If I Died as a Martyr I'd Go To Paradise
The Jewish Week
If I Died As A Martyr, I'd Go To Paradise
The Jewish Week
Nov 24, 2007
by Eric Herschthal
For The Record: In the piece on the film "The Making of a Martyr" (ìIf I Died As A Martyr, I'd Go To Paradise,î Nov. 24), a paraphrase of Cardozo Law School professor Jonathan Todres' view of the International Criminal Court was mishandled. He did not say that the ICC has a nefarious record when it comes to Israel and Palestine. The Jewish Week was trying to make the point that the ICC's sanctioning body, the United Nations, has a long history of bias against Israel. Also, Todres was speaking in general terms when he said that what was depicted in the film was "in violation of human rights law" and not speaking specifically about what Palestinian leaders are telling Palestinian children.
Not many public events at Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School require extra security. Even fewer are sold out. And none, by most accounts, cause the kind of raucous display of ire that attended a recent screening of the film 'The Making of A Martyr." The documentary, produced and directed by former Cardozo law student Brooke Goldstein, concerns the calculated decision by the Palestinian Authority, militant groups and state-run television to train child suicide bombers. While Goldstein looks for distributors, the film has slowly been garnering awards, such as the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the United Nations Documentary Film Festival last spring. Meanwhile, public intellectuals like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz have called the film "brilliant," while others, like Hamid Dabashi (a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia) have called it disingenuous.
At a recent screening of the film at Cardozo's Moot Court Room, which seats nearly 300, both Dabashi and Dershowitz were invited to discuss the film as part of a post-screening panel, which also included the filmmaker. Before any of the panelists could make their points, an elderly man in the front row jumped out of his seat. "This is a piece of propaganda against the Palestinians!" he shouted. A woman next to him pleaded for him to stay and let the guests speak. He did, but the mood was set.Then it was Goldstein's turn. She leaned into her microphone and said: "The last thing these [Palestinian] children need is to be told to be martyrs. These children are the biggest victims of a humans rights crime." The comment only stoked the flames. But Goldsteinís point, that Palestinian children are suffering a human rights crime by their own government, is the driving thesis of the controversial film.
In an interview, Goldstein told The Jewish Week that the idea for the film came while on a break at home in Toronto. She was preparing dinner with her father and discussing how a legal case could be made against Palestinian suicide bombers. When the idea arose to look at suicide bombings from a Palestinian child's perspective, she seized it. "The children were being manipulated," she thought. "This is the one case that all parties involved can agree on," she said. She argued that the film should not be delegitimized by the contentious nature of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which some have suggested might stall her case. "How much longer is it going to be before this happens in Iraq?" she asked, referring to the phenomenon of child suicide bombers. "This is a symptom of a disease that has engulfed the entire Muslim world."
The film itself revolves around a 15-year-old suicide bomber, Hussam Abdu, who in March of 2004 turned himself in to the Israeli authorities just before blowing himself up. Months later, Goldstein and a fellow filmmaker, Alistair Leyland, went to Abdu's prison cell in the West Bank and asked him why he even contemplated the attack in the first place. "I knew that if I died as a martyr I'd go to paradise. I'm in grade 10 and at school we learned about the meaning of martyrdom," Abdu replied. Goldstein uses quotes like these to make her case that children are being exploited to become terrorists. In another scene, she travels to an elementary summer school run by the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. The children are asked about the prospect of peace with the Israelis. "If Allah wills it, it will be," one 12-year-old replies. But he is interrupted by another child: "That's impossible. It's either jihad or martyrdom," he says.
Many believe that Goldstein is onto something with her film. Jonathan Todres, a professor on human rights law and children at NYU Law School and an adjunct at Cardozo where Goldstein took a class with him, says that Palestinian children are certainly being fed dangerous propaganda from their own leaders.But, he says, "I suspect that this is not going to be a case any time soon in an international tribunal. The law is clear that this is a violation of human rights law, but whether a court will hear a case on this issue is another issue." Todres said that among other concerns, the International Criminal Court, which is where cases like Goldstein's are tried, has a nefarious record when it comes to Israel and Palestine. The conflictís controversy discourages the court, fearful of being deemed biased, from taking any action.
But Goldstein thinks it is already partial. "This is the one case that can be adjudicated by the notoriously biased and anti-Semitic courts like the ICC, the United Nations and The Hague," she said.Yet she insists that her case for children's rights is not driven by her own political views. "How can this be viewed as pro-Israeli? If anything, itís pro-Palestinian. I'm defending the rights of their children," she said. "Palestinians deserve the right to life. Because of the occupation they deserve a right to life. And I don't mean that cynically."
Whatever the prospects of turning Goldstein's "Martyr" into a legal suit, she continues to promote her message. The film will be screened in several festivals across the globe next month at the UN Film Festival in London on Dec. 2, at Whistler Film Festival in Canada on Dec. 3 and at the Anchorage Film Festival in Alaska on Dec. 7. Goldstein will also be interviewed on the "Faith to Faith" television program with Rabbi Joseph Potasnik on ShalomTV, the Jewish cable channel, on Dec. 7. She is also trying to turn the film into a book. "ì'd love to air this on Al-Jazeera," she said with a wry smile. "I don't just want to preach to the choir."