Part II Our Boys: A Review – Side Effects and the Aftermath

In the previous blog, I gave away very little about the show. In this blog, I give away somewhat more, but the focus is on the side stories and especially the aftermath not covered by the docudrama. I advise readers not to read this blog if they intend to watch the show and have not seen it or finished watching the episodes.

One special aftermath was the reaction to the show itself, especially by the Prime Minister of Israel. The show received an unintended burst of attention when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only dubbed the series as “fake news,” but called the show antisemitic. It is NOT. Not in the least.

Was this part of Bibi’s practice of Trumpian distraction since the Elections Committee had just denied the Likud Party request to prevent the media from reporting on the graft cases against Bibi prior to the “second” election this year? The party letter to the Elections Committee claimed that Guy Peleg, the key investigative journalist covering the investigation of Bibi, was guilty of intentionally misquoting transcripts to harm the prime minister. At the core of the four indictments were claims about Netanyahu’s efforts to control the media coverage of himself. Bibi dubbed the claims a “blood libel” and called Channel 12 a propaganda outlet.

Shlomo Filber, appointed by Netanyahu as Director of the Communication Ministry, had given testimony to police that the prime minister personally instructed him to do something about the proposed reforms in the communications and internet sector since the media tycoon, Shaul Elovitch, was unhappy about them. Similar to the proposed impeachment indictments against Donald Trump. Bibi has been accused of offering a quid pro quo to Elovitch, who controls Bezeq, Israel’s largest communications giant, in return for favourable coverage of himself.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s transcript of the charges against Bibi make up the majority of the 57-page criminal indictment put before the court at the beginning of this month. The court determined that the case should go to trial. It is the first of four charges against Benjamin Netanyahu, Mandelblit, in his summary of police allegations, charged that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, had accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods and more favourable media coverage in exchange for political favours and Netanyahu’s intervention with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of media moguls, including Israeli-born producer Arnon Milchan, whose credits include Fight Club and Pretty Woman.

On Friday 30 August, Bibi called on Israelis to boycott Channel 12 and its owner for co-producing the show with HBO and airing it. He claimed that the show was a packet of lies and sought to tarnish Israel’s reputation in the world. The Likud Party pointed out that Keshet, the Israeli channel, has been the source of the greatest amount of investigative journalism on the charges against Bibi. Guy Peleg, its most important investigative journalist on the story, was accused of being a puppet of Keshet and of having launched “a terror attack on democracy.” President Reuven Rivlin, as the opening speaker at a Keshet 12 news conference on 5 September, urged Israelis not to “believe incitement and insults.” Netanyahu’s son, however, claimed that, “the series tells the whole world how the Israelis and Jews are cruel and bloodthirsty murderers, and how the Palestinians are badly done by and oppressed.” It absolutely, under any reasonable interpretation, does no such thing. Watch it and decide.

The show does omit a great deal. For example, six were initially arrested for the murder of Abu Khdeir. There is no reference to the other three in the series. In the aftermath, Tariq Khdeir, Abu’s 15-year-old Palestinian-American cousin, was beaten by Israeli undercover police officers caught on camera. He had been caught up in a protest, but had not been a participant. Another cousin, 19-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was arrested during a 28 July 2014 protest. The series vaguely alludes to this harassment of the Khdeir family, but does not zero in on it even though John Kerry suggested harassment of the family as a possibility.

There was more. Tariq was released quickly after a raft of protests, but kept under house arrest. After he returned to America to go back to school at the Universal Academy of Florida, Israeli police ransacked his East Jerusalem home though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in January 2015. The officer convicted of the assault on Tariq received a suspended sentence of 45 days of community service and a four-month suspended sentence.

The series does abbreviate a great deal, as it must. Most significantly in my mind, unless I fell asleep during a segment of an episode, the family of one of the Israeli victims, the Fraenkels, called the family of Abu Khdeir to condemn the murder and offer condolences. The other families of the murdered Israeli teenagers followed suit. Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of one of the three victims, 16-year-old Naftali, not only condemned the murder immediately, but broke her shiva to declare, “Even in the abyss of mourning for Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem – the shedding of innocent blood is against morality, is against the Torah and Judaism, and is against the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.” She declared that, “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.” The series did not cover the responses of the three families of the three Jewish teenagers killed just before the Arab boy was killed in a revenge hate crime. I would have liked a greater exploration of the bypaths and aftermath of the murder, but a marvellous production cannot accomplish everything.

However, there was one very significant inclusion. The Israeli Memorial Office, independently of the justice system and without obtaining the approval of Abu Khdeir’s family, mounted a plaque on the wall of the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial at Mount Herzl. The plaque was eventually removed at the request of the family, who viewed the action as an effort to polish Israel’s image and did not want their son memorialized alongside Israeli soldiers. One incident also not included was the Jerusalem Council order to the family to remove Abu’s image that had hung outside their home for four months and the threat of a $500 fine every day it was left hanging after the order was issued. Purportedly, hanging Abu’s image contravened Israeli municipal law.

