When Jenna answers you, she furrows her brow slightly and looks beyond you, into the distance. It might seem as though she’s concentrating hard, but you’re not taxing her seven-year-old intellect. No, you’re making her think of things, you’re making her remember things, that no seven year old should have to remember.
Her voice is quiet, sweet. And as she talks about soldiers breaking into her house at 3:30 am, and the shooting of tear gas outside meant not for crowd control, but to awaken everyone in the village, you feel pain. But then she looks at you and smiles. Happy to be treated kindly, to be helpful, to be cute.
Jenna lives in Nabi Saleh, an occupied village of 500 residents under Israel’s military control. Despite its diminutive size, Nabi Saleh has become a giant in the ever-growing and multifaceted nonviolence movements spreading within Palestinian society. Tragically, it has been singled out for brutal treatment by the Israeli military because of this.
It all began in 2008, when a nearby Jewish settlement illegally appropriated the village’s freshwater spring, water being an essential and precious resource. Now, every Friday men and women and children – sometimes waving flags and singing, sometimes dancing, sometimes even wearing clown suits to make it festive – try to walk to their spring to peacefully protest its being stolen. The army never lets them get out of the village, and in the past several years, over a third of the villagers have been injured, and several killed, during their weekly demonstrations. This in addition to the indiscriminate home raids in the middle of the night, with both adults and minors being indefinitely detained.
Suffice it to say, the village’s children are paying an unspeakable prince – a price captured in a remarkably quiet yet powerful new documentary called “Sometimes I’m Afraid. Sometimes I Hit.”
These children’s stories, when zoomed out and contextualized, are the stories of those who have failed them. Which means that their stories are also our own – we as Americans must own these stories. We must acknowledge that we are partially responsible for them. After all, when the Israeli army raids Nabi Saleh at midnight and indefinitely detains Jenna’s father or sister or brother, we cannot just blame the Israeli government’s inability to disengage itself from its decades-long military control over Jenna’s family. No, we must also blame our government’s complicity, its political cowardice, its record funding of Israel’s military as the country uses that military to steal land and oppress millions of people.
We are accomplices. We have allowed this to happen, and continue to allow it to happen. Which is why it is a political imperative that we not look upon those children in “Sometimes I’m Afraid, Sometimes I Hit” and think of them as disembodied, as tragic victims in a conflict between two peoples who hate each other, and dismiss their stories as regional ones which, while sad, are of another world.
No, these stories reach all the way back to our shores, to our houses of government, to our pockets from whence our tax dollars emerge.
These children’s voices have been captured by first-time filmmaker Yuval Auron, a Jewish Israeli activist who spent time in jail for refusing to serve in the military. Now, he’s focused on bringing the voices of those children under Israel’s military control to the world. His film is up for multiple documentary awards, including EuroMed.
Regarding the film, Yuval explains:
“I came to make this film in an attempt to understand just a small part of these children’s world. To hear them describe a world full of violence and politics, of death and prisons, of conflicts and pain, a world created for them by the grownups. To let them explain this world to us, to describe it to us simply, with the clarity and naïveté that they still retain, despite everything.”
“You can argue about everything, except about their words. The absolute justness of their experience. Maybe it is clearest when they say it. Maybe if all we have left is a white wall and a chair and a child we will be able to listen. To look for a few minutes, through different eyes, at all that we have created here.”
Maybe if all we have left is a white wall and a chair and a child we will be able to listen. That is not just Yuval’s hope, but the hope of those in Nabi Saleh, the hope of Palestinians who peacefully demonstrate, and the hope of American Jews such as myself who view Israel’s continued occupation as one of my generation’s greatest moral failings.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.