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Peace for Israeli/ Palestinian ‘so-called enemies?’

Gal (Israeli) and Rezan (Palestinian) at the wall in Al Zaiem from "My So-Called Enemy."

The lack of progress toward an Israel/Palestine peace deal remains a heartache to those who care about either side of the conflict and especially those who care about both.

The quest for understanding across the tribal/religious/historical divide comes to town with a film/discussion series beginning Saturday night. The series is called Izun/Mizan (those are the Hebrew and Arabic words for “balance”).

The series kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Islamic Center of Minnesota (1401 Gardenia Ave. NE, Fridley, MN 55432) with a documentary titled “My So-Called Enemy,” followed by a discussion. The film traces a group of Israeli and Palestinian girls who, as adolescents, travel to a summer camp in New Jersey for a program called “Building Bridges for Peace.”

At camp, friendships are formed across the tribal divide. Then the film follows the girls for seven years, often displaying on-screen text messages that passed between them, as their friendships struggle to survive. I previewed the film and found it intelligent and deeply moving .

The following Saturday (March 3) the venue moves to Mount Zion Temple (1300 Summit Ave., corner of Hamline Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105) for an even more heart-ripping film called “Precious Life.”

A Palestinian infant boy whose family lives in the Gaza Strip suffers from a birth defect that will end his life unless he gets a marrow transplant from a donor with matching DNA. An Israeli TV journalist who has covered Gaza for years arranges to get the baby and his parents to an Israeli hospital and an Israeli doctor (who comes across as beyond saintly – although Jews don’t do saints) struggles to save the child while the journalist narrates and films.

 Hamas takes control of Gaza, resumes firing rockets into Israel and the usual tensions boil over into the military operation that Israelis named “Cast Lead” but which Hamas calls the “Gaza Massacre.” The always limited Israel/Gaza border is closed, greatly complicating the effort of seeking from the baby’s cousins someone who could serve as the marrow donor. While scores of Gazans including many non-combatants are killed in the fighting (the numbers are, of course, disputed) an almost absurd but certainly inspiring effort seeks to save the life of one baby, because life is precious. (?)

There is one heart-ripping scene in which the baby’s mother tells the journalist that all of Jerusalem belongs to Islam and she would be proud if her baby grows up to martyr himself for the cause because “life isn’t precious.” It later develops that she is not necessarily expressing her true feelings.

Both films are poignant and complex; human, heart-rending and at least a tiny bit hopeful that the better angels of our nature can overcome the powerful tug of grudge-holding and enmity in a land (or two) that has gone many decades without knowing anything that could really be called peace.

 In addition to the Islamic Center and Mt. Zion Temple, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and the Saint Paul Interfaith Network are sponsors of the two events. Admission is free but donations will be accepted at the door.

The same two films, plus a third one called (that I have not previewed) called “City of Borders” (set in a Jerusalem gay bar) will be shown (and discussed, and dinner will be served) at the University of Minnesota’s  Nicholson Hall, Room #135, 216 Pillsbury Dr SE, Mpls, MN 5545 on the following dates and times:

“My So Called Enemy,” Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012, 5:30-8 p.m

“City of Borders,” Wednesday March 28, 2012, 5:30-8 p.m.

“Precious Life,” Thursday, April 19, 2012, 5:30-8 p.m.

The U of M events are sponsored by the Departments of History, German, Scandinavian and Dutch, Gender and Women’s Studies and housed under the Center for Jewish Studies.

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