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Raz Somech

Shlomi Eldar

Dr. Abuelaish.
photo by Bob Talbot



By Rhonda Spivak, February 24, 2011

Dr Raz Somech spoke to an audience of about 35 people, including about a dozen Jewish high-school students from Machon Madrichim, on February 2, 2011 at the University of Winnipeg orgnized by Hillel. Somech is the doctor portrayed in Shlomi Elder’s acclaimed Oscar Nominated film, “Precious Life”, and the event was organized as part of  Hillel's Israel Week on Campus..

I have previously written a detailed article on Precious Life and my interview with Shlomi Eldar, its producer who spoke at a JNF movie night at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue which drew about 250 people in December 23, 2009. That article can be accessed by clicking here.

The film, which is excellent, examines aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through the relationship of trust that develops between Dr. Somech and his team at Tel-Hashomer Hospital  and  the parents of a four month old Palestinian boy Mohammed born without an immune system.  The boy Mustafa requires a complicated bone marrow transplant that can only be done in an Israeli hospital. Dr. Somech performs a bone marrow graft on the boy Mustafa, who would otherwise die if the transplant wasn’t successful.

The film examines the value of life, and it is clear from the level of care and compassion shown by Dr. Somech throughout the film that he deeply values life and will do the utmost to ensure that Mustafa survives.

At the outset of the film, the boy’s mother makes the statement to journalist Shlomi Eldar that ‘ For you [Israelis/ Jews] life is precious but not for us [Palestinians/Arabs] “, and she says that she “will certainly want him [Mustafa] to be a shahid”, a martyr for the  Palestinian cause when he gets well. Eldar challenges her on the statement saying “Then why are you fighting to save your son’s life if you say that death is the usual thing for your people.”

Dr Somech’s message is that  the value of life is dear, and  ultimately both Israelis and Palestinians will have to learn to  live together, just like the  bone graft has to learn to co-exist with  the body of Mustafa if he is to survive. 

Dr. Somech is in touch with Mohammed’s family, as the child is under his care. “His mother texted me when it was his birthday, he said.”
In the film itself, there are several references which make it is clear that Dr. Somech, who spends his days valuing  human life above everything else,  was critical of the  way in which  Israel’s Operation Cast Led was handled by Israel. Although Somech was reluctant to wade into this political arena, he did say in an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “during the war in many ways Israel showed that life was not precious,” and “we did things against my values” and that he believed “we [Israel] used much more power than we needed to [in Operation Cast Led].” On the other hand, Somech said that ‘no country would allow itself to be fired at “the way Israel was being fired at by Hams from Gaza, and that clearly something had to be done by the State to defend itself and to try to put a stop to the hamas rocket attacks.  Somech was called to serve for the IDF in Gaza in his capacity as a doctor and as he said, “I was called and I went. It was my duty.”

I could tell how internally conflicted Somech was when he answered questions about  Operation Cast Lead.

When asked what he believed the IDF ought to have done differently, he answered “I don’t know what to do but I know what we shouldn’t do.” He said that “one day we will have to sit down” and make peace with the Palestinians, which is why in his view it was counterproductive to have used what he believes was “too much force.”

When asked how he voted in Israeli elections and he answered “Kadima’

He said, “As an Israeli citizen every day  [I think] every Israeli leader should wake up and say what am I going to do to bring peace for my children?” and he added that the notion of defending oneself isn’t only about “military strength “ but also about “defending human rights.”

Dr. Izzaldin Abeulaish, who is a Palestinian doctor whose three daughters and niece were tragically killed by the IDF in Operation Cast lead, appeared in several scenes of Precious Life as he worked with Israeli doctors in  Tel-Hashomer Hospital where the film takes place. Dr Abeulasish recently launched a lawsuit against the Israeli government for an apology and  compensation for his  great losses. The government has refused to give an apology or compensation on the basis that what occurred, while tragic, occurred as a result of war. Click here to see our related story on Dr. Abuelaish.

When asked whether he thought Abeulaish ought to receive an apology and compensation from the IDF pursuant to his lawsuit  he answered, I do not know.”

He added that even if the IDF’s shelling of Dr. Abuelaish’s house during the war  was done “ by mistake”, in his view “it is unforgivable.”

He also said that “Israel should have solved the problem not in Court, “ although he did not give any specifics as to how that could have occurred.

In our conversation, Dr Somech said that “it was important for non-Jews to see “ Precious Life.”
Two sources told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that there were only about 4-5 non-Jews who attended the film screening and talk by Dr. Somech. Several sources told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that  aside from the high-school students from Machon Madrichim and Federation  staff, there were  about twenty people in attendance,  a number which included the core members of Hillel.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.