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In ‘Heart of Jenin,’ injustice finds bromides

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And all must love the human form,

In heathen, turk, or jew;

Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.

                         William Blake, “The Divine Image” 1789

              The Heart of Jenin, which appeared on PBS ten days ago, belongs to 12-year-old Ahmed Khatib, shot by the IDF, and to his father, Ismail Khatib, who in his misery over his beloved son’s death, chose to donate Ahmed’s organs so that six Israelis might live.  The film shows Ismail’s pain transformed into generosity: we see his tenderness to the children who live because of his child’s organs, his gentle hands stroking their heads, his sensitive face mingling suffering and compassion.  Heart of Jenin poignantly follows a soul loving other children while grieving for his own lost boy.    But that’s only half the drama, for Heart of Jenin also portrays the confrontation of Ismail’s good will with Israeli prejudice: a brutal comparison.   

One of the filmmakers, Leon Geller, struck by the story of a Palestinian family saving Israeli lives, filmed the families of donor and recipients in the hospital even during the transplanting of Ahmed’s heart and kidneys.  The resulting documentary, though often praised as a symbol of hope in the Holy Land, reveals how urgently the Palestinian people need liberation, so that all can live amicably together, heathen, turk,  jew, and everyone else.  William Blake’s nursery rhyme about the divinity of humankind and the humanity of gods might point the way.

The climax of the movie is the short, long-delayed, visit of Ismail Khatib to Menuha Rivka Levinson and her parents, two years after she received one of Ahmed’s kidneys.  The excruciatingly awkward reception of  Palestinian father and his wife’s cousin, Mustafa Habub, by Mr. and Mrs. Levinson contrasts starkly with the grateful feasts welcoming  them at the homes of the Druze and Bedouin recipients.  Yaakov Levinson greets the visitors with, “Shalom, shalom,” then asks, “Who’s the father?” He points at Ismail in a jarringly alienating gesture.  “It’s you?”

Conversation soon lags and a dispute–albeit a quiet one–about who should live in Palestine fills the void.

Yaakov  Levinson asks in Hebrew:  “How is the situation in Jenin? [repeats question—left off subtitle] Is it better than a few years ago?”

Habub: “People are caged in the city. They can’t get out.”

Levinson: “Do you also live there?

Habub: “No, I’m an Israeli.  I have an Israeli ID.”

They discuss where Mustafa lives; suddenly Levinson chooses to talk about Ismail–past him rather than to him–with Mustafa.

Levinson: “What’s his profession?”

Habub: “A car mechanic.  But in Jenin there are no jobs.”

Levinson: “It’s hard.”

Habub: “Very hard.”

Levinson: “There’s a lot of work for him in Jerusalem.  Can’t he emigrate?”

Habub: “To where?”

Levinson:  “Maybe you take him to the U.S.”   [Why would Mr. Levinson assume that Ismail Khatib needs to be taken by someone else?]

Habub: “You mean, to Israel?”

Levinson: “What does he have to do here in Israel?  Why doesn’t he go to work in Turkey or London?”

Habub: “This is his home.  How can he leave?”

Levinson: “He can find work.  There’s nothing for him here.”  Ismail rolls his eyes.  He gets the gist of the “sermon,” even through the Hebrew.  Levinson continues, oblivious to Ismail’s understated pain, disgust, hurt.  “There he could make a good living and no one’s on his case.”

Yaakov Levinson, in an earlier scene, has told us that he was born in Israel to parents who grew up in the United States before emigrating.  His patronizing gall in advising a man to leave his ancestral home because he’s been cheated of work by an oppressive regime is startling.  Even though Ismail saved Menuha Rivka Levinson’s life, her father cannot refrain from preaching that the former, a Palestinian, is unwelcome—has “nothing”–in his own land.  That disjunction between the generous and the stingy made me wonder whether the film is hiding a secret about the Levinsons. 

Sure enough, the Levinsons are illegal colonists in the Shuafat Refugee Camp of Arab East Jerusalem.  The film unconscionably omits their crime, leaving viewers ignorant of Ismail’s brave restraint throughout the political, as well as personal, indignity of the visit.   The colony looks modern—a contrast to the descriptions one reads of the Israeli Arab camps starved of services by government prejudice.  The injustice goes beyond "mere" theft, because the illegal edifices sabotage any future peace between Israelis and Palestinians, stealing land meant for the capitol of Palestine.  Heart of Jenin lets us down by censoring the truth about Levinson that makes his homily sickening, and might be called Heartless in Occupied East Jerusalem.  Yaakov Levinson, the interloper, shamelessly urges Ismail to leave Palestine, the abode of Ismail’s ancestors, even though Levinson himself is the child of immigrants and is now squatting on Palestinian land.  Now, remind us: which tribe is “driving” which “into the sea”?

