One evening after work our team leader, Zara, arranged for us to watch a documentary called Arna’s Children. It was a harrowing and powerful piece about an Israeli woman, Arna, who lived and worked as a human rights activist in the Palestinian town of Jenin. In her youth she was a member of the notorious Israeli Defence Force, yet in her retirement she set up a theatre school for Palestinian children with her actor and activist son, Jude.
Arna’s Children traces the lives of a group of children from Jenin refugee camp for over a decade and is shot primarily on Jude’s handheld camera. The children are mostly refugees who are encouraged by Arna to join the theatre in an attempt to bring about some sanctuary after their homes are destroyed during a period of intense conflict.
It is particularly upsetting because Arna herself suffers from an aggressive cancer, which leads to her untimely death early into the film. She had worked with the children directly, teaching them how to express themselves as their characters and as individuals. She encouraged them to share their stories and let out their pain and anger about losing their homes and members of their families.
The children loved her as they loved their own mothers. They comment after her death on how she nurtured them and took them under her wing, despite being an Israeli; a Jew; a citizen of the society who had contributed to their misery in the first place.
Without mother Arna, the lives of the children begin to crumble one by one. They become tangled in the arms of the conflict; many being killed in the Battle of Jenin when, during the second intifada, the IDF stormed the camp with infantry, commando forces and assault helicopters. Two of the children are martyred after carrying out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. At the end of the film, Jude, who leaves Jenin to pursue his acting career, revisits the theatre. Only two of Arna’s children are alive and free from jail. One is married with a small child. One leads a resistance group.
When the film finished, Zara told us that Jude, aged 52, had been assassinated in his car outside of the theatre. He was shot by a masked militant and left behind a daughter, step-daughter, young son and wife Jenny – who was expecting twins.
You can watch the film by following this link to Youtube:
You can read Juliano Mer Khamis (Jude)’s obituary on the Guardian here: