HBO’s Our Boys

Our Boys is the sort of thing many peo­ple will feel they ought to try and see, rather than some­thing that they actu­al­ly want to watch. Well, I’m hap­py to report, though per­fect­ly under­stand­able giv­en its sub­ject mat­ter, that ret­i­cence is entire­ly unwarranted.

Co-cre­at­ed by the Israeli showrun­ner Hagai Levi, who’d pre­vi­ous­ly made In Treat­ment, and the Pales­tin­ian writer, Taw­fik Abu-Wael, Our Boys was picked up and shown on HBO, and was met by almost uni­ver­sal acclaim.

Pre­dictably, hard­lin­ers on either side of the Israeli Arab divide were equal­ly furi­ous, offend­ed and out­raged. Which, need­less to say, strong­ly sug­gests the show hits absolute­ly the right note.

The sto­ry that the dra­ma depicts takes place at a very spe­cif­ic moment in time. Three Jew­ish boys have been kid­napped and mur­dered by Pales­tini­ans, but Our Boys begins in the imme­di­ate after­math of that hor­rif­ic event. 

In oth­er words, it doesn’t focus on the deaths of the three Israelis, but on the kid­nap­ping, killing and burn­ing of the Pales­tin­ian boy that a trio of fanat­i­cal Israelis take their revenge on.

Our Boys.

What’s so grip­ping and end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing about the show is the way it delin­eates each of the lay­ers that sub-divide both sets of com­mu­ni­ties. Giv­ing each and every fac­tion its own weight, and its char­ac­ters a chance to explain them­selves from their points of view.

Despite focus­ing on two very nar­row tracts of land on either side of what is effec­tive­ly the cur­rent board­er, each com­mu­ni­ty is end­less­ly split with­in its own walls. So there is the divide amongst the “set­tlers”, between the Ashke­naz­im and the Mizrahim. 

And then between the more, and the less pious, in both of those groups. And, amongst that for­mer group, between those who are more peace­ably inclined, and those who feel that enough is enough, and an eye demands an eye, as the bible clear­ly states.

Gabriel Byrne in HBO’s remake of In Treat­ment.

Like­wise, amongst the Pales­tini­ans, the boy’s father wants to press the Israeli police for jus­tice and attend the court pro­ceed­ings that fol­low, once the per­pe­tra­tors have been appre­hend­ed. But all that does, he is angri­ly told, is to acknowl­edge the Israeli’s right to juris­dic­tion over them, and to absolve them of the con­tin­ued and per­pet­u­al mis­treat­ment that the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple are for­ev­er the sub­ject of at their hands.

What’s so depress­ing, and of course so famil­iar for any­one who’s ever spent any time north of Dun­dalk, is that, despite all these sub­tle and nuanced dis­tinc­tions, absolute­ly every dis­cus­sion, con­ver­sa­tion, argu­ment and fight ends up being about one thing. Either you’re with us, or you’re with them. Which is as true for the Israelis as it is for the Palestinians.

Ulti­mate­ly, the show tri­umphs by refus­ing not mere­ly to take sides, but to in any way judge. The result is a series that is con­tin­u­al­ly illu­mi­nat­ing and end­less­ly gripping.

You can see the trail­er to HBO’s Our Boys here. And you can read the slight­ly longer appraisal in Har­retz, the admit­ted­ly lib­er­al (in the con­text of Israeli pol­i­tics) jour­nal here

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