Some observers might call Levinson’s nerve “ironic,” however I do not.  Levinson’s reflexive cruelty is not an accidental coincidence, but a deliberate product of the heritage he clings to and the goals he grips.  Ismail looks resignedly at his friend Mustafa.

Ismail asks quietly: “Did he say I should go to Turkey?”

Habub perhaps minimizes the offense: “He said if things are hard here, you can go abroad.”

Ismail: “They could also go.” 

Habub murmurs something PBS doesn’t translate, but seems to ask “also go?”

Ismail: “It’s hard for them, too; why don’t they go?”

               Habub: “No, he can’t go.  They live here.”

Rather than argue with Levinson, Ismail magnanimously turns away from insult, focusing on tiny Menuha.  He affectionately–yet oh-so-circumspectly–puts his hand out for her to slap again.  She backs up.  Ismail’s fingers wiggle, inviting her to step forward. 

 “We got you a present,” Levinson interrupts.  “We don’t know how to show our appreciation.  You really saved our daughter’s life.” 

What a chilling transition.   Yaakov Levinson doesn’t know how to show the family’s gratitude because, even though Ismail saved their kid’s life, Levinson cannot refrain from lecturing a Palestinian that he’s unwelcome in his own homeland.  Can we believe that he’s unable to show gratitude—if he really feels it–starting with sympathy for the other man’s woes?  But sympathy would mean seeing himself in another, looking in his eyes, stuttering, “We thank you:  we think of you gratefully every day,” rather than “We don’t have a clue how to do it.”  Yes, they do: they just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge straightforwardly the obligation they (ought to) feel.  Ismail signals with a glance at Mustafa that he’s ready to leave.  Levinson–in parting from the other father who saved him from his own loss–does not meet Ismail’s eyes.  Levinson looks foolish, yammering about the gift, seemingly, to compensate for his heartlessness.  The colonist looks at the dispossessed man’s chest, paradoxically gazing at Ismail’s own great heart.  Levinsons says, “Thank you for coming. I appreciate it.  It’s a shame we couldn’t have met before—.”  Levinson perhaps forgets that he is on film, as was his earlier refusal to meet the Arab donor’s family. 

                  The film never shows the gift.

The mystery about the present is an admirable artistic choice, leaving us to wonder whether–after the giver’s affront–Ismail so thoroughly can’t accept it, that he’s not even curious about it.  The film contrasts the unopened box, last seen in the back of the car, with the thoughtful donation of bookbags from Sameh Gadban to the children in the youth cultural center Ismail opened.  But the movie, less admirably than with the gift, leaves out a crucial fact.   Ismail founded the gathering place, the “Cuneo Center for Peace,” as a tribute to his dead boy; he, filmmaker Marcus Vetter, and the kids are renovating the Jenin cinema so that the youngsters can show the films they’ve made.    The documentary omits other relevant details: the fact that Ismail lost two businesses to Israeli depredations, that Jenin was once considered the most dangerous place in Palestine.  Most inexplicably, the film does not examine why the IDF gunned down a defenseless boy.  It repeats the usual IDF excuse that soldiers mistook Ahmed’s toy gun for a real one, deleting the fact that his parents say that Ahmedhad no toy gun.   It skips the truth that Ahmed was fired on more than once: blasted in both head and chest.

               The movie distorts the context, highlighting Palestinian and minimizing Israeli violence.  It depicts the procession of Palestinian males, streaming out to carry Ahmed’s body from the hospital, almost as a mob, zooming in on one machine gun across the back of one man.  Ismail “fought against the Israelis,” but the IDF was only “operating” (said twice) in Jenin when it killed the child.  We see no images of IDF stormtroopers—merely the infinite rubble they leave behind in Jenin.  We look at tanks, but overlook the bulldozing that grinds a city to gravel.  The only pictures of the Israeli army come at a West Bank checkpoint, when a female soldier on a phone answers repetitive, imbecilic, questions from another woman, delaying the Khatib family reunion with the Gadban and Kabua families on the first anniversary of Ahmed’s murder.

