What happens when we recognize and acknowledge that the pain of the “other” is the same as ours, when we admit that our tears are all the same color and taste? Can we acknowledge this shared pain through empathy? Can we admit one another’s humanity?
Social media are ablaze with criticism of “Our Boys,” a docudrama produced by HBO and Keshet International Studios about the three Israeli yeshiva students, Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, who were killed by Palestinians in the summer of 2014, and about 16-year-old East Jerusalem Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was killed by Jewish Israelis that summer. The killings were followed by Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli bereaved parents have been enlisted by the Choosing Life Forum to write a letter of complaint to HBO about the series. The parents, who in all likelihood have not seen the series, wrote that they were offended by the show, which they said does not recognize their victimhood. I have no argument with the families, but I do with the organization.
I too am a bereaved mother, whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper. I was fortunate to be able to view five episodes of the brilliant HBO miniseries and was deeply moved and filled with admiration for how the dramatic and horrific events that led up to the terrible war with Gaza in 2014 were portrayed.
The portrayal of the tragedy that the Abu Khdeir family suffered is in no way meant to be compared to the suffering over Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali, who were killed by a Hamas network. The dignified mothers of the yeshiva students in no way endorsed the horrific killing of Abu Khdeir and were certainly not a part of the violent frenzy that followed the discovery of the bodies of the three. Nor was Hussein, Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s father, a party to the inciting demonstrations and violence that followed his son’s death.
What we get as Israelis from “Our Boys” is a portrait of Mohammed’s devastated mother, father and brother and their desperate attempt to find out what happened to Mohammed, amid the dreadful uncertainty of his disappearance. I have met Suha, his mother, and have been witness not only to her tears but also her remarks that the pain of all mothers, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, is the same.
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I wish that the 120 bereaved Israeli families who signed onto the letter to HBO could meet this lady and perhaps recognize that she suffers just as we do. We can also compare the violent reaction over the discovery of Mohammed’s body with the nearly mirror image of what took place on the Israeli side with the discovery of the slain yeshiva students.
The manner in which the creators of “Our Boys” depict how the three extremists who killed and burned Mohammed’s body reached a point of no return is extraordinary. No one wanted to believe that it was possible for these extremist religious young people to commit a crime the likes of which had never before seen in Israel.
The series provides a glimpse of a religious settlement and the brainwashing furthering the belief that we as Israelis are the victims and our Palestinian neighbors the perpetrators and that we as a nation are blameless and entitled.
We understand the isolation of Abu Khdeir’s murderers, who studied at a yeshiva, and the dilemma they faced, while wishing to get a taste of the outside world. This may be difficult to understand and accept, but telling the truth is the only way to pursue reconciliation and acceptance of the other.
Probably the most fascinating part of the series is how Simon, one of the main protagonists and a member of the team in the Jewish Division of Shin Bet security service, investigates the murder. Piece by piece the team unravels the vicious web and begins to understand the personalities of the murderers and how to manipulate them with an astute understanding of their culture and way of life.
My membership in the Parents Circle – Families Forum, a group of more than 600 Palestinian and Israeli families working for reconciliation and nonviolence, gives me the strength to write and to pose the challenge to members of the public to meet bereaved mothers from both sides, and to open their hearts and minds and understand the need to recognize the humanity of the other.
I applaud HBO and Keshet and would love to introduce the creators of the series, Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu Wael, to the families in our group.
Robi Damelin is the International Relations Spokesperson of the Parents Circle- Families Forum.