Heroes and Villains

Sunday, May 26, was a lazy day for me and Prince Charming. We had some movies lined up to watch, and the first was a documentary called Five Broken Cameras. Just a couples hours later I've still got post-cry shakes. However, I also feel very glad that this documentary exists, because the end is hopeful, and the story is so human.

It's about a Palestinian man, a peasant who lives off the land, and gets a camera to film his kids childhood. His youngest son is the cutest little guy ever, and I fell in love with him over the course of the documentary.

The story is told through the five cameras he gets in succession, each after the last one is broken, often by a flying gas canister or related accident. Through these five lenses, we see what the camera saw in its life, and we see the story of how each camera met its end. Of course, what we are really seeing is the story of the families in this Palestinian village that is on the edge of several Israeli settlements. We see the wall go up, and we see the olive trees burned over and over by the settlers at night. We see the soldiers come to the homes at night to take children. We see people tear gassed, we see them throw rocks, and we see a man committed to nonviolent resistance gradually become scarred and angry as he sees what is happening around him. We also see, most hopefully, that he is always trying to heal in the best way he knows how.

I loved this film as a reminder that we must heal ourselves and each other, and to heal we must, like a doctor, first see the wounds. We must be witness for each other to the atrocities that take place in our lives.

Once you've seen the wounds in Five Broken Cameras, go watch another film. This one was part of a coaching training program in leadership, indirect negotiation and strategic intervention. Anthony Robbins has been studying what makes people change their lives for a good for many years now.

He had a conference on leadership planned on September 11, 2011. Instead of canceling after the terrorist attacks, he somehow got people to stand up and really speak the truth about how they felt about the event. There was a Muslim man who got up and said "this is retribution." Well, of course many people wanted to attack him, and even tried to there at the conference. One man, an Orthodox Jew with relatives in the West Bank (fundamentalist settlers - the kind of people who burn Palestinian olive trees) got up and offered to talk peacefully with the Muslim man.

Robbins led an indirect negotiation between the two men ON 9/11 itself that transformed both of them. They formed a Jewish-Muslim organization for understanding and peace.

I laughed and cried watching that film. It's called Negotiating Conflict: Leadership in Times of Crisis. According to this website it's available in full-length for free, although you can watch a 7 minute summary here.

We all wonder how peace will come to the Middle East and other areas of ethnic and religious conflict. The sorts of transformative moments shown and experienced by the viewer in these two films is our only hope for peace.

And now may I bring you from May to July?

A few days ago:

"What do you think happened? It had to be something tragic." I looked at my American friend, who has lived in Palestine for much longer than I have.

"I don't know. Something beyond tragic, I think," she said, looking at me intently.

I didn't know exactly what she was getting at, but I did know that is not what you say when someone loses a child. Losing a child is tragic, and one of the worst things that could happen to a parent. I could think of few things beyond tragic.

We were talking about a mutual acquaintance we both saw on occasion, ____ , a woman who lives in a nearby village. We had both known _____ to be cheerful, with a quick and genuine smile. Although she spoke little English, I enjoyed when I got to see her, since she would always communicate through her shy, dazzling smile. Knowing that she was a poor, kind, and intelligent woman who worked hard to support her special needs daughter and her dissolute husband only made me admire her more.

The last time I saw her, she tried to smile as usual. And her mouth moved. But her eyes failed to hide a pain that was too big to push behind a smile. I am haunted by that telling look - her attempt to smile as I said goodbye to her.

"I think someone must have done something to her child," my American friend said.

At first, I was confused. But then I realized -- "If her child had died, she would have just told us."


The next day, my American friend looked rather pale, and told me she'd seen an article in the paper. A 14-year old girl from a nearby village had been gang raped by a group of seven men, each between the ages of 17-26.

I grimaced. "That's horrible."

"Have you put it together yet?"

"You think… it was ____'s daughter?" I didn't want to believe it.

"It must be."

"How do you know for sure? We have to find out."

How do you call someone and ask, in imperfect Arabic, if their daughter was recently gang raped? I don't know, but my brave American friend managed it, and later confirmed that the victim was indeed ____'s daughter.

My friend also told me that this group of men had gang raped before. Yet that time, each of the families of the men had paid off the victim's family to not press charges.

The story showing up in the newspaper meant ____ had refused to take a bribe from these seven families and was pressing charges.

I likely don't know all of the ramifications of that decision, but I do know that this poor woman is turning down much needed money to support her daughter and fight for justice. She's making a decision that some other parent her in village did not make for her little girl. She's a hero.

I also know that means there are seven families in her small village who want nothing more than to shut her up. Seven powerful families who are now aligned as her enemy - this poor woman whose special needs daughter was lured into an apartment only to be beaten and raped by their sons.

How can we help her? We are working on connecting her with a lawyer specializing in women's legal aid. My hope for her is that, if she wants it, she can gain refugee or other status that will allow her to leave with her family to start a new life in a place where her daughter won't spend the rest of her life fearing the seven men who will likely not be brought to justice. Then again, we can hope for justice.

And you know I wouldn't leave you without a way to take action - to do something to help ____. The Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling is reaching out to support her. You learn more about them here and donate here.