By Patrick Markey
Clutching a framed photograph of his father, Moaz, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy recounts how he watched a militant Jewish gunman open fire as he prayed with family and friends in the Hebron. He watched his dying father call out to him on the mosque floor.
In Bosnia, Sanel explains how he lived for weeks in the basement of his family’s home in Mostar, the Yugoslav town torn apart when Serb, Croat and Muslim forces battled for control. The 12-year-old explains he did not hear the artillery shell that tore basement apart and shredded his left arm to the shoulder.
In Belfast, a 17-year-old Catholic girl calmly details the petrol bombings and killings she has come to accept as part of the cycle of violent life there. Her father imprisoned for bomb-making offenses, she sees the suffering as a necessity to achieve her beliefs.
Karen McCartney, who describes her life in Northern Ireland, Moaz and Sanel, are among dozens of young witnesses to war and civil violence who appear in a new HBO documentary "Children in War," scheduled to broadcast through February.
Filmed, written and produced by award-winning husband and wife team Alan and Susan Raymond, the documentary uses children’s firsthand accounts to examine the impact of wars inside Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and Isr’l.
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Made over four years, "Children in War" illustrates how children have increasingly become the victims of wartime violence and how they can become politicized by their experiences. But it is also a testimony to how these young victims manage to survive almost unimaginable trauma.
In covering conflicts such as Bosnia and Rwanda, where children were deliberately targeted, the documentary offers some troubling figures: 15,000 children were killed in the former Yugoslavia; in Rwanda, where the Hutu majority led a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population, 800,000 people were killed, 300,000 of them children.
"The nature of warfare is changing. The casualties are civilian now, not soldiers," said Susan Raymond, who also narrates the documentary. "It’s a particularly devastating black mark on humanity to deliberately target children."
Working with little logistic support, the Raymonds traveled to each of the four areas twice, once to lay the groundwork and a second time to film and conduct interviews. Each region presented different challenges. In Isr’l, three suicide bombers struck while they were filming, heightening tensions between Arabs and Isr’lis, and in Northern Ireland in 1995, a long-brokered cease-fire fell apart while they were preparing their interviews.
"After you make a film like this and talk to the children about what they’ve witnessed, it starts to accumulate and you realize how brutal these wars are," Susan Raymond said.
Certainly it is an hour filled with disturbing images. The first film scene records the death of 7-year-old Nermin Divovic, shot to death by a sniper in Sarajevo. In Rwanda, the Raymonds interviewed boy soldiers and 5-year-old Uwamuhoza, a Tutsi girl who carries three vivid scars on her skull where she was struck with a machete by Hutu attackers. She was found barely alive beside her dead parents.
"Rwanda was the most emotional. That level of suffering for children is outside out Western experience," Alan Raymond said.
Turning to Ireland, the Raymonds had initially believed that with the peace talks still ongoing, Belfast might offer a message of hope out of a protracted conflict.
The couple were already familiar with the Northern Ireland conflict when they set out to film the Belfast segment. In 1980 they had filmed and produced a documentary entitled "To Die for Ireland" during one of the more turbulent periods of The Troubles.
But in Belfast, too, they found a strain of hard-edged pessimism in the older children, who said they had not seen peace in their lifetime. While elementary-school-age children painted pictures in school representing peaceful unity, even older teens in one of the province’s integrated schools looked to leave a Northern Ireland, which for them held little hope.
Patricia, a 15-year-old Catholic who lives near the Peace Line in the Falls Road, explains life living with a divide between Catholic and Protestant communities.
"I’d love to go into the Protestant area and have Protestant friends," she said. "I do feel a bit sad about what’s happened in my childhood."
But the documentary also addresses how the protracted, low-intensity conflict in Northern Ireland has politicized its children.
Standing before a mural of the UVF, David talks about how his father was arrested going out to kill a Catholic; across Belfast, Karen, the 17-year-old Catholic, explains why she believes in what her father was trying to achieve when he was arrested with bomb-making components.
"But as the saying goes," Karen says, "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter."
"Children in War"
€ Jan. 31, 10-11:15 p.m.
€ Feb. 5, 2 p.m.
€ Feb. 10, 7 p.m.
€ Feb. 14, 10:30 a.m.
€ Feb. 18, 12:30 p.m.
All times Eastern.