Arna's Children

The titular "children" are boys and girls of the embattled Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin who were lucky enough to have been involved with the child center established by the late Arna Mer in the 1980s. Arna, a Jewish woman who was born in Palestine, fought for Israeli freedom in 1948. She later married an Arab man she met while a member of the Israeli...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The titular "children" are boys and girls of the embattled Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin who were lucky enough to have been involved with the child center established by the late Arna Mer in the 1980s. Arna, a Jewish woman who was born in Palestine, fought for Israeli freedom in 1948. She later married an Arab man she met while a member of the Israeli Communist Party and in 1989 established the "Learning and Freedom" project in Jenin's Jabal Abu Jihad district after Israeli authorities shut down all other educational institutions. Arna hoped to provide these impoverished children with both education and support and, once her Arab neighbors overcame their suspicion of this strange Jewish woman, became something of a local hero. Arna was soon joined by her son, Israeli actor Juliano Mer Khamis (who narrates and directed the film), who established a theatrical workshop he hoped would help the children channel their mounting anger and frustration into something creative rather than violent. "Jule" videotapes the kids as they run through psychodramatic exercises — role-playing as their English teacher yields some unexpectedly scary results — and rehearse for their play, a fable about a prince who demands the sun to be brought into his palace. Tragically, the center to which Arna devoted so much of her life closed down a few years after her death from cancer. Danniel Danniel and Mer Khamis' documentary is a touching tribute, but what gives it real power at this point in the second Palestinian Intifada is what Jules finds when he returns to Jenin in April 2001, searching for "Arna's children." The center is a ruin, its walls punctured with holes through which armed Palestinians fire on Israeli soldiers, and many of the children are dead: Some joined armed brigades and were killed in the so-called "Battle of Jenin," while others died as suicide attackers. Juxtaposing clips in which the kids express their dreams for the future (one boy would like to play the "Palestinian Romeo") with the reality of their lives and deaths has a powerful effect, but Mer Khamis maintains an admirable composure, even when he himself comes under fire from Israeli soldiers. In the end, the film is both a fitting elegy for Arna and the children she tried to help and a deeply disturbing warning about what will continue to breed within the occupied territories until peace is brought to Palestine. (In English, Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles_

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The titular "children" are boys and girls of the embattled Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin who were lucky enough to have been involved with the child center established by the late Arna Mer in the 1980s. Arna, a Jewish woman who was born in Palestine, fo… (more)

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