Currently streaming on HBO in the USA is Our Boys, a series of 10 episodes, created by three filmmakers, Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu-Wael (two Jewish Israeli filmmakers and one Palestinian). The series is an enormously impressive and hard-hitting historical re-enactment of terrible murders that took place in Israel-Palestine during the summer of 2014.
The TV series begins with the abduction and murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers from the Gush Etzion junction, south of Jerusalem, during that summer. This incident brought deep sorrow and mourning to Israeli society. But this is not the focus of the series. Rather, the filmmakers decided to examine the ethical and strategic issues involved in the senseless revenge murder of an innocent Palestinian teenager.
Seeking revenge for the murder of the three Israeli teens, Israeli right-wing ultra-orthodox extremists kidnapped, and while still alive, set fire to a Palestinian youth named Mohammed Abu Khdeir from Shuafat (a Palestinian neighborhood north of Jerusalem). Following this heinous murder, extensive rioting broke out in the Palestinian community in Jerusalem and all over the West Bank, and missiles were shot from Palestinian militants in Gaza. The film series reveals how much damage the murder of this Palestinian boy caused in Israel that summer.
All of this eventually led to the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, a military operation, that lasted for 50 days, against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
After the murder of Abu Khdeir, my husband, Ron, and my daughter Dahlia, went to pay their respects to the Abu Khdeir family at the tent of mourning in Shuafat, along with hundreds of other concerned Jews from all over Israel, on a solidarity visit organized by the Tag Meir Forum (see below).
Filmed on location in Jerusalem and surroundings, the TV series sets out to document how the Israeli police and Shabak (Shin Bet—Israeli internal security services) investigate the heinous murder of this Palestinian Arab teenager. At first, the police were misled because they were so sure that such an atrocious murder of a Palestinian youth could not have been committed by Jews. This sounds like a ridiculous assumption these days, but many people in Israel still believe that Palestinians are capable of terrible atrocities but that Jews would never do such things. Even years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israelis still refuse to believe that there is a violent right-wing extremist movement capable of such terrible deeds.
It is interesting to also note that the series deals frankly with this issue of “who is the victim?" Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, claim victimhood in this decades long conflict. Palestinians feel that they are the underdog, treated very poorly as part of the occupation, and therefore they see themselves as the only victims. On the other hand, Jewish Israelis feel that they have been the victim ever since the Holocaust, and that they are still victims of Palestinian terror all the time, and therefore they must never let down their guard. These are two conflicting narratives – both of which are articulated in the TV series-- which attempts to follow the actual events and at the same time, to evoke empathy and understanding on both sides.
The series has two heroes – one is the father of Mohammed and the other is the Shabak investigator. The father of Mohammed Abu Khdeir is seen as a rational and cool-headed figure who is able to resist the demands of the Palestinian Arab extremists who want to turn his son’s murder into a cause for rioting and revenge. The credits at the end of each episode show that the real-life parents of Mohammed cooperated in the making of this series, which is quite amazing.
Our other hero, Simon, the Shabak investigator, is given the difficult job of finding Abu Khdeir’s murderers. He begins by tracking some of the young men of the Hilltop Youth, a group of young Jewish anarchists and extremists, who remind me sometimes of white supremacists in the USA. These youngsters operate freely throughout the West Bank and inside Israel, even though the Shabak is aware of them and constantly watching them on their security cameras. They indulge in terrible acts of destruction of property and even sometimes in murder, in what they call Tag Mechir, price-tag revenge attacks. They represent a horrible stain on Jewish society in Israel. In recent years, they have been opposed by the Tag Meir (Light Tag) Forum, which engages in solidarity visits and educational programs to combat Jewish racism.
This is a very courageous and compelling television series, produced by HBO and Keshet. I am still in the middle of viewing it together with my husband. One of the reasons we chose to see it is that Bibi denounced it calling it anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. The opposite is the case. It is a gripping portrayal of an issue at the heart of Jewish morality within Israel, and I applaud the directors for having taken such a bold step in forcing us to grapple with these issues.
We have more episodes to watch, and we plan to go to hear the directors of the film speak at the JCC on the Upper West Side in New York in a few weeks, at the preview screening of the tenth and final episode. After that, I will update you on the conclusion of this important series. Stay tuned.