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Documentary unveils dark underbelly of Israeli law

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.


“The Law In These Parts,” directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, details the legal system put in place after the 1967 war, in which Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began. It’s a situation, which, at least in the case of the West Bank, perseveres to this day. Although the Israeli presence has been examined from a vast array of angles, this particular look is groundbreaking and fearless in its approach.

In the documentary, Alexandrowicz spends hours interviewing the military officials who served as judges in the military courts that handled the concerns of the Palestinian people. It’s a system entirely separate from the Israeli courts that served, as the film argues, to legitimize an abusive system that compromised the human rights of thousands.

In his discussion following the film, Alexandrowicz touched on issues of controversy surrounding the film. He discussed having broached it to those who wanted to take part in a more neutral film than the final portrayal and shared that around half of those interviewed were ultimately unhappy with the final product. Alexandrowicz, who is an Israeli native, has created a film that fearlessly presents an unexplored sea of potential abuse that has not, by any means, been widely supported, though he presents the film to audiences fully knowing that not all will approve or agree.

Throughout the film, Alexandrowicz raises some very touchy questions with regard to the legal dealings between the Israeli military and the Palestinian people. Much of the central issues regarded the use of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and the ways the government looked to build these settlements without overtly disobeying international laws regarding warfare.

In dealing with a truly grim reality, “The Law In These Parts” walks a fine line between documentation and art. The film is presented primarily as a series of interviews, often over footage and images of courtrooms and uprisings. Visually, it is a tricky concept, because much of the film simply depicts men sitting in a chair, sometimes as images flash on a green screen behind them—but often merely the men, former military judges who served in Palestine. This potentially bland visual scheme, however, did nothing to lower the incredible quality of the film, with stirring images mixed in that served to complement and drive home some heavy points as the judges or narrator spoke over them.

“The Law In These Parts” does not hesitate to utilize visual symbolism: as in many instances, gruesome images of war and pain are partially hidden behind the empty desk and chair in which, in other scenes, interviewees would sit. This emphasizes the way abuses were hidden and overruled by the legal system. In many cases, the filmmaker also refers to his subjects as protagonists, an interesting artistic choice given that the documentary does not strictly tell a story. Rather, it chronicles a mode of governance that has now endured for a grand total of 45 years. These artistic choices help alleviate some of the potential for dryness in the documentary’s chosen form. One particular moment in which an artistic decision was used to drive home a difficult point was when a particular judge discussed situations in which he was presented evidence regarding certain cases. He was given a paraphrasing of the evidence, rather than openly shown it in the traditional sense of due process. If there was any doubt in the mind of the viewer that this is not an abuse, the narrator begins a voiceover during a shot of the studio in which the interview was held, pointing out that the conversation lasted three hours and that only small segments were used—a paraphrase, so that in theory, the narrator could tell whatever story he wanted to. This was an extremely poignant moment, as the filmmaker ironically challenges the legitimacy of his own creation to make his point.

Following the screening, Alexandrowicz engaged in a question and answer session with the audience. The director was refreshingly open, taking controversy in stride in a way that is rare and challenging with such an emotionally charged issue. He encouraged more open conversation with regard to the challenges of Israeli presence in Gaza and the West Bank, a refreshing perspective on such a politically-oriented issue.