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Shlomi Eldar

Palestinian child Mohammed Abu Mustafa and his mother

Erez Rotem



by Rhonda Spivak, December 8, 2010,


Editor's note: I wrote this article last year when the director of  Precious Life  Shlomi Eldar was in Winnipeg  for the screeing of the award winning  Precious Life. For those who didn't see it last year when it was brought here, Herzlia synagogue is screeNing  on December 11, 2011. For more details, contact the synagogue at  489 6262. Given that the film will be screened once  again next week, I have decided to re-run the article]


Over 250 people attended  the special screening of the Israeli film Precious Life which was sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and  hosted by the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Tuesday November 23.

Israeli director Shlomi Eldar was present for the screening of his moving film which documents a  true saga involving a breathtaking race to save the life of a desperately ill four month year old Palestinian baby, Mohammed Abu Mustafa, who was born without an immune system and will die  unless a donor can be found for  a bone marrow transplant.  The child’s two sisters have already died by virtue of  the same defective immune system and complicated procedeure can  be done  only in an Israeli hospital.

A desperate plea from the boy's doctor to save Mohammad’s life led Eldar to document this complex and emotional story, which involves Israeli and Palestinian doctors who put aside their differences to protect the child. The film premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July and has since been screened in documentary film festivals around the world, and has recently been nominated for an Oscar.

“Three year ago, after being a reporter for 20 years in Gaza, I was without work. I could no longer go onto Gaza after it was closed off to Israeli reporters,” said Eldar. Eldar was a  veteran correspondent for  Channel 10 News in Israel and spoke briefly at the outset of the JNF movie night and then answered questions afterward.

“Then I received mail from a doctor who begged me to come see a baby from Gaza who was dying from the same disease as his sister had died from,” said Eldar, who was at the outset not at all eager to get involved in the story.

Things changed for him when he travelled to the Jerusalem hospital in which the child was hospitalized, and encountered a story that would have a great impact on the baby’s mother and father, the Israeli doctor and Eldar himself.

“It was 55,000 dollars to do an organ transplant for the baby” said Eldar explained that they hoped that if the story got publicized on Israeli T.V. they would find a donor for the money to help the child.

The film becomes complex when Eldar asks the baby’s mother, if her son lives “would you let him grow up to be a “shahid’ (a terrorist who is a martyr for the Palestinian cause).  The mother answers yes, and explains that death for the cause is more important than life.  She says that life is not precious and Palestinians are prepared to die for the cause. Of course, it is difficult for the viewer of the film to know how much she means this and how much of her answer may be motivated by not wanting to be seen to undercut Hamas ideology since she lives in Gaza.

In an interview after the film, when asked about this, Elder said that he believed that the mother’sr initial response wasn’t just motivated by a fear of Hamas, but it was based on her long held ‘religious beliefs”,  her pre-conceived notions of Israelis and the culture of “demonization” of Israel which is part of her emotional landscape.

“This is part of her perception,” Eldar said.

Late in the film, however, the mother learns that the son of Hamas leader Ismail Haniya is told about her response and says she “is crazy” for saying she wants her son to be a shahid.

She responds “when we say something to please them [Hamas] they say we are crazy.”

The fascinating part of the film is trying to decide to what degree the mother has changed or moderated her views after her baby has been saved by an Israeli donor and an Israeli doctor in an Israeli hospital.

It is a question that is not entirely answered, and may well depend on the viewpoint of the individual viewer.

In the film, the mother is taken to see Jerusalem, and makes comments suggesting that that Palestinians could never compromise on Jerusalem.

In an interview after the event, Elder said that in his view the mother “had changed”  and pointed to remark that she made when she  is riding in a car with Eldar returning to Gaza. She  says  in that scene words to the effect that Israelis and Palestinians must end the crazy conflict and learn to live together.

She is clearly wrestling with the notion that Israelis killed children in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead yet at the same time are going to great lengths to save her son.  She says words to the effect that both sides are “nuts” in their behavior.

Additionally,  in an interview Eldar noted  that the couple named their newest baby ( the mother becomes pregnant when the existing baby is hospitalized in Israel) “Rarad” a word in Arabic which mans “Bud.” Eldar said he interprets this as meaning “a bud for peace,’ and is a sign of genuine moderation.

Yet, the degree of the change in her perception is not entirely clear. Although the mother makes comments which could be interpreted to be a moderation of her original militant views, what about the father.  The film really doesn’t deal closely with what if any change the father has undergone. The viewer is left without answers in that regard.

At one point, the couple talks about how other Palestinians think they are traitors for taking their child to Israeli doctors.

Eldar, whose parents were from Iraq and who went back to visit Iraq to find his ancestral home, also related how when he returned to  Gaza the baby’s mother told her friends that she knew Israelis  ‘and that they are  not animals.” She felt safer that she would not be harmed by any Israelis retaliation as they knew her.
The film is critical of Israel’s operation Cast Lead, and quotes from the Israeli doctor who  is called to war in his unit and says that  he thinks the Israelis were doing things they ought not to have been doing. Eldar himself is also critical of the way that Israel used force in the war.

In fact, many believe that Eldar’s live broadcast  on Israeli television which was aired around the world of the  urgent pleas for help by Palestinian Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish after three of his daughters and a niece died when Israeli tank shells shattered his house in Jabalia refugee camp and injured his fourth daughter contributed to the end of Israel's Gaza campaign. (The Israelis believed that Hamas was firing rockets nearby his house, although Abuelaish said this was not true). The broadcast is credited by some for changing the Israeli public’s perception of the war. For more on Dr. Abuelaish and his story our earlier article, click here.

In his remarks at the Shaarey Zedek, Eldar stressed that he believed that “hospital are the only bridges left between Israelis and Palestinians,” because both Israelis and Palestinians are in close proximity in a situation that brings out their humanity to one another.

“The first peace process started in Israel jails between prisoners and their guards,” said Eldar.“I believe Israeli hospitals are a bridge for the next peace process. When people meet in hospitals all walls and demonization [of the other] collapse,” he said.

In an interview, Eldar also pointed out that most Gazan Palestinians who need medical care outside of Gaza want to go to Israel for their treatment, but “the government in Gaza tries to send them in to Egypt for treatment because it is cheaper.  But most want to go to Israel, and not Egypt.”

When asked by an audience member whether he believed his film had any chance being shown in the Arab world, Eldar said, “My producer thinks he can screen it in Gaza but I don’t think so. Maybe in Ramallah or Jenin, but not Gaza or other Arab countries.”

In thanking Eldar, Erez Rotem, the emissary for the Prairie Region of the Jewish National Fund, who is a former Channel 2 news reporter on Israeli television and has known Eldar for a long time, noted how lucky we were to have Eldar speak in Winnipeg. He added, that Eldar’s film has been acquired by HBO and will be distributed widely in threatres  such that it will be shown “to tens of millions of people.”








































































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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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