Blood Relations and Bloodlands

Mehru Jaffer

People in Europe want manufacturers here to stop selling arms around the world because they seriously fear total nuclear annihilation. Since governments seem totally out of sync with this sentiment of ordinary citizens, people have taken it upon themselves to do what they can against militarization. And artistes are once again in the forefront.

Most recently, Germany’s Günter Grass wrote a poem, Israel’s Tomar Heymann made a film, and Timothy Snyder enthralled us with Bloodlands — a book about Europe caught between Hitler and Stalin. Then there are Seham Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin, the moving spirits behind the Blood Relations project that encourages Israelis and Palestinians to donate blood for patients on the opposite side of the border.

It is increasingly believed that governments are not helping people to live peacefully with each other. It is regretted that less is known about peace-loving people in Israel and more about war-mongers in the country’s government. There are the likes of Meir Dagan who oppose the hawks in Israel. A former director of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, Dagan is against bombing Iran.

Dagan warns that a military strike may damage the physical infrastructure of Iranian nuclear installations, but not the knowledge of Iranian nuclear scientists. Dagan warns of a backlash against Israel and its allies, leading perhaps even to regional war. Grass, a Leftwing author and life-long supporter of Germany’s socialist party, is of the same opinion. So is Israeli filmmaker Heymann, whose documentary I Shot My Love was celebrated as a cultural gem at the Berlinale, one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals.

The film has a huge fan following for the way it looks at a unique love affair between two men, one German and the other Israeli. Heymann’s mother is of German origin. His grandfather escaped Nazi Germany to Palestine in 1936. Almost 70 years later, Heymann arrived at the Berlin film festival where he fell in love with a German dancer.

The German is blonde and a Catholic, but he moves to Tel Aviv to live with Heymann. In Israel he is asked if he is proud to be a German and if he ever spoke with his parents about the killing of Jews in Germany. The German replies in the negative, adding that it is very possible that his elders were Nazis. Despite this public confession on screen, the two continue to love each other.

Obviously, it is not impossible to love someone presumed to be an enemy by the mind. Heymann and his lover are still together after having first met six years ago. And the happiest of this trio is Heymann’s very Israeli mother of German origin who features prominently in the film.

Bloodlands was introduced at Vienna’s Institute for Human Sciences, where Snyder is a permanent fellow. A professor of history at Yale and Holocaust specialist, Snyder’s Bloodlands is a spine-chilling account of mass killings on the land between Berlin and Moscow by both Hitler and Stalin. Snyder feels it is important to explain the Holocaust and not dismiss it as an incident that can be taken out of history. Snyder wants to connect the history of western and eastern Europe to create a pan-European awareness based on the history of all totalitarian systems, and in the interest of a more working European Union policy today.

As historian, Snyder assigns himself two duties. The first is to be faithful to the people he writes about, including from the past, and the second to be intelligible to the people he writes for in the present. To do that, he cannot talk about the mass murders committed by the Nazi regime and ignore similar mass murders committed simultaneously by Stalin’s regime. What Hitler and Stalin did to Europe are two aspects of a single historic reality, Snyder said in Vienna.

Then there is Damelin, an Israeli and a frequent visitor to Vienna. Ever since she lost her son, David, 28, in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, she has stood for no revenge in the name of her son. She was already a member of the Parents Circle: Families Forum, a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families that have lost their loved ones.

David was shot by a Palestinian sniper in 2002. At the Parents Circle, Damelin found Awwad, a Palestinian who lost a brother in the same conflict, and today both are actively involved in Blood Relations in the hope of discovering lasting peace between Israel and Palestine in their shared lifetime.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2012

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