Different men sit on a chair behind a desk and a green screen. Archival footage runs on the green screen. They tell a story, a legal history that might shock you. If you’ve suspected that the original residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are getting a raw deal by the Israeli government, your suspicions will be confirmed. If you’ve wondered why the U.S. is so disliked in North Africa and the Middle East, this 2011 documentary “The Law in These Parts” and America’s continued support of Israel is a good explanation.
This documentary won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, so this isn’t some right-wing diatribe. The men are Israeli judges, prosecutors and legal advisors and they talk about the rule of law. Director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz was born in Jerusalem, Israel. His previous documentaries include the 1999 “Martin,” the 2001 “The Inner Tour, ” and the 2003 “James’ Journey to Jerusalem.”
“The Inner Tour” followed a Palestinian tour group of about 20 people on a three-day sightseeing tour of Israel through the Galilee to the Lebanon border to Tel Aviv and Jaffa. These tourists have stories of loss under the occupation. A woman was widowed when her husband was shot by an Israeli soldier as he walked home. Another has a husband who is serving life for killing an Israeli soldier. A man sees his mother in Lebanon through barbed wire.
“James’ Journey” is a comedy about a man attempting to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and being arrested as a suspected illegal infiltrator. He’s rescued by an agent who indentures migrant workers in order to use them in hard labor.
Alexandrowicz’s latest documentary is a history of military law under the less than benign occupation of Israel since the 1967 war. Under the laws of an occupied territory, the Palestinians are tried by a military court. We’ve already seen that this doesn’t lead to justice in Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator.” Military leaders have a ulterior motives and short-term and long-term objectives.
The judicial and moral dilemmas the military legal professionals face are explored. Alexandrowicz asks the hard questions about international law and just how temporary the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are. Are the “infiltrators” prisoners of war or terrorists. “Human values do not apply to infiltrators” one interviewee explains. In the West Bank and Gaza, only the Palestinians are under military justice because the Israeli settlers are tried in Israeli civil courts. “Law is almost never enforced in the case of damage to Palestinian property,” we’re told. Before two separate legal systems, there is no justice. International law is used to declare large tracts of land as state lands. The word “temporary” is repeatedly used but how temporary is over four decades?
Alexandrowicz tells us that research shows the Palestinians don’t receive justice when they sue for property damage. We hear prisoner explain how one gets a year and a half for throwing stones and another gets two years for writing criticism and posters. Israel is supposedly the only democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, but Palestinians point out there is nothing democratic in the manner they are treated.
Alexandrowicz saves the most horrific part for last: the question of torture. The story came to Alexandrowicz as the children who appeared in his previous documentary “The Inner Tour” grew up and were arrested, something common for the majority of male Palestinian youths. Sitting in on a military hearing changed Alexandrowicz’s consciousness.
Things are changing in Israel. People aren’t so quick to condemn the Palestinians or blithely believe that all Arabs or Muslims are heathens who require civilizing. The documentary also won the Best Documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It also won a Special Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and another Special Jury Prize at the HotDocs Film Festival. Alexandrowicz recognizes that he himself is a filter, and makes this clear in his script. This documentary could be pretty dry stuff, but Alexandrowicz forces us to see the real faces of this legal system and the tragedy that is Israel and its occupied territories.
Imagine the bitterness of having your land stolen, houses torn down, property damaged by immigrants who settle in the so-called temporary housing and having to be judged under military law in a foreign language and sometimes without even knowing the charges or being able to face your accusers. The anger and bitterness must be overwhelming, fermenting for over four decades and between generations.
In Hebrew with English subtitles. “The Law in These Parts” is currently playing at the Laemmle NoHo 7. The movie will also screen in New York in January or you can book a screening or DVD.