 Wide Angle subtracts even more, then adds distortions.  It inserts a voice-over by PBS narrator Jay O. Sanders, which often doesn’t match the facts—both of the film itself and the history of Palestine.  The narrator breaks the embargo on the word “Occupied,” but turns around and bows to the Zionist label, “disputed territories”: “Occupied by Israel…the West Bank is disputed territory.”  The narration neglects the fact that the first Intifada was non-violent.  Sanders maligns the words chanted by Ahmed’s funeral parade, “We are here to serve Allah; Allah is great; We are here to serve Allah; Allah is great.”  The men and boys sing these two lines many times, then, once, “Carry the martyr on your shoulders,”and, finally, “Each of the dead will be revenged with 100.”  The narration reduces all their mourning to that last line, announcing that “The death of Ahmed Khatib gave rise to cries of vengeance in the streets of Jenin.”  But, according to the script, the Israelis don’t seek revenge.  After a Palestinian “attack,” “Israel [merely] struck forcefully” in “the wake of the bombings,” of the [inexplicable] second Intifada.  Sanders opines,

“But peace never came.  A second Intifada began in 2000.  In 2002, Israel was hit by waves of suicide bombings. Many of the bombers came from Jenin and the surrounding areas.  One attack, on Passover, killed some 28 people.”

Dead Israeli people get counted.  Erased is how, always, the Palestinian death toll exceeds Israel’s by roughly 10 times.  The narrative even re-creates the frightening sound of the Passover bomb, then includes actual footage of the suicide bomber ranting about his mission and Ariel Sharon, as well as a gory picture of the floor covered in Jewish blood.  Sanders doesn’t mention Ariel Sharon’s intentional provocation of the second Intifada with his visit to the Temple Mount, or Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock,—along with a sacrilegious troop of armed guards.   We definitely see no shots of that Israeli “mob.”  We’re offered no glimpse of the exponentially expanding land theft by colonists.  Nor are we allowed to witness later crimes: the greedy wall–stealing invaluable farm land–the bulldozing of houses and fruit-groves, the theft of water, or even the imprisonment and the obliteration of Gaza till no landmarks are left.

Wide Angle betrays its name by peddling a shrunken perspective, cutting an 89-minute work by more than half, then substituting an inaccurate “analysis” by “reporters” Aaron Brown and Gideon Lichfield; tellingly, PBS posts a transcript of the chat, but not of the documentary itself.  The sour climax of Heart of Jenin justly distresses Brown, but his conclusion is odd:

“I know how terribly naïve this, so don’t tell me it’s terribly naïve. But in the Hollywood script version of this documentary, Mr. Khatib comes to the door and Mr. Levinson throws this big bear hug around him. And says, ‘Thank you for this incredible gift to my child.’”  

What Hollywood version?  As NPR’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi might say, BOOOOOGUS!”  Where are all those blockbusters rendering the terrible ordeal of the Palestinians, as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin portrayed the suffering of enslaved African people, or as Jackson’s Ramona publicized the extermination of Native Americans?  The closest was a few minutes of “enlightened self-interest” in Spielberg’s Munich about the corrosiveness of Israel’s vengeance to its identity.  Brief though that examination was, Spielberg yet barely escaped with his reputation amid charges of anti-Semitism hurled even at him.  There’s Disney’s Aladdin, where all the “good guys” have American accents and the baddies sound Arabic.   How about Borat, in which an English Jew pretends to be a (primitive) Kazakh; Sasha Baron Cohen’s art has always been funny  (when bigwig politicians or journalists are his targets in Ali G) (I haven’t seen Bruno), but how would the  ridicule have gone over if the satirist had been Arab and the “butt” Jewish?

Brown’s claim of “naïve” idealism implies that hoping for graciousness in a meeting between an Israeli and a Palestinian isn’t rational.  But Brown’s not innocent; he’s prejudiced.  Brown distracts us from the true destroyer of the happy end: “But sadly that’s Hollywood. That’s not the Middle East.”  Ah, no.  That’s not the Middle East.  That’s Yaakov Levinson.  Brown blames the region for the failings of a man, and also steers us away from another culprit, the movement to which the man adheres, Zionist colonialism.  At first, Gideon Lichfield agrees, “Right.”  Then he justly demurs: “Well, it’s not the Middle East in this particular case. I can imagine the Hollywood script happening with another Israeli.”  But on another point, he falls short, when he and Brown discuss the Levinsons’ revulsion from their girl’s receiving a Palestinian kidney. The closed hearts of the Levinsons are exposed when Geller asks Mr. Levinson, “Does it matter if he [the donor] is Jewish or Arab?”

