World Premiere of Documentary "With Blood"

The 5th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival hosted the world premiere of "With Blood," a documentary that explores the violence Israeli occupation inflicts on Palestinian ambulance drivers, doctors, patients, and civilians. For six months Directors Juliana Fredman and Dan O’Reilly-Rowe filmed the horrific facts on the ground in several Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps — including Israel’s 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin

Through interviews with emergency medical technicians (EMTs), doctors and patients, viewers learn first-hand the daily struggles Palestinians face when they need routine health care. During the 2002 invasion of Jenin one EMT tells how Israeli forces invaded her home. Film footage shows the soldiers banging on peoples’ doors and tanks rolling down the streets shooting at people, including children. From tank loudspeakers Israeli soldiers announce: "It is forbidden to go outside!" She says the soldiers grabbed her hair, and then took her to the edge of the camp near the UN offices. In pursuit of youths the soldiers used her as their human shield.

Destruction is everywhere. Bodies are in the rubble of demolished homes…bones with sheaths of human flesh. On March 4, 2002, the director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s Emergency Medical Services, the late Dr. Khalil Suleiman, 58, burned to death in an ambulance that caught fire from Israeli forces’ gunfire. Four RC medics were injured also.

When a rocket landed on a crowd of people, it exploded near one 15-year-old boy, who is now a partial paraplegic. From his hospital bed the boy narrates what happened. The Gaza Mental Health Project’s Dr. Jess Ghannam says many people are afraid to travel outside of their homes. When doctors and social workers visit with people in their homes they find that a majority of Palestinian children suffer from anxiety, heart palpitations, bed wetting, and nightmares.

Over the past, several years there have been news reports of children who died from the shock of living under military occupation. Off the top of my head I remember a two-year-child who died in her home after she listened to hours of gunfire and bombs exploding nearby.

"I never thought our home would be demolished," one woman says. Her house, three-stories high was home for three families, totaling 30 people. Now, they live in tents. For 50 years one man worked inside Israel and saved money to build a home for his family. After fours of living in the house with his family, Israeli forces demolished. The man looks down at the ground, prays and cries.

When I looked over my shoulder several audience members had tears in their eyes.

During an Israeli invasion of Askar, two men died in their home during a demolition. Another man died of gas inhalation and one fourteen-year-old boy was shot in the chest and died. A sea of people dig through the rubble and carry light-green stretchers over their heads toward the ambulances. On the stretchers are the remains of bodies wrapped in clothe and plastic.

The crowd chants: "With spirit with blood we will redeem the martyrs."

In another incident an ambulance driver was shot while transporting a patient to Raffidiya Hospital. The shrapnel in his leg requires treatment at an orthopedic unit, but he is not sure if he can acccess the facility for surgery. People need to make appointments, receive permits for travel and then hope Israeli soldiers will not block their travel at the checkpoints. Interviews with doctors reveal that since September 2000, 80 per cent of peoples’ wounds are in the cardio-thoracic areas — heart, chest and head — which means Israeli forces shoot to kill.

"People are dying at the checkpoints," one ambulance driver says. "I spend five or six hours a day waiting at checkpoints." The day he was interviewed he shared that one woman in labor and one man with chest pains were both delayed at the checkpoints. Can newborns and stressed hearts wait?

Through a series of simple, distinctive maps with white backgrounds and black borders and writings (in English and Arabic, created by Rana Bishara) the film orients viewers to the exact geographical locations of the camps and villages where people live. The maps show how the wall divides villages and camps, thereby separating families and communities. In Barta’a village, a Northern West Bank village near the Green Line, Israel’s wall snakes deep into the West Bank east of the Green Line. As a result people in Barta’a Ghr live on the west side of the wall and the people in Barta’a Shr live on the east side of the wall, so the villagers are divided by a concrete wall eight-meters high. From the organizations Physicians for Human Rights – Israel and The Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, members talk about the wall’s impact on peoples’ standard of living, access to health care and community living. Basically, poverty is on a drastic rise.

One of the directors, O’Reilly-Rowe was at the premiere screening where he shared that 73 per cent of the West Bank’s population live outside the major cities. It is one of the reasons why the directors focused on people who live in villages and camps, such as Askar, Assyra-Shamrallya and Barta’a. People who require life-supporting treatment, such as kidney dialysis patients make arduous and dangerous journeys on rocky roads because the people are not allowed access to the Israeli, asphalt-paved roads. Three times a week a woman named Delal travels on a donkey so she can receive dialysis treatment in Nablus. Since the people do not have access to kidney transplants, hemodialysis is their only option for survival. Once she leaves the path she takes a cab to the hospital. During her travel she has been stopped and blocked by Israeli soldiers, who confiscated the IDs of her family members. Footage shows soldiers stopping people on the path, where they tell the Palestinians they should no longer take this road to Nablus because the road belonged to Israelis.

When patients who suffer from renal failure do not receive hemodialysis, then fluid fills their lungs. The people feel tired, restless and anxious. In May 2006, several Palestinians died because the hospitals did not have the necessary filters for kidney dialysis because of US sanctions against the Palestinians. Although these people require dialysis three times a week, hospitals can only treat their patients two times a week, as of today. When the supplies runs out for this life-supporting treatment, these people will die. Their deaths are a reflection of the collective punishment against the Palestinians for participating in democracy.

The dialysis machine blinks the word, "Reinfusion?" How much longer will people receive life supporting treatment?

Unfortunately a man name Marwan, who suffered from lymphoma, died because Israeli soldiers blocked him from traveling to the hospital for his second protocol of chemotherapy. While in the mountains, Israeli soldiers stopped him and told him he was acting. Then they took his ID card. When he was undergoing treatment he endured 2.5 hours of travel to the hospital one-way that required 100 NIS (US $25) for cab fare, several times a month. Since Barta’a was divided by the wall he required papers to leave the Israeli side and travel to the Palestinian side. As result of restricted movement he suffered traveling for access to health care.

All of these situations illustrate violations of the 4th Geneva Conventions, articles 16, 18 and 20, which articulate the safety and protection of civilians, the injured and the health care workers who treat them.

"I have been affected forever by these experiences," O’Reilly-Rowe said. He believes going to school and accessing medical care are diverse forms of resistance for the Palestinians, who show their strength and bravery fighting for their livess. He explained that the restrictions in movements affect Palestinian health care professionals, whose skill levels are slipping because they are not able to travel for medical conferences while living under siege. When asked about the film’s intended audience he responded that it appeals to a broad audience because it can be used as an educational tool, in medical schools, for health care workers, and in international law studies.

With the film festival showing Palestinian films in two locations simultaneously, it feels like Palestine in Chicago.