My Word: ‘Our Boys’ and a ‘hole’ truth drama series

June 27, 2019 22:42
Operation Protective Edge

IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge.. (photo credit: ANNA GOLIKOV)

The summer of 2014 in Israel was unforgettable. It was a summer of war.

During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas in Gaza launched some 4,500 rockets on Israel (and the Iron Dome system provided almost miraculous protection); the terrorist organization did not so much cross redlines as dig attack tunnels under them; Hamas rockets even targeted Jerusalem (so much for its status as a holy city) and nearly 70 IDF soldiers and six civilians were killed, including four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, whose home was hit by a mortar as he was playing.

For more than 50 days, Hamas broke ceasefire after ceasefire, perfecting its use of its own people as human shields as it stockpiled and fired rockets from hospitals and schools on Israeli civilian targets.

The war ended toward the end of August – shortly before the start of the school year for children whose summer had not been fun.

Apparently, there is a question about when the war started.

All Israelis remember that June, five years ago, for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers. Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah became collectively known as “The Three Teens.” They become “our sons.”

For more than two weeks we collectively agonized over the fate of the two 16-year-old friends and 19-year-old Yifrah who all hitched a ride home from their studies in the same vehicle, getting in with two Hamas terrorists who had disguised themselves as Orthodox Jews to entrap their innocent victims.

That summer brought all of us together in a powerful solidarity. The period during which security forces worked around the clock in Operation Brother’s Keeper to try to locate the three teens was marked by prayer vigils and solidarity rallies. Around the world, Jews and non-Jews posted pictures of themselves on social media holding placards with the slogan #BringBackOurBoys.

“OUR BOYS.” The very name might have been abducted this summer. The Jerusalem Post’s Hannah Brown reported this week that HBO has announced that it will release the premiere episode of a series of that name in August. Our Boys – created by Israelis Joseph Cedar, Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu Wael – is a 10-episode drama on the events leading up to the 2014 Gaza war. Its star cast includes Michael Aloni (Shtisel), Lior Ashkenazi (Foxtrot, Walk on Water), Shadi Mar’i (Fauda) and Noa Koler (The Wedding Plan). The series is a collaborative effort between HBO and Keshet International – the US-based distributor of Israel’s Keshet Media Group.

We know there’s no happy ending. And there’s no happy beginning. The devil lies in choosing where to start the story and where to place the emphasis as it develops.

The advance publicity on the HBO site says: “In the summer of 2014, three Jewish teenagers are kidnapped and murdered by Hamas militants. Israel is shocked, shaken and furious. Two days later, the burned body of a Palestinian teenager from eastern Jerusalem is found in a forest on the western outskirts of the city. In the ensuing days, an agent from the internal terror division of the Shin Bet investigates the murder, while the parents of the slain teenager begin their long and anguished journey toward justice and consolation.”

The one-minute teaser trailer released by HBO does not mention the abduction and murder of “our boys” Naftali, Gil-Ad and Eyal, but spotlights the horrendous murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

In the words of the HBO promotion: “Our Boys is based on the true events which led to the outbreak of war in Gaza.”

The words “based on the true events” are telling. This, of course, is neither the whole truth nor the whole story.

The response of the Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah families to the abduction and killing of their sons helped bring us together and give us the strength to go on with our own lives despite the disruption of war. And, like all decent human beings, they also condemned the revenge attack in which Abu Khdeir was tortured and killed.

When I interviewed Rachelle Fraenkel a year after her son’s murder she noted that the foreign media continued to be surprised by her response to Abu Khdeir’s death. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t shocked and horrified by it,” she stressed.

Indeed, so-called “price-tag” attacks are mercifully few. A murderous “revenge” attack is a moral abomination. On the graves of Jewish victims of terror are inscribed three letters standing for the words “God will avenge their blood.” No Jew can consider themselves religious if they believe they know better than God when it comes to the commandment not to kill.

That’s why acts of Jewish terrorism – for terrorism it is – have been publicly condemned by the president, prime minister, Knesset speaker and chief rabbis among others.

The Israeli leadership – unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas – does not want to foster the culture of martyrdom and killing for glory. Israelis are the victims of the Palestinians’ “pay for slay” policy, rewarding terrorists and their families. Arguably, Palestinian society itself is a victim of the same repugnant process.

HOW DO I remember the events that led to the 2014 war in Gaza? The kidnapping and murder of the three teens (four, including Abu Khdeir) did not come completely out of the blue. In a period of relative calm, US secretary of state John Kerry became fixated with trying to create a peace treaty between the Palestinians and Israel. It seems incredible now that the world was so obsessed with the Palestinian victim narrative that it almost ignored the rise of Islamic State as it began its sweep across Syria and Iraq.

In a standard response to the renewed peace process, there was a wave of Palestinian terrorism. Hamas, in its efforts to destabilize Fatah control in the West Bank, stepped up both individual attacks and rockets against Israelis. The kidnapping and murder of the three teens was part of this. When Israel arrested Hamas members during Operation Brother’s Keeper in Judea and Samaria, Hamas launched an increasing number of rockets from Gaza. After more than 60 rockets rained down on Israel on July 7, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge.

Today, we are not just five years older. We bear more scars.

So many rockets have been launched from Gaza that it’s hard to keep track: More than 400 were launched during one weekend alone last month and some 100 Israelis have fallen prey to Palestinian terror and rocket attacks since the summer of ’14. The bodies of two IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, are still being held by Hamas in Gaza. And southern Israel now routinely suffers from eco-terrorism and the “fire intifada.”

If June 2014 was marked by the killing of the three teens and the war, June 2016 will be forever in my mind for the murder of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel, stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager who climbed through her bedroom window as she slept late at the start of the summer vacation.

All the parents I know who have had to deal with this type of loss have channeled their tragedy into something positive. Rena Ariel, for example, has published a book, Pirkei Hallel: A Shared Journey for Bat Mitzva Girls and Their Mothers. It’s now available in English and I have no qualms about giving it a plug (unread) having just granted extra publicity to the (unseen) HBO series.

The summer of 2014 was when my son, and only child, celebrated his bar mitzvah. This year, five summers later, he turns 18. He will be able to vote in the September elections, but compulsory military service is fast approaching. No wonder I’m feeling emotional and remember those children who will remain forever young.

Our Boys is due to be released on August 12. Whether the series does focus almost exclusively on Abu Khdeir, or whether a corporate publicist thought the death of one Palestinian boy was more marketable than the deaths of three Jewish teens, remains to be seen. If necessary, I’m prepared to launch another #BringBackOurBoys campaign: Bring back their blessed memories.

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