The new HBO series, “Our Boys,” is not, after all, about Our Boys — the golden trio of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Instead, it’s about one Arab Palestinian boy and a few Israelis, decidedly not Eyal, Gilad and Naftali but their diametric opposites, and what followed the news that Our Boys had been found murdered. It’s about an outlier, the tragedy of the innocent Mohammed Abu Khadir, who was murdered in a vigilante act by an unhinged Jewish Israeli.
The first episode does reference the kidnapping, but the searing impact it had on their family, friends and, ultimately, an entire nation, is not there. Rather, news of their kidnapping is opportunistically used as a jumping off point for the producers to tell a different story, manipulating the affectionate appellation “Our Boys,” the three kidnapped Jewish Israeli teens, and grafting it onto the outliers who committed the utterly depraved act of murdering innocent Abu Khedir. Its message: Our [Jewish Israeli] Boys are wanton murderers.
Aside from the empirical inaccuracy of the implication of Our Boys as murderers, it’s curious how the program accuses an entire generation of Jewish Israeli youth as murderers when, among some Arab Palestinian youth, there is an actual epidemic of stabbing Jews to death, engaging in car rammings and otherwise terrorizing Jews or, if not doing it, approving it.
This series does not develop a nuanced framing of Palestinian-Israeli tensions in the summer of 2014. The producers tell a one-sided story. While there is a faint attempt here and there to insert a platitude about the Jewish observant community not being all bad, ultimately the takeaway feeds into negatives and stereotypes of that community. Ignored is the story of three mothers, their heads wrapped in scarves, signifying their deep commitment to observant Judaism, repeated called for unity, love and peace, and who succeeded in uniting a people, from the unaffiliated to the Chasidic, from right wing to left wing. The lacuna is glaring.
What shocked and confused me the most was the usage of live footage of the mothers of Our Boys. To use live footage of the three mothers — their visages, their voices, their pain lending credence and authenticity to this miniseries, as though it were a documentary, when it is but a biased dramatization that actually cuts these mothers out — how could the producers do this? Not to mention their veiled yet grotesque corollary, as though it is these noble hopeful mothers’ prayer vigils, replete with love, kindness and hope, that actually triggered the vigilante murder?
I tried to overlook every transparent bias and reflect on the difficult story at hand: a gruesome murder committed by young, observant, Jewish vigilantes, with the Jewish state going to great lengths to serve justice and arrest the Jews who shed the blood of an Arab. But to manipulatively make out inspirational Jewish prayer rallies to be brainwashing scenarios, to suggets that it is unusual or dangerous for Palestinian Arabs to work in Jerusalem when, in fact, Palestinian Arabs are part of the tapestry of the city and need not hide their identity, as is implied — I looked away from all this, and much more, as much as I could.
Consider all this not from a religious or secular point of view. Not from a right or left wing political point of view. But from humanity. Bereaved parents. Still living among us. Still with fresh wounds. Five summers ago. How could they?
The producers know the rarity and reality of Jewish vigilante violence, versus the ubiquitous terrorism against Israelis perpetrated and celebrated by the Palestinian Arab leadership. Address racism. Address the fear of percolating radicalism. But please, with humanity, sensitivity — and integrity.
Our Boys” airs on HBO in hundreds of countries. Most viewers are clueless about Israel and the harrowing summer that was the prelude to the brutal murder of Abu Khadir. And the show is convincing, buttressed by the manipulative footage of the three mothers. The little nods to nuance that were planted here and there will go over these viewers’ heads. There is no text preceding each episode that states the statistic of how many Jews have been and are unfortunately routinely slaughtered and murdered by Arab Palestinians. There is no text preceding each show about how Abu Khadir’s murder was condemned in Israel and by the Jewish world across the board.
I confess that there were moments in the series that were difficult for me to watch — to see the poison percolating in parts of my own community. As marginalized as this is, I know it’s there. It hurts me and worries me. But a mini-series such as this is not the answer.
When Abu Khadir’s father just wants to mourn and bury his beloved son, he is distressed by what he perceives as disrespect, or at least infringement, when Palestinian teens carry on with Abu Khadir’s body in a way that does not speak to the father. “He’s my son,” he says, as Abu Khadir’s covered corpse is being pulled away from him. “He’s not only your son now,” his friend replies.
Our boys. Those three innocent, beautiful, beloved Israeli boys, abducted and murdered. Eyal. Gilad. Naftali. Through love, prayer, hope, connection and, most importantly, through their mothers, they became a nation’s children. Does this mean these mothers are, to paraphrase the comment above, “not only the boys’ mothers”? Are they fodder to be exploited for the benefit of movie producers to use as material for their careers, for making an international name in cinema?
So I suppose that’s another thought-provoking question this miniseries raises: What are the ethical limits of the TV and cinema industry, or are there any ethical and humane limits in excavating and manipulating real life tragedies as material for dramatizations? And what exactly is the responsibility of producers to create a somewhat balanced narrative, especially when the stakes of misrepresenting the Israeli narrative are so high?
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News