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HBO's 'Our Boys' is a Bleak But Rewarding Examination of a Real-Life Murder Investigation That Led to a War

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 16, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 16, 2019 |


HBO’s grim 10-part miniseries Our Boys arrives on American television at a delicate time to cover an already delicate subject, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This week in America, Israel barred two Muslim Democratic Congresswomen from entering the country after being pressured to do so by the American President, tying the American and Israeli governments together and giving the impression to many on the outside that everyone in America and everyone in Israel are in lockstep in a political environment that leaves little room for nuance or understanding. In fact, last week, I saw someone on Twitter calling out an American Jewish woman showing support for Ilhan Omar because the Israeli police recently killed two Ethiopian teens, as though by virtue of being Jewish in America, she’s also responsible for the whole of the actions of the Israeli government.

This should be obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway: Not all Jews share the same politics. Hell, not all Israelis share the same politics, and to suggest as much is a lot like saying that all Americans share the same politics because Trump is our President. No. Israel is just as divided as America and Britain are. The two sides in Israel have likewise run to the extreme sides of their political spectrums, only it’s considerably more complicated in Israel because there are considerably more issues, more history, and more contradictions at play for both Jews, Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, and those differences often play out violently.

It’s hard to say definitively after only two episodes, but HBO’s Our Boys looks to examine those issues in the context of an investigation into the revenge murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers — Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah — were murdered while hitchhiking to their homes in the West Bank. Those murders were eventually attributed to Hamas. However, in the days between the time the Israeli teens disappeared and their bodies were found, numerous Palestinians were arrested. There was a lot of understandable outcry in both Israeli and Palestinian quarters. The day after the three Israeli teenagers were buried, however, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed and his body was burned.

Our Boys is an investigation into the murder of Khdeir by Israeli settlers, and how the hostilities that surfaced in Israel over the deaths of the three Israeli teens and the revenge killing of Khdeir led to violent clashes in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. The focus, however, seems to be on the family of Khdeir and the Israeli investigators, who themselves had various agendas. In the initial investigation, in fact, some in the IDF wanted to pin the murder on the family of Khdeir, suggesting it was an honor killing, while others feared the violent clashes that would break out if it was revealed to be a revenge killing. Meanwhile, Khdeir’s Palestinian family had to rely on an Israeli police force to investigate the politically motivated murder of a Palestinian kid, which obviously created a number of conflicts, both personal and political.

It’s a slow-moving, beautifully shot but meticulously crafted series, spoken completely in Hebrew and Arabic (with subtitles). Through the prism of Khdeir’s murder and subsequent investigation, the series will explore the politics of hate and hypocrisy on both sides, while also painting a very human picture of Khdeir and his family and the conflicted emotions of some of the investigators. It is a brutal series to watch, not just because of the subject matter, but because of its excruciating pace. However, it does offer an insightful and intelligent entry point into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike The Red Sea Diving Resort, it presents the real spectrum of opinions on both sides rather than treating each side as monolithic, which is how too many of us choose to define the other side, whether in Israel, America, Britain, or otherwise. I couldn’t possibly recommend Our Boys to everyone — it’s punishing to watch and almost inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t have at least a general understanding of Israeli-Palestinian politics — but the first two episodes at least suggest the series will be rewarding in the sense that it will provide a better understanding of the complexities at play without Our Boys itself serving any political agenda beyond the truth.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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