Hagai LeviJoseph CedarTawfik Abu-Wael
MoviePlus ProductionsKeshet Media Group
United States, Israel
A mutilated body is discovered in a forested area on the outskirts of Western Jerusalem. Identification is difficult because it has been burned alive, but it turns out to be Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy from Shuafat in the Eastern parts of the city.
«Jews do not burn kids, I know the Israeli racism, but Jews do not do a thing like this,» says the police officer in charge of the investigation at the crime scene. The boy had been abducted from the deserted street outside his home early the same morning, and it would be natural to suspect radical Jewish settlers, but the police officer’s first reaction could be described as self-denial. Or, maybe it is deep and sincere disbelief. The question is left open.
The gruesome murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir was part of a chain of events that shattered Palestine and Israel during the summer of 2014. Eventually, it led to the so-called Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip that cost more than 2,000 Palestinian lives during July and August of that year. Now, Israeli director and screenwriter Joseph Cedar, with Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu-Wael, have created a 10-episode miniseries, based on these events. It is a dramatization of the tragic development with lots of original footage, providing a unique and disturbing insight into the psychological processes that, once again, led the Israeli-Palestinian conflict astray.
Out of control
Cedar has chosen the abduction and murder of three young Israelis as the trigger. One dark evening they hitchhiked outside a West Bank settlement in the Hebron foothills and picked up by Palestinians connected to the Hamas. This led to a massive search operation as we follow the popular reaction. The abducted youngsters were students at a yeshiva, a religious academy, and in that world the obvious reaction is prayer. The case became high profile, and thousands of religious Israelis gathered for mass prayer for «our boys» – the title of the miniseries.
This is presented as a dilemma. On the one hand, the mass prayers could be seen as a strong sign of solidarity with the boys’ families, but on the other hand, it is a dangerous phenomenon that could easily get out of control. Which is exactly what happens.
«What happens if the prayers go unanswered? What if they do not return home alive?» says Shimon from the Shabak, the Israeli security services. His operational area is Jewish extremism, and he is not in doubt that a reaction will come from that dark underworld. He tries to calm thing down by asking representatives of the worried families to discourage the mass prayers, but the parents go through hell, and if they dare to hold on to the most human of hopes they can be accused of incitement? Shimon is told by colleagues.
When the boys are found dead 18 days after their disappearance, hell breaks loose. People run amok in the streets of Jerusalem, shouting «Death to the Arabs!», and the same night, Muhammed Abu Khdeir is abducted.
Widespread shock and anger gripped the Israeli population – but for different reasons, which is also clear in today’s reactions to the miniseries presenting some bitter truths. The abduction and murder of the yeshiva boys was a despicable act, and the grief of the families is understandable, but were they innocent, being part of the settlement enterprise and the occupation?
That kind of indescribable cruelty had not been seen before.
It is hard to talk about innocence in this connection. Still many participated in the hate and saw the following Gaza war as an understandable and logical reaction. At the same time, the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir transgressed all limits of violence and demonstrated the moral abyss in the conflict. That kind of indescribable cruelty had not been seen before. But one of the culprits, Yochi Har Zahav of the extreme settler youth, claims that vengeance is something natural. This is what the Bible is all about. «The problem is that you assume Jews are incapable of cruelty toward their enemy,» he says when he is taken in for questioning.
This is creepy, but it is real. In the episodes that have been screened so far, we get to feel the moral considerations of Shimon, but he is up against the whole system and political considerations. «They sanctify death, we sanctify life. We sanctify compassion. That is the secret of our strength and the foundation of our unity,» we hear prime minister Netanyahu say at the funeral for the boys.
Joseph Cedar illustrates this way of thinking by describing how the two cases are handled by the Israeli authorities. When the three Jewish boys are abducted there is no doubt that terrorists are behind the act and a massive manhunt is launched without hesitation. Yet, when the Palestinian youth disappears from his Shuafat home and one single patrol car is sent to investigate, all kinds of motives are in play, and the worried father is treated with deep suspicion.
The present Israeli debate mirrors the same feelings. Yair Netanyahu, the son of the prime minister, has tweeted his deep anger against Joseph Cedar for displaying the Jewish extremism, while others laud him for touching such a sensitive topic. The miniseries will run on HBO well into October, but even though it is still «a developing story,» it is not too early to say that Cedar has made a very important statement and created an extremely well-told story that doubles as a necessary tool for understanding the tragic dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.