Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Death in Gaza

The tears will flow easily and often while watching Death in Gaza, an Emmy-Award winning documentary airing on CBC this week.

First, James Miller, the British documentary maker/director/cameraman and father of two, was shot and killed in 2003 by an Israeli soldier while filming in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. (The film opens with Miller's obituary). Second, the primary interview subjects are three Palestinian kids, Ahmed, 12, Mohammed, 12, and Najla, 16. It's an understatement to say their future looks bleak.

Death in Gaza
Miller worked with reporter/narrator Saira Shah. Their goal was to make a documentary about the effect of violence from the perspective of both Palestinian and Israeli children. After Miller's death his colleagues shifted the focus to his bravery and commitment and documented the desperate lives of the children of the West Bank and Gaza. Despite the fact that the team never interviewed Israeli children the film is balanced and clearly has a message of anti-violence.

Violent Days and Nights
Miller effectively and chillingly captured life in the streets of Palestine. During the day viewers are shown buildings pock-marked with bullet holes, dust-choked streets, posters of young martyrs rather than movie stars on walls, and Israeli tanks patrolling the rubble-strewn streets. Young children throw stones at the tanks that respond by firing live rounds into the air. The region is essentially an open-air prison.

North American viewers are familiar with these images of the Middle East in 1½ minute news items but Miller's film goes far beyond that to capture the day to day horror that is a way of life.

Playing Jews & Arabs
Mohammed and Ahmed's version of Cops & Robbers is Arabs & Jews. Clusters of youngsters play in the alleyways with toy guns fashioned out of scrap wood. They also spend their days throwing rocks or homemade explosives at Israeli tanks and other armoured vehicles.

In one scene, when a Palestinian is killed in his jeep during a targeted assassination by an Israeli helicopter, children scramble over the smouldering debris to collect flesh, blood, and body parts in sandwich bags. They marvel over what they found just as children in other parts of the world might collect bugs, rocks, or seashells. The children's teachers are violence and hatred. They have no positive role models.

Cannon Fodder
At night, when citizens and street vendors retreat into the relative safety of their homes, the paramilitary comes out to recruit the young. They need cannon fodder.

Narrator Shah sits with 12-year-old Ahmed and the paramilitary soldiers he admires. While wearing black masks so their faces are entirely hidden, they first play games with him, ruffle his hair affectionately, and then teach him how to hold a rocket grenade launcher. Wide-eyed Ahmed complies. It's obvious he looks up to them.

Shah questions the morality of recruiting young children to be terrorists, and one hooded paramilitary member responds, "Don't worry about responsibility, sister, we're men, when we say goodbye to Ahmed, there are thousands more like him."

The 2004 documentary, Death in Gaza, airs on CBC on May 1 at 8 p.m. ET.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Navy Boy in Hawaii

I hope that I don’t start a fire. It’s kind of awkward here sitting on a balcony without an ashrtray. So here I am in Hawaii and it’s jut beautiful out there is no snow and I feel like I was meant to be here…

I can see the marina where the opening of Gilligan's Island was shot and there are a lot of pretty little white boats and I think is that some kind of rule or something? And they have blue covers and there are palm trees everywhere I look maybe a couple of kinds of varieties and they boogie in warm wind.

I can see people in shorts and flip flops and people looking like ducks out in the harbour and a surfer too. And the break wall to protect the little inlet. I met a funny little boy from Wisconsin yesterday on the flight. He was with the Navy had been since he was 16 I think. He works on turbines and has a great interest in scuba diving and now he's heading to Pearl Harbor… he joined he says because he wanted to see the world as a result he’s been to Guam to Iraq and he spent a long time in Bahrain in his soldier's uniform.

I wanted to know what makes a man want to join the army. It’s not something I ever wanted and not just because I'm not a man and I'm a mummy. We talked about it a little and he said he really just wanted to see the world. What a funny reason uhuh I mean you end up risking your life. But he was so young and he didn't even know about the massacre in Rwanda and hadn't heard of the Hutus fighting the Tutsis. Because I told him about General Romeo D’allaire’s book, Shake Hands With The Devil and this child hadn’t even heard of it. I should have asked him if he thought it was important for U.S. soldiers in particular to leanr military history and world history and not just their own because they happen to have parked their asses avec guns in so many places around the world. His lack of of knowledge and lack of concern for it was somehow frightening.

These blind little kids who just go and join for whatever reason and get involved in the politics of the elders. I should have liked to talk to him more about it. But there was something about this 6-foot-tall boy who barely has enough facial hair to shave and his lack of knowledge was freaky. Well we sat next to each other for six hours so I didn't want to insult him.

I suppose that I should not be judging him I mean who am I to question his motives? But I can’t help it when I think of him or his compatriots sitting in their SeaHawk with their powerful weapons of destruction and what havoc they can wreak with just a wee press of the button and jut blindly going what their military obsessed bosses tell them.

In six hours I didn’t even ask him his name and it gets me to thinking about how we meet people for just a minute and how these little meetings touch and change our lives even ever so minutely and that ultimately changes who we are. It isn’t like having a long-time relationship but what they say becomes a part of you and who you are… and it will change your perception of what you think and possibly even what you act upon.