I saw an amazing television series this year. It is powerful, disturbing, difficult to watch, and profoundly important. It is called Our Boys and is the fruit of an astonishing collaboration between Israeli writers, and Israeli and Palestinian co-directors. That brings a unique perspective that enriches this film. It is a perspective that is very difficult to find in the Middle East, where typically vicious certainties destroy each other. That perspective is different from any other I have ever seen. I urge you to watch.
First I will give a caveat. Most of the film contains English Subtitles. I don’t usually enjoy watching films with subtitles as I find them very distracting, but in this 10 series of shows the effort is well worth it. The series is based on a true series of events in Israel and Palestine in 2014 that led to a war in Gaza.
The series is based on 2 horrible real events. The first was the kidnapping of 3 Jewish boys whose plight ignited Israel, first in hopes and prayers for their survival, then when those hopes were dashed, and the bodies of the boys were found, and then came the thirst for the nectar of the Middle East—revenge . after that revenge followed as inevitably as pee rolls down porcelain.
That of course called for more revenge. That’s how things work in the Middle East. Soon a 16-year old Palestinian boy was beat up and then gasoline was poured down his throat and he was burned alive. It was a horrifying murder that mercifully was not depicted in the series. Could good Jews have retaliated so gruesomely? The Israelis did not want to believe it. As one Jew tells the Simon the Jewish detective, “That’s part of the problem; that you think a Jew is incapable of cruelty to an enemy.”
The series included an actual recording of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a speech at the funeral for the 3 boys. He boldly declared at the funeral, “A deep moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They sanctify death, while we sanctify compassion.” Is that true? Or a comfortable illusion? As Emily Nussbaum in her New Yorker review of the series aptly put it: “At its heart, this is a show about the brutal economics of empathy in a time of war: who gets it, who deserves it, who is denied it.”
A Rabbi was convinced that to fight the Palestinians they must retaliate in kin. After all they will do anything: blow up children, babies, and buses filled with innocent people, .The Rabbi said, if one side is crazy the other side must be irrational too. “It’s like mathematics. If one side is irrational and the other side not, strength does not matter. If the Jew operates irrationally and the Arab doe not, the Jew has power. If it’s the other way around the Jew loses. That is why 1 burned Arab boy is mathematically very good for the Jews.” The Middle East is transfused with exactly such mathematical fanaticism.
An Israelis detective, Simon, was charged with responsibility to solve these crimes as soon as possible. The detective was relentless and brilliant, but his tenacity was not always appreciated by his fellow Israelis. Some of them did not want him to carry his torch to the back of the cave, particularly where religious and political zealots reside. The light is not always flattering.
The film focused on various groups from both sides in Palestinian and Israeli territory where citizens turn to fury soaked in religion that led to ugly and violent protest. In both cities, religious and political hatreds were fuelled by dehumanizing rhetoric that has horrible effects on young minds sadly open to toxic influence. As Simon said, “You start arresting people for spewing hate and pretty soon half the country is in jail.”
The killers prayed to their god to send them a victim and praised God when he did. The young boy was a “gift from God.” After all if the young boy is not killed he will turn into a terrorist. Better to kill him first. In the mathematical logic of tit for tat it does not matter that the victim is innocent.
Unlike most American films which employ the simplicity of good versus evil, this series embraces complexity and eschews simple answers. Everyone should see this series available now on HBO. It is worth the effort.