The series ended with notes of the sentences received by the three Israelis all convicted of murder. One minor who confessed and fully cooperated with the investigators, received a sentence of 21 years. His cousin, also a minor, was sentenced to life in prison. Their uncle, Yosef Haim Ben-David, 29, owner of an eyewear shop in Jerusalem and a resident of the Geva Binyamin settlement, who instigated his nephews to commit the crime, received a sentence of life in prison plus twenty years. The three had burned Abu when he was still alive. They had beaten him with a crowbar or a heavy wrench and kicked him. The three were indicted not only for the abduction and murder, but for the unsuccessful earlier attempt to kidnap a young child from her mother’s arms, an incident only alluded to in the series. But the earlier torching of an Arab store or a series of other incidents of hate crimes were ignored. From the series, one is left with the erroneous impression that this was not only an exceptional case that led to murder, which it was, but was an exceptional case altogether. It was not.

Also omitted was the widespread instigation of revenge among Jewish Israelis after the three religious settler teenagers were killed. The graffiti painted on the house of the principle investigator of the murderers of Abu – “traitor” and even worse – was shown in full detail after the conviction of the three religious Israelis for Abu’s murder. It seemed that no lessons had been learned about incitement.

Before the murder of the Arab boy and after the three Jewish boys were murdered, in addition to Shaked, MK Michael Ben-Ari, various Jewish Agency officials, hooligan racist supporters of the Beitar football club, all incited violence against Palestinians. Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva, the world’s largest religious-Zionist youth organization, called on the IDF to be transformed into an army of avengers. None of them were charged with inciting violence, though they grew quieter after the Palestinian teenager had been murdered. The IDF did threaten to punish any soldier severely who posted hate messages and/or photos supporting either racism or vengeance.

In the opening episode, at 3:45 a.m., Abu Khdeir was forced into a car by two assailants who spoke Hebrew according to witnesses, for it was Ramadan and the streets were not empty; boys had just left a local mosque to prepare for the pre-dawn morning meal. The police came, met with the family and urged them to file a formal complaint at the police station. They did not do so immediately. By morning, the police recognized that the boy had been abducted and they quickly launched a search and found his body. Further, the father had gathered video evidence of the abduction and had traced his phone; it turned out that it was in the possession of one of the abductors.

However, the father had a number of legitimate complaints that were supported in the portrayal during the series. His interrogation was lengthy and concerned very specific details of the family life – pocket money given to Abu, sibling rivalry, past misdeeds – all reflected in the first episode. The investigation seemed to be initially propelled by the suspicion that this was an honour killing, though there was virtually no evidence to support that view except for a murky allusion to a girl (?) who was to meet with Abu.

On 27 July 2014, the three main suspects were arraigned. The main suspect, Yosef Ben-David, announced, “I am the messiah” in the entrance to the court. At a second pre-trial appearance on 18 November 2014, Ben-David went silent and declined to cooperate with the Jerusalem District Court, though IsraeIi mental health officials deemed him able to stand trial. In contrast, an American psychiatrist had been imported to testify otherwise. The two minors pleaded guilty to abduction, but pleaded innocent of the charge of murder. In the most riveting part of the prosecution of the one perpetrator who fully confessed, the argument for convicting him of murder as well was powerfully made. And he along with his cousin were both convicted of that murder as well as of assault.

Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, throughout the proceedings remained totally pessimistic that justice would be meted out by an Israeli court. Before the trial she opined, “I don’t have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son. They’re only going to ask them questions and then release them. What’s the point?” In the series, she warmed up somewhat to the Israeli judicial system, but, nevertheless, both she and her husband criticized Israel for treating Palestinian terrorism with a far harsher hand than Jewish terrorism. The Khdeir family called on the Israeli government to demolish the murderers’ homes just as they demolished the homes of Palestinian terrorists. Hussein Abu Khdeir, the father of the victim, was very disappointed that the youngest boy who confessed, escaped a life sentence. The murderer could be expected to be released on parole in ten years when he would be twenty-six.  

In July 2016, the Abu Khdeir family petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to demolish the homes of the murderers as happened to the homes of Arab terrorists. In July 2017, the Israeli High Court rejected the petition since it would be ineffective as a deterrent. Such incidents were rare and the long time lapse between the murder and any possible demolition would undermine any deterrent effect. Yet the court affirmed the principle that the home demolition policy was valid for both Jewish and Palestinian terrorists. The Abu Khdeir family simply viewed this as more window dressing.  

The family remained bitter towards Israeli politicians, including Shimon Peres who was then president. But they welcomed the condolences of the families of the three Jewish victims of Arab terror, some opposition MKs who received death threats from extremist right wingers and a contingent of Jews that travelled to the family home on a number of chartered buses. This part of the tale was not part of the series.  

There is one final observation, not about “fake news,” but about the bias of any media given the target audience. The story of the three murdered Israeli teenagers was shown from the perspective of an aggrieved nation. Our Boys does not treat the Palestinians as an aggrieved nation, even though the Palestinian segments had been directed by a Palestinian. Instead, the perspective is that of the aggrieved family and a Palestinian society that tried to use the murder for political purposes. In contrast, the Israeli media focused on the potential for further revenge attacks and/or additional Palestinian reprisals and upheavals.  

Was this somewhat skewed or a more or less honest reflection of the reactions of each of the societies? I will not dare to speculate on an answer to that question, but I will explore other ethical issues raised in my final and third blog on the series.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

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