After spending five hours of my Saturday binge watching the HBO miniseries “Our Boys,” I am left feeling melancholic, heavy-hearted and torn. The show shares the story of the horrific kidnapping, burning and murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, following the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teen boys in 2014.
On the surface, “Our Boys” comments on various aspects of Israeli society, including gender roles, religion, mental illness, mob mentality and more. However, while the show’s commentary on these topics is nothing short of compelling, there are two additional themes that are more subtly conveyed: the cognitive dissonance experienced by Jews and Jewish responsibility and ownership.
Jews’ Cognitive Dissonance
When Mohammad’s kidnapping and murder makes the news, Israel’s investigators are still searching for those responsible, but it is unknown whether or not they are Jewish. Many of the characters comment on whether or not they believe the perpetrators are Jewish and the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jewish characters are convinced that the murderers are Arabs, because “a Jew could never do something so cruel.” I believe this ideology does not stem from a malicious, prejudiced view of Arabs, but rather from the belief that Jews are inherently good and incapable of inhumane, cold-blooded barbarity.
When it becomes clear that the murderous kidnappers are Jewish, Israeli society witnesses a moment of cognitive dissonance. This realization serves as a shattering of Israeli identity and its integral philosophies. The only Jewish main character that does not experience this troubling realization is Simon, the Israeli investigator of this crime. The creator’s choice to focus on this character’s reaction to the murder seems to highlight the idea that as Jews, we should be cautious in assuming that a Jew can never be the perpetrator of a crime or wrongdoing.
I found this intriguing because it tells the story of how one tragedy for the Jewish people can beget another tragedy; the loss of three Jewish boys in an act of terror, led to the tragedy of Jews engaging in the murder of a Palestinian boy, an utter desecration of Jewish values. The show’s commentary on how this event affected Jewish Israeli society was an awakening of deep contemplation and self-reflection.
Jewish Responsibility and Ownership
The cognitive dissonance experienced by Israelis in reaction to the discovery that Mohammed’s killers were Jews demonstrates that Israel takes responsibility for the actions of the Jewish people. The realization that the killers were Jewish would not be so disturbing if the nation did not feel a deep connection with them and responsibility for them. The realization that the murderers of Mohammed were Jewish only caused self-reflective and identity-shattering moments for the Israeli people, because the Jewish perpetrators were so deeply connected to the nation’s sense of self and identity.
The show kicks off with the news of the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish teens and the all of Israel is invested. The whole country mourns for the boys — “our boys.” There is a clip of Netanyahu’s speech telling the families of the boys that “Israel weeps with them,” and we clearly see that Israeli society takes ownership of these kidnapped Israeli boys. When Mohammad’s story leaks, however, while Israel takes on immense responsibility for his death, it takes no ownership of Mohammad. The Jewish voices in the show seem to mourn the loss of their ideology, but not the loss of the boy, Mohammed. The Israelis’ sense of responsibility for Mohammed’s death stems from their ownership of the Jews who killed Mohammad.
Meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, when Mohammad’s body is given to his father, an Arab Palestinian mob rips Mohammad’s body from his father’s very arms. His father desperately pleads for his son, and in response he is told that “he is no longer just your son.” This shows the Palestinian sense of ownership of Mohammad. The sense of ownership and responsibility each people feel to its own only ends up feeding into the intensity of the conflict and the politicization of all the deaths.
The name of the show itself, “Our Boys,” gives away its biggest theme. It wrestles with the root of the conflict. Who are ‘Ours?’ Its title provides the answer. They are all ours. Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah are ours. Mohammad Abu Kdhier is ours. Yosef Chaim Ben-David and his nephews are ours. They are all ‘Our Boys.’ Israel must mourn Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Mohammad Abu Kdhier as ours because they are ‘Our Boys.’
“Our Boys” is an extremely thought provoking, compelling and heart wrenching mini-series. It tells a snippet of a much longer story. It is impossible for any one source to tell the whole story. We have a long history, too long to tell it all at once. We shouldn’t expect to get the whole story from any one article, movie, book, show or mini-series. “Our Boys” does a phenomenal job of telling a small, but very much essential part, of a much longer story.
Thank you to the creators, Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu-Wael for a well spent five hours of my Saturday.
Please note that the opinions in this piece are presented solely by the author, and neither The New York Jewish Week nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
Naomi Kitchen is a junior at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.