couldn't save Rachel Levy. But think about it. Here was a story of heroism made for a movie and it was largely ignored. It wasn't as important as the phony symetry between killer and victim.

Bret Stephens wrote a great piece about this outrage. (I hate linking to unauthorized copies, but this is the only one I can find.)

Unknown said...

Thanks, SD, I am going to the movie in about an hour, I will try to get the fact in about the guard in the "discussion" period, if I can. I am going to blog about the discussion.

Batya said...

We're getting to my 12th year "anniversary," before Shabbat Zachor.
The young guys who killed the terrorist were in big legal difficulties for awhile, since the government wanted to prove that it was an accident that the terrorist made a sharp right onto the sidewalk (and my left foot) and then sharp left to mow over dozens of people.

Jack Steiner said...

I saw the movie on HBO and found the bombers family to be offensive. G-d forbid my children should ever murder anyone, but if they did I'd have to own up to it.

It is terrible how they mother tries to explain that people in her situation have the right to murder others.

Gila said...

SD--just read the article you linked to--thanks. Now I am even more pissed off at this movie!

Unknown said...

Hilla was very nice and earnest and hopeful and diplomatic, kind of like a nice group therapist.

I was the only critic, everyone else was a nice Upper West Side Jewish liberal who praised her and asked careful questions about how the movie was made and made a few mild observations about which mother came across the best.

At least there were no Israel- bashing far-lefties.

I did give out the name of your blog and the URL.

Unknown said...

Batya, I need to hear that story....

Soccer Dad said...

I'd just point out that at first, I'm pretty certain that Ayat's parents were very unhappy with her actions and did not celebrate here death (and murders). I'm guessing that societal pressures have prevailed.

Unknown said...

Soccer Dad, I'll give them the benifit of the doubt. It's sort of like enthusiastically praising Saddam whenever a Western reporter would interview you.

I read conflicting stories about Ayat. Was she coerced, or did she enthusiastically take on the mission of shaheed? If she was coerced, she was the mule of her handlers, and the murders essentially were enacted by the three of them, and I feel a bit sorry for her. If she was into it, they were just helping her out, and she deserves only condemnation.

Unknown said...

I just read Batya's story and noticed it was from 1996, and that a much worse one was perpetrated just the week before. So two massacres during the "peaceful" Oslo years.

Unknown said...

Oh I forgot! One of the places Medallia plans to show her movie is in Sderot. She said it like it was an important milestone.

I mean, politically tone-deaf doesn't begin to describe it.

Anonymous said...

i assume you haven't seen the movie. it was really a great piece of work. i don't know why you bash the director in such a low fashion. your comments are neither funny nor constructive. please see the movie and comment on the merits. mockery is just unnecessary.

Gila said...

Annonymous--please read Part II (just posted). Mockery is quite appropriate. As are many other not as kind responses.

Remember this--that could have been me.

Ahuva said...


I listened to an NPR interview with the filmmaker and, if I remember correctly, Rachel's mother. Gila is right and perfectly justified in her response. No matter how elegantly the woman told her "story"-- it is a false construction. Rachel's mother came off as really wanting to understand why this happened but, listening to the quotes from Ayat's mother, the reason was quite simple: the woman raised her child to be filled with hate and bitterness. The two girls could never have been friends. Ayat was not a victim of anything except the bile with which she was raised. (And even then, even if she had been abused-- which I assume she wasn't-- that is not an excuse for murdering another.)

Soccer Dad said...

Yehudit I once wondered if Ayat might have been targeted and recruited as a way of getting at her father. Her father is a contractor who (at least used to) did construction in settlements. I asked someone who I thought might know and he didn't think that was likely.

Soccer Dad said...

Yehudit - Actually the attack in which Batya was injured was right in between the Bus 18 bombings in Yerushalayim. There were, I think, about 60 people in three bombings + the car terror attack. Two of the bombings were in Yerushalayim and one was near Ashdod.