The film chronicles Israel’s 43-year military “legal system” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The story unfolds through interviews with the architects of this “legal system” juxtaposed with historical footage showing the enactment of these laws upon the Palestinian population. Unique and powerful documentary. Basically a bunch of talking heads; but what they (the architects of the Palestinian occupation) admit to in these interviews is not only amazing but actually criminal.
I can’t believe they got the people who actually setup this apartheid system in Palestine to admit on camera their crimes. And we’re not talking low level people in the Israeli government here, we’re talking the very lawmakers, prime ministers and military judges who presided over the military courts in the territory Israel annexed during the 6 day war.
Hearing this description, one could assume the film would be dry and academic, but the ideas beneath what is being quietly discussed are so powerful and disturbing that the film works as a kind of documentary theater piece.
By focusing on one specific aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli filmmaker Alexandrwicz gives a deeper sense of the legal and moral hypocrisy and inhumanity of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians than many wider ranging and flashier documentaries. By simply having these judges try to explain the odd military justice applied to the native people of the land Israel occupied, and how the courts kept bending and twisting both words and international law to justify their actions, (for example, under the Geneva conventions, an occupying nation is not allowed to move civilians from their country into the occupied land. So how to make the settlements legal? The Israeli supreme court simply changed the wording, saying that henceforth the territories were no longer ‘occupied’ but ‘held’. As if changing the word could justify the behavior – even though just about every Judge uses the term ‘occupied territory’ in the film.) One is left with a sad and sickening feeling.
As these judges admit to knowing that an accused had been tortured into confessions, that not only the accused but even the judges themselves were often not allowed to know the details of the case and the accusations, that the judges had to simply take the word of the army prosecutors, since just about everything was labeled ‘classified’, it’s hard not to see echoes of the recent legal overreach in America towards accused terrorists.
The personalities of the judges are fascinating as well. Some clearly feel guilt about their actions, other ambivalence, others are defensive, and yet others seem so sociopathic that they miss just how twisted and sad their self-justification sounds. Whatever you feel about the incredibly complex middle east situation, where there is plenty of guilt on all sides, this film is a powerful indictment of when the supposed ‘rule of law’ instead becomes a cudgel to control a people, and justify questionable policy. Watching this movie I was reminded of how both the segregationist United States and apartheid South Africa acted toward the people they were occupying and the apathetic attitudes they displayed towards those people on the one hand, while proclaiming democracy and freedom on the other. Ironically both allies of Israel. Hypocrisy anyone?