Ever meet a movie star? I almost did.
Before our delegation left Colorado for Palestine several of us went and saw a new movie documentary called “Promises.” The plot was simple: A Jewish Israeli man wanted to see if he could create relationships between Israeli and Palestinian children. Seemingly a simple proposition – after all, they are neighbors, right? And yet, he did succeed, sort of.
Kifah was one of the child stars of the film. Made about three years ago, Kifah was just 9 years old. With the filmmaker’s prodding, the Palestinian children decided to host a meeting with two secular Jewish Israeli twin boys.
All the Palestinian kids lived in Dehaisheh refugee camp – located near Bethlehem. All these Palestinian refugees came from villages located in present-day Israel. Some villages remain, though Israeli settlers occupy the Palestinian homes; many villages were bulldozed by Israel – to try to eliminate any history of the massive Palestinian presence in present day Israel.
In the film, the gathering of Israeli and Palestinian kids was magical because kids are kids. They shared food and stories, wrestled and made a promise: to keep the relationships going.
Fast-forwarding a few years later in the film, the filmmaker went back to see if the relationships still existed. Several of the Palestinian children called the Israeli twins but never got their calls returned. It was heart-breaking.
More heart-breaking, though, was before the film fast-forwarded. At the original meeting of all the children, one of the Palestinians kids, one that gave off the toughest exterior, began sobbing after their “promise” had been made. Why? As tears rolled down his cheeks he said that he feared that soon after the filmmaker left them all alone their Palestinian-Israeli friendships would wither away.
The filmmaker, knowing this scenario was quite likely, openly sobbed. The camera panned around the Palestinian children’s living room and hovered briefly at each child’s face. One of them was Kifah.
Yesterday I visited Dehaisheh refugee camp and got excited at the thought of maybe meeting one of the Palestinian stars of the film. When I asked the refugee camp guide if the children still lived in Dehaisheh, she paused. Most were off in school. Then, almost matter-of-factly, she told me that one of the film’s stars, Kifah, had been killed two months ago.
With a few other children, Kifah went to the Bethlehem checkpoint, the only way to for Palestinians that live around Bethlehem to visit East Jerusalem, the capitol of Palestine. The children began throwing stones and the soldiers responded with live ammunition. Kifah, which means “Struggle” in Arabic, was killed instantly.
In the 3 weeks I’ve been here, with my international status, I’ve freely traveled through this checkpoint more than 10 times. In two massive marches, one on Christmas and the other on New Year’s Eve, hundreds of internationals supported over a thousand Palestinians in their attempt to travel to Al-Quds (East Jerusalem). All of the Palestinians were denied entry, stopped by dozens of Israeli soldiers. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem it’s about 7 miles. From Dehaisheh Refugee camp it’s about 8 miles.
Out of a population of 12,000, Kifah is the 9th martyr from Dehaisheh camp to be killed in this Intifada. Like all the 900 Palestinian martyrs of this Intifada, there is a poster, widely circulated, of young Kifah. His smile is a small one.
For now I’ll try to find Kifah’s poster, one I can keep of a film star I almost met.