Yaakov Levinson nods his head emphatically, half smiling: “Of course I prefer him to be Jewish.”

Filmmaker: “Why?”

               Mr. Levinson: “It would be from a Jew.  Not from an Arab….”

Aaron Brown asks, “[M]ight we have heard the same thing had the situation been reversed? Would a Palestinian father have said, “Honestly, given my choice, I’d take an Arab kidney?” Gideon Lichfield replies, “I think so. Absolutely.  I couldn’t tell you what proportion of them might say it.  But absolutely, I think there’s that feeling, again, of tribalism: we want to not have too much to do with those people.”  How lame: Lichfield sticks in his opinion rather than testing his assumption.  Viewers can guess; his job is to find out.

               The “reporters” miss the point.  The film of that hospital waiting room juxtaposes this interchange with earlier footage of the Bedouin mother, Mrs. Kabua, exclaiming her delight with the prospect of meeting the donor’s family.  The scene cuts then to reaction shots of the Druze Gadban family.   Mrs. Gadban is too stricken to talk during the ordeal of her daughter’s transplant.  Sameh’s other relatives look stunned by Levinson’s words.  Or, to paraphrase the movie Charade, “[they] can’t believe it.  But [we] do believe it.  That’s what [we] can’t believe!”  The contrast between the Gadbans’ paralysis and Mr. Levinson’s animation is memorable.  Are his psychological-political defenses so easily triggered that he can be distracted from his suspense over the fate of his child at so dire a time?  He even wears a goofy grin as he assures us that “of course” he prefers purity of blood.  Aaron Brown’s first question of Gideon Lichfield is:

‘Do you think if it’s an unfair question to ask Mr. Levinson, in this moment where his child gets, or may get, the organ, ‘Does it matter to you if it’s an Arab organ or a Jewish organ?’”

As always, the American press version of “objectivity” is to present the two sides as exactly equivalent—except, when Palestinians are “wrong.”  Then it says so without compunction. But when Israelis fall short, the conventional media must ask whether the standard is “unfair,” that is, whether the Zionist view been coddled.  Brown’s questions expose why PBS replaces documentary footage with his drivel.   

Narrow Line [not Wide Angle] promulgates the myth that Palestinians and Israelis are equally to blame for their plights.  As Lichfield affirms, “[O]n both sides, you have,…an inability to comprehend the other side’s narrative and its story, and the importance of it.”  I would ask, “What is the difference between a narrative and a story?”  But redundancy isn’t the problem, except as all the verbiage exposes the perceived need to dilute the horror of the film with blather.  Lichfield proves the point by opining, “Jews in Israel don’t get the Palestinian attachment to the land. They don’t understand that the land is what it is about to be Palestinian. You know, Jewish history goes back thousands of years. Palestinian identity as a people is relatively more recent. I think people trace it back to the 19th century, when there was a sense of Palestinian people-hood.”  Perhaps Lichfield means by this seeming condescension that Palestinians are relatively free from a Western fealty to nationalism.  But if so, he neglects the operative question: “What’s so great about Western nationalism?”  From its development during the Renaissance when Europe began accumulating empires, nationhood has started at least as many wars as religion.

Meanwhile, the Brown-Lichfield dialog distracts us from the Levinsons’ rejection of a more precious exchange.  Geller asks the next logical query.

Filmmaker: “Can you imagine meeting the donor’s family?”

Mr. Levinson: “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  No.   [Left off PBS subtitle:] I don’t think so.”

Later, both Mr. and Mrs. Levinson confirm this alienation from Palestinians.

Mr. Levinson: “Some crazy Arabs are trying to kill Jews all the time.  That’s why I was amazed by this whole case,

how this Arab tried to help Jews.  They don’t usually help Jews.” 

At the end, Yaakov Levinson still complains that “There are some Muslims are trying to kill us as much as possible [sic].” He blames them for the “very bad situation,” saying “If we want to live in peace, we need to live in peace.”  But Mr. and Mrs. Levinson, instead of letting their “hearts” be touched by Ismail Khatib’s generosity, volunteer an unforgettable duet of bigotry.  Their repulsion from Palestinians is so open that they don’t scruple to vent it in front of two tiny children—including Menuha– sitting with them on the couch.

Filmmaker:  “Would you let your children have Palestinian friends?”

Mr. Levinson: “No.” 

               Mrs. Levinson [repeating husband’s word with a slight smile]: “No.”

Mr. Levinson: “It’s not the way we want them to grow up.”

