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“Our Boys”: The HBO Series Uses a Jewish Tragedy to Condemn Israeli Society

December 20, 2018 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

It's a despicable misrepresentation of truth.

Whoever had any part in producing the new HBO 10 part series teasingly titled “Our Boys” should be profoundly ashamed – and whoever is misled into believing that they will have an opportunity to see a fair re-creation of the events in 2014 that began with the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers leading up to the Gaza war of that horrible summer deserves a fair warning: This is perhaps one of the most outrageous and deceitful distortions of a historically significant moment in the story of Israel’s struggle with barbaric acts of terrorism.

The way the story played out in fact begins with three 16-year-old religious Israelis, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, (full disclosure: Naftali was my cousin) deciding to hitchhike at Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion. Picked up by Arabs, they almost immediately realized they were being kidnapped and one of them was able surreptitiously to call the police. The police heard gunshots but didn’t know anymore. The entire country joined in a paroxysm of fear, prayer and hope. The mood of Israel was perhaps the finest example of its potential for unity, total and complete caring and sharing as one national family.

The three-week countrywide search for the boys and the passage of days seemed interminable. The ending, finally finding the bodies of the three victims, brought unparalleled grief and mourning not only to all Israelis but to Jews around the world. The thought that three young innocents could suddenly and inexplicably no longer carry on with their lives, that their families would no longer hug them or watch them grow to maturity touched a national nerve and their murders became traumatic for a whole people.

Surely anyone choosing to make a documentary-type series would have an inordinate amount of material for a profoundly moving movie. More, these three teenagers were exemplary and unique with fascinating stories about their special talents and their almost saintly character. Their parents, too, were people of extraordinary achievements and the ways in which they subsequently dealt with their tragedies were the basis for countless numbers of inspirational interviews and articles.

None of what I suggested made it into HBO's “Our Boys.” Not the boys, not the parents. In fact the story as HBO chooses to tell doesn’t even begin with its true beginning. You see there was another tragedy that followed. Three days after the revelation of the murder of the three Israelis a 16-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was the innocent victim of a revenge killing by three crazed Jews, a murder that horrified the entire country.

Israelis unfortunately are not immune to isolated crimes of terrorism. What makes us different in a world of violence and extremism is that we do not glorify terrorism, nor do we respond to it with joyous celebration and the distribution of sweets to children. Jews who commit acts of terrorism are not rewarded with lifelong stipends for themselves and their families nor do they have schools and public places named after them in their honor. They are punished by law, as were the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The two minors found guilty of Mohammed’s murder were respectively sentenced to life and 21 years imprisonment and the third, not a minor, was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 20 years.

With the title “Our Boys” many people were teased into thinking that this would be the story of three innocent Israeli victims. The movie, however, begins only after the death of the three boys. No actors play their parts. No emotional connection with the viewers is ever established. That would have made them identifiable victims – teenagers we come to care about before their brutal slayings. The story only starts after they are buried. Nothing is shown about the three-week search in vain or the frantic pain and worrying of the families. Short snippets of TV news reports give us cold facts. And then we get what for the producers is the real focus of the story. You see, dog bites man isn’t really that interesting, but man bites dog – and Orthodox “settlers” are guilty of the murder of an innocent 16-year-old Palestinian, well that’s really a story that deserves full Hollywood treatment!

Viewers never get a chance to see my cousin, his two friends or their Jewish parents. Instead you are given the chance to only empathize with the heartbreaking story of the Arab family and hate their son’s crazy killers.

And that is the real meaning of the title “Our Boys.” It doesn't refer to the three Israeli victims – we hardly got to know them, nor did we ever have a chance to learn anything about their killers. “Our Boys” are the villains, the crazed Israeli who murdered Mohammed and his settler accomplices, who were so ably acted that we will never forget. Never mind the bigger context that these perpetrators were a despicable rarity that shocked the country and got the punishment they deserved, while the murders of the three yeshiva boys fall into a tragic pattern of ongoing terrorism to this day glorified and celebrated by Arab leadership.

"Our Boys" is a 10-part series that manages to turn a Jewish tragedy into a condemnation of Israeli society. Woe to those who fail to see the hypocrisy of those responsible for this despicable misrepresentation of truth.


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