TV has gone to some dark historical places, but a newly announced series will be mining a very recent, exceedingly violent conflict whose figurative and literal wounds remain raw. Deadline has announced that HBO has just given a 10-episode order for a series about the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, and presumably, from the description, about the ensuing IDF operations — “Operation Brother’s Keeper” and “Operation Protective Edge” — the latter of which included the bombing of the Gaza Strip and saw the death of an estimated 2,220 Palestinians (the majority of whom were civilians) and an estimated 70 Israelis (five of whom were civilians.) We don’t know to what extent these actions are depicted: HBO just says that the show “dramatizes the tragic torrent of violence that followed the disappearance of, and intensive search for, three Israeli teens during the summer of 2014.”
The show’s main character is, per Deadline’s description, an investigator in the Shin Bet — Israel’s equivalent to the FBI — who’s dealing with “the ramifications of violent reactions on both sides of the escalating conflict” leading to a “confrontation that undermines his faith and worldview” in a “dramatic conflict between his values and the actions of those closest to him.” The series comes from The Affair and In Treatment‘s Hagai Levi, in collaboration with Israeli Media Company Keshet International, with Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar — who won the Cannes Film Festival Screenplay award in 2011 for his film Footnote — directing, and former HBO President Michael Lombardo producing. In a series about such a sensitive subject, the ideal would be the participation of voices who at least understand both sides of the conflict on a personal level.
But from initial information that’s been shared, it seems like this program comes from a mostly Israeli perspective — which is in keeping with the way most of the Israel/Palestine conflict is portrayed to the larger world. Many Israeli artists depict the conflict and the occupation with sensitivity and appropriate pathos, but the missing voices of those on the ravaged Gaza strip in particular create a gaping hole in our artistic understanding of the region. In what’s been shared thus far, there’s nothing to suggest that the show helps undo this trend — although there’s some hope, given that both In Treatment and The Affair specialize in showing both sides of much smaller, more intimate situations.
Film and TV can, if created sensitively, examine fraught real-life histories, tragedies, and injustices from a far more nuanced, human and revelatory perspective than the news. Of course, the more complex the issue — and the more one-sided the telling of it can be — the harder it is to do that. One of the things that shocked people so much about American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson was the ways it acknowledged how race and gender played into the tug-of-war of perceptions within the O.J. Simspon trials. Rather than the tawdry affair one might have expected a Ryan Murphy FX show about the trials to be, it proved more knowledgable about its subjects — fictionalized, and removed as it was by nearly two decades — than the news had been. Perhaps this forthcoming series will manage that feat— but it’s hard not to punctuate this post with an uncomfortable question mark… ?