Mrs. Levinson: “They’d have different influences on them, which we wouldn’t want them to have.”

Mr. Levinson : “Very, [very] bad influences.”  [PBS subtitle leaves out half Levinson’s revulsion.]

Filmmaker: “So Ismail’s family couldn’t really get [to be] your friends?”

Mrs. Levinson: “I mean, we could be acquainted, you know…[say] ‘How are you?’—“

Mr.  Levinson [chiming in]: “To be thankful, to say, ‘Hello, hello, how are you?’ but not…to be friends, but buddy-buddies.  NO.”

The ghastly symmetry by which the couple gestures in unison during this last unendurable line shows how families reinforce each others’ limitations—when they don’t expand each others’ boundaries.  The Levinsons’ twin left arms extend self-protectively in a mockery of an i hug, waving off connection in smug renunciation.  They’re so stirred up by righteous rejection that, as in the hospital, they seem to forget Menuha.  For, while the parents talk, Menuha sleeps between them, but neither parents’ arm cuddles her.   Menuha lies back, curiously isolated, mouth open, oblivious to the hostility expressed around her.

                    In contrast to dearth of caresses for Menuha on the couch, the dad strokes the girl a lot when he introduces her to Ismail Khatib.   As Mr. Levinson encourages the child to greet Ismail, “Say hello.  Say hello,” he simultaneously draws Menuha back toward himself.  He seems subconsciously trying to hold her.  Menuha slaps hard on Ismail’s outstretched hand.  Levinson strokes Menuha’s cheek, even as she’s gone away from him to Ismail for a lovely, light embrace.   Ismail’s reverence for Menuha is so great that his hug seems only barely to touch her.  After, Menuha cries out in her charming toddler’s English: “His boy.  It’s his boy.”   Ismail asks, “How is she doing?” The three men chat about Menuha’s check-ups.  Mrs. Levinson brings coffee, disappears; Levinson offers sugar:  Khatib and Habub refuse; they take their first little sip in unison.  The Levinsons do not drink coffee with their visitors.  There is a painful silence, filled by a child speaking in the background, and then by the debate that symbolically pushes Ismail out of Palestine.

               The unexpectedness of that ugly turn to Mr. Levinson’s remarks may explain why his several apologies do not convince.   His defensiveness looks almost sulky, as he later tries to explain his hospital answers: “[Mumbling] Nnn I don’t know [Left off PBS subtitles]….This was the situation—I didn’t…Because I didn’t even think about it.  I didn’t know what to say about it.  So” he shrugs, “…I didn’t know even what to answer–eh.”  But though Levinson disavows his words, his attitude seems unchanged at the meeting two years after Ahmed’s death:

Levinson: “How many children do you have?”

Ismail: “Five [without Ahmed].”

Levinson: “Ahmed was your youngest?”

Ismail: “The middle child.”

Habub: “When it happened it was very hard.”

Levinson seems to commit the folly excusing the IDF attack on Ahmed to his father and “uncle”: “Everyone makes mistakes.  I just heard the story a few days later.” Then Yaakov goes farther, seeming to misrepresent stand-offish attitude in the hospital: “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t thinking.  They asked me if I knew who he was.  I didn’t know.”

Habub: “You said something very hard.”

Levinson: “Yes, in the beginning, they asked me all these questions when my daughter was in surgery.  I’m sorry.  I wasn’t thinking."

Brown and Lichfield deliberately emphasize their understanding of Levinson’s insular “ultra-religious” views, in other words, to show “tolerance” for “intolerance.”  The film, however, supplies a better explanation of Levinson’s not “thinking” than the lame commentary.   After the hospital scene, the camera follows Levinson on his way to work, as he describes his history: “I was born here in Israel” to American parents–one Chicagoan and one New Yorker—as well as his sense of  virtue, “We believe in God: whatever he says.  He is father and we are his kids.  That’s what a good Jew’s supposed to do.” 

              Here’s another reason traditional “public”-corporate journalism is dying—to add to Phil’s long list.  It wants to keep viewers from wondering for ourselves, lest we invent unacceptable theories.  Every line of Heart of Jenin, the people it renders, and the stunted relic broadcast on PBS, echo Blake’s poem.  That split between the heavenly and the mortal, parent and child, is exactly the division “The Divine Image” seeks to heal: 

We are both deity and parent:

“For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is God our father dear,”

As well as mortal and child:

“And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is Man, his child and care.

