Is it possible to overcome one’s sense of outrage and trauma in order to empathize with the suffering of another? And what if the “other” is not your friend, and may even have been complicit in bringing you pain? These are just two of the questions the new HBO series “Our Boys” presents to Israelis and friends of Israel — and reactions have been intense.
The title “Our Boys” refers to the unprovoked kidnapping and murder in the summer of 2014 of Gilad Shaer, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, by Palestinian terrorists as the young men were hitchhiking home in the West Bank. The kidnappings, murders and the intense search for the bodies shook Israelis and Jews around the world, just as Israel and Hamas were drifting into full war.
The criticism of HBO’s fictionalized account stems from the fact that the tragedy of Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrah is only the prelude to what becomes, in effect, a story about the revenge killing of “Their Boy,” 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was savagely burned alive. In 2016, a Jewish-Israeli man, Yosef Haim Ben-David, and two minors, were convicted of the murder.
There is a bait and switch element to the HBO series. Its title, opening and promotion seemed to promise a re-creation of how the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens became the focus of Israeli life for two agonizing weeks, and the aftermath. So it is understandable that some viewers — particularly those who thought the series would be an expose of Palestinian hatred, violence and random murders in furtherance of some twisted theology or political view — are very disappointed. And that is so even though there is near-universal recognition and acknowledgment that Abu Khdeir’s revenge murder was unspeakably horrific.
“Our Boys” was created by two Jewish Israelis, Hagai Levi and Joseph Cedar, and one Arab-Israeli filmmaker, Tawfik Abu Wael. Their work product is a profoundly emotional, thought-provoking story, based upon real-life events and real-life traumas of two conflicted peoples. And even if the creators’ motivation was partly political, “Our Boys” presents an important — albeit uncomfortable — message.
Blood is blood. The blood of a Palestinian is no less red than that of an Israeli. The fact that Israelis uniformly condemned the Abu Khdeir revenge killing while many Palestinians praised the murders of Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrah doesn’t make either crime less heinous or less worthy of retelling.
Five years after the incidents in question, with the same leaders in place in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza, the atmosphere on the ground is just as explosive now as it was then. And that’s where the outrage should lie.
As for “Our Boys,” the filmmakers chose the story they wanted to tell. That’s their right — even if it leaves some viewers unfulfilled, a bit embarrassed, exposed and still nursing very deep wounds. pjc