Opinion

How Israelis' Self-deception Left Many of Them Confused About 'Our Boys'

One of the defendants in Abu Khdeir's killing appears before the Jerusalem District Court, August 6, 2014.
Emil Salman

As the outstanding miniseries “Our Boys” began to air, a rather strange debate developed about the intentionally misleading name the creators chose for it. The critics argued that the name created the impression that it would be about our three boys who were abducted and murdered — Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaer — and not our three boys who abducted and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

This is a strange debate because the source of the deception is not in the name that Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu-Wael gave to their miniseries but rather in our self-image. After all, we are a nation that tends to appropriate to itself every Jewish victim, whoever it may be, and to cast out anyone who has been identified as a murderer. Gilad Shalit can be “everyone’s son,” while Elor Azaria can never be.

It is this self-deception that led many to conclude that if the series deals with “our boys,” that is, the events surrounding Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, then it necessarily deals with our victims, and not with our murderers. Because our murderers are always rogue elements, in other words not ours.

In fact, the Azaria affair caused a public outcry because there were people who wanted to portray Azaria as everyone’s son — on the right, those who saw him as a hero; and on the left, those who saw him as a victim of the occupation. This is also what explains the error of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who usually has his finger on the public pulse.

In his initial response, on the day the soldier shot and killed an already incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Netanyahu expressed reservations about Azaria, saying: “What happened in Hebron does not represent the army’s values.” It took him a few days to recognize that the strategy of weeding out the “wild weeds” did not work in this case. But after a few days he softened his tone and agreed to accept Azaria into the ranks of “our children”: “IDF soldiers, our children, are facing murderous terror attacks from terrorists who come to kill them.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 43Haaretz

The truth is that it is hard to think of a more accurate name for this series. Cabinet minister Zeev Elkin often repeats his view that Jerusalem is the laboratory of Israel’s future: What is going on there now is the preview of the country’s future. This statement echoes throughout the miniseries. Along with it comes the painful recognition that the Zionist enterprise has spun out of control and we are raising our children — our boys — for a future in which it is not at all clear who we are. There is a scene in the show in which Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s father is forced to negotiate with a police officer over the return of his son’s body. A nonviolent, bloodless scene, but one that nonetheless contains the entire entanglement of this accursed occupation. They are haggling over the body of a boy like officials of a Jewish burial society.

I have no illusions that there is somewhere to escape to. Anyone who can afford to leave, physically or emotionally, almost certainly has already done so. Life in Israel in the shadow of the conflict is a game of Russian roulette, and what is at stake is not only our lives but all of our souls.

I have given a lot of thought to Netanyahu’s histrionics over the miniseries. About his calling it anti-Semitic and complaining that it “slanders and lies about Israel.” It is impossible to think about Israel’s sad state without thinking about Netanyahu, the man who for 10 years has been steering the country into the iceberg.

I thought about his own boy Yair. This painful series is in the end about him too. Our children live here, and are exposed to the risk of their destruction. Even Netanyahu has not managed to save his son from the jaws of the merciless Israeli reality.