Blake’s revelation is that whenever we worship something supernatural–greater, outside ourselves–we are actually looking “up” to ourselves, because people can only apprehend what our own natural—human–powers allow.  Whenever we think we’re connecting with the Other, whether a sublime or earthly being, we do it through our own constructs, as well as the elasticity of our imaginations—in other words, through the energy our joy in leaping toward the unknown.  The reason that “moralizers” act immorally and the “devout” sully both spirituality and carnality, is that they falsely separate the sacred from the profane—breaking apart the “human form divine.”  They and the god they create, worship, and then forget they made—value obedience over responsibility; memorizing over discovery; ludicrous notions of cloistered infallibility over empathy—“ mercy.”  One of the IDF soldiers in “Breaking the Silence” sums up Blake’s vision of the “dead” end in servility to the dangerous institution of “god-and-country”:

"Anything we did there, we’d answer ourselves: there’s no other choice, but this is how we shirk our responsibility. You bring yourself to this kind of deterministic situation, a moment that I have not chosen, where I no longer have any responsibility for my own actions.” 

Blake’s songs agree: we have to choose, because human "Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace," are the deity we adore, as well as the selves we both enjoy and rejoice to transcend.

Aaron Brown “opens,” or rather tries to “tame,” Wide Angle’s cropped Heart of Jenin with his trademark philosophizing:

“It’s not a story of a life that ends in death, but rather a story about a death that gives life.”   Tthat’s too tidy a moral for me:  Ahmed died.  The establishment mantra that injustice has a neat compensation is belied by the irrevocable fact that Ahmed and his family suffered irreparable harm.  He lost his life and the Khatibs their growing babe.  The one fleeting shot the film gives us of  his heartbroken mother’s beautiful face, of the tears streaming from her open eyes, and the glances at his bereft brothers hugging their dad and wiping their tears, tell us more than Brown’s uplifting bromide.  Whatever else this story is, it’s about loss and reaching through it–with it–to keep on caring for others. 

Brown knows himself: he does prefer Hollywood endings, for he’s mimicking the schmaltzy conclusions appended to play and movie adaptations of Anne Frank’s Diary: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”  That line actually comes weeks earlier and is part of a mournful entry, “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.  Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”  But the real end is Anne Frank’s cry of loneliness in a hostile world of well-meaning but insensitive family and friends.  Anne bemoans how “I never utter my real feelings about anything,” because others distort her musings.  “[F]inally I twist my heart around again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and what I could be, if…there weren’t any other people living in the world.”  The diary breaks off with her capture by the Nazi army, leaving us with Anne’s haunting sorrow that she can only grow, get deeper, alone, because people cannot listen or allow her to change.  Anne’s closing echoes her opening:  she hesitates when beginning to write, “because it seems to me that neither I—nor for that matter anyone else—will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”  Generations on, we still work through prejudice about whose experience matters.  Anne educates readers to care about her, while Heart of Jenin teaches us mourn for a kid almost her age, twelve-year-old Ahmed, and to root for Ismail.  It pleads that we learn to hear others.   

Now we have to brush away unhelpful fictions that obscure half of what those tales suggest.  Aaron Brown declaims: “In the end, maybe it is a story about peace, whether it’s attainable or impossible, or so tangled up in our common humanity that we can’t be sure of which.” What does that utterance mean?  The story of Heart of Jenin is the lost chance for "common humanity" to conciliate estranged peoples.  The Levinson couple rebuffed that connection.  Brown seems purposely oblivious to how some characters and sects, not all humans or even the state of being human, refuse peace.  Rather than chide Orthodox Jewish intransigence, Brown fingers the human race.  Perhaps Blake’s famous line about why he prefers humans and devils over gods and angels may explain,

"I have always found that angels have the vanity to speak of themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning." 

Blake’s observation seems apt about an ignorant commentariat trying to proving how smart it is, toadies pretending to be iconoclasts, screens masking the implications of what they show.  The U.S. can only have a fair debate with impartial, verified fact regardless of the subject–“heathen, turk, or jew,” christian, buddhist, hindu, druid, atheist, skeptic, or any combination—no matter how heretical.  For all Brown’s and Lichfield’s discomfort with Yaakov Levinson’s Orthodoxy, pundits and preachers share much.   Blake’s “The Divine Image” offers an alternative to the delusion that war festers in the “tangle” of “our common humanity.”  Community, charity, the energy of reaching out to the undiscovered Other, are acts not of conflict–but of love.

 Then every man, of every clime

That prays in his distress,

Prays to the human form divine,

Love , Mercy, Pity, Peace.




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