Thursday, April 17, 2014 · 2:40 a.m.

Human rights advocate speaks at GPS

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It was this image of Hussam Abdu that pushed Goldstein toward unfamiliar territory. (Screenshot: Staff)

Human rights attorney and advocate Brooke Goldstein spoke at GPS earlier this week during a two-day trip to Chattanooga, during which she shared clips from her documentary, “The Making of a Martyr,” with high school students and, later, audience members at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga—which helped make her trip possible.

Goldstein opened her talk at GPS with a warning for the students: Just as she had in filming the documentary, they were about to enter a world that was stranger than fiction. 

It’s a world in which children practically sing their desires to die as martyrs.

It’s a world in which the cartoons on TV extol the virtues of putting down a book and picking up a stone to use in violence.

It’s a world in which terrorists groups attach remote-controlled bombs to 15-year-old children with Down syndrome to ensure the explosion occurs as intended.

And even though the documentary was filmed from 2004 to 2006, it is still the same world in which the GPS students live.

“What’s terribly unfortunate is that the issue has never been more relevant,” Goldstein said. “In fact, the phenomenon has grown and spread like a virus and is now more prevalent, both in the Middle East and in the West.”

"The Making of a Martyr" official trailer

From their own mouths
Goldstein’s involvement in the area of human rights began during law school, when the story of Hussam Abdu—the 15-year-old, almost-child suicide bomber, who in 2004 aborted his mission to blow up the Hawara Checkpoint in the West Bank—literally interrupted her life.

She was sitting on the couch, doing homework, and saw the story on TV. Goldstein followed Abdu’s case as he was arrested, charged with attempted murder and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, and she learned that only 48 hours before the teenager showed up at Hawara, he had been approached by members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and paid what amounted to roughly $20 to take his and others’ lives violently.

Rather than bringing the adults who had recruited Abdu and run him through the traditional process of suicide bomber preparation—taping a farewell message to his parents and posing for a picture to grace a martyr poster—the burden of the crime was heaped on the shoulders of this 15-year-old boy. 

Goldstein felt there was a crucial argument that no one seemed to be making.

“Just like the child soldiers in Africa, [Abdu] was as much a victim of a human rights crime as the people who would have been harmed in the [bomb’s] wake,” she told the audience at GPS.

She was talking about a specific human rights crime, one that impacts almost all Muslim children: brainwashing. 

The current of hate indoctrination—to the extreme of loving death and hating life—is tangible in the classroom, on television cartoons and even in music. The children’s choir The Birds of Paradise tours extensively as one of the most popular groups in the Arab world. Their trademark song is titled “When We Die as Martyrs.”

Not only did Goldstein focus her law school thesis on the subject, but she also raised $250,000, and at the age of 23, she went looking for the answers to her argument on the front line of the West Bank. 

Goldstein spoke with the student group Global Ambassadors over lunch. (Photo: Staff)

With the help of a professional fixer—someone who arranges meetings with people who do not sit down for phone interviews and serves as a translator—she spoke with armed members of Al-Aqsa, Fatah and Hamas terrorist groups, family members of suicide bombers, members of the media and even Abdu himself.

Those interviews became “The Making of a Martyr,” which, much to the surprise of Goldstein and her colleagues, including co-director and producer Alistair Leyland, went on to win the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the second United Nations Documentary Film Festival. 

The film made the rounds as an official selection at the Brooklyn International Film Festival, Whistler Film Festival and the Shoot-Me Film Festival at The Hague, among others. 

Its most important effect, however, was to forever shift the course of Goldstein’s life from a future in corporate law to the life of a human rights advocate. She has founded the Children’s Rights Institute and The Lawfare Project, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to raising awareness about crimes against children in the name of terrorism and legally pursuing the protection of free speech. 

She also continues to screen her film formally and informally. Looking back, more than six years after interviewing gun-toting terrorists, her fear has given way to a different emotion.

“I was sitting in a room with masked terrorists who were blatantly admitting to murdering people, who wanted to kill Jews and blow up children as suicide bombers, [who had] loaded weapons pointed at me, and I'm literally in the lion's den, and I'm freaking out,” Goldstein said. “Now, I look back, and I think I was sitting in a room with a bunch of delusional children. These are all a bunch of child soldiers, and I have a lot of pity. I have so much sadness in me and so much compassion for these children.”

Our responsibilities
Following her presentation, Goldstein met with members of the Global Ambassadors for an extended discussion. 

Heather Landreth, global speakers coordinator, explained that the students had expressed an interest in continuing the conversation with Goldstein, who came to GPS as part of the ongoing Global Speakers Series. 

“We are just exposing them to global issues and not necessarily encouraging them to fall on any side of an argument or opinion but rather just raising awareness to global issues,” Landreth said. 

Abdu was released from prison in May 2012. (Screenshot: Staff)

In speaking with the students and answering questions about her experience, the state and status of certain terrorist groups, and solutions for the future, Goldstein touched on an issue that in particular puts a moratorium on any progress in the area of human rights: the hesitancy or outright avoidance of talking frankly about Islamist terrorism and its impact on Muslim adults and children, as well as the U.S.' direct and indirect connections to it.

One of the examples Goldstein cited were the funds provided to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Of the organization’s budget, the U.S. provides the largest single donation: $239 million in 2011, according to the UNRWA website.

The same organization has been criticized for employing individuals who are members of Hamas and for making no attempts to ensure such individuals are not hired for such positions as schoolteachers. James G. Lindsay, a former legal adviser and general counsel for UNRWA, attested to that practice and lack of screening in a report published in 2003.

The documentary, "The Third Jihad," was targeted with intense criticism for being anti-Islam. Those in the film did not escape the limelight, either. Narrator Zuhdi Jasser, who is a moderate Muslim, was accused of being a self-hating Muslim. Police Commissioner of New York City Raymond Kelly, who spoke to the national security threats facing Americans from Islamist terrorism, was branded as an Islamophobe.

His resignation was all but demanded by the Council on American Islamic Relations, which is an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas funding trial and has been called a fundraising arm of Hezbollah by former North Carolina Congressman Cass Ballenger.

In the ongoing fight for children’s human rights and even the larger debate on Islamist terrorism, Goldstein noted that the voices to whom Americans listen are unfortunately not those of moderates, but rather those of extremists.

News programs on the major broadcast and cable networks typically invite people such as representatives of CAIR or Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council—which has been called a lobbying arm of the Iranian government—people Goldstein characterized as "mouthpieces of a very extremist view" and one that does not represent the majority of Muslim's opinions.

“It’s incumbent upon us to protect [the moderate Muslims], and I think that we’ve failed as a community to protect them,” Goldstein said. “We’ve failed as a [human rights] community to stand beside them.”

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