Every now and then I recommend television which I think is worth watching, and I’m going to do so again today.
The first program is the movie “Red Sea Diving Resort” on Netflix. It tells the true story of how a small group of Israeli undercover agents worked to bring approximately 8000 Ethiopian Jews through Sudan to Israel. Recall that Sudan is an Arab country, but it borders Ethiopia and is on the Red Sea and thus accessible to the Israeli port of Eilat via ship. In order to cloak their efforts, the Israelis actually rented an unused dive resort from the Sudanese government and used it to stage their efforts and house the refugees who had walked hundreds of miles from Ethiopia to Sudan. When the effort was threatened with discovery, the United States stepped in and President Reagan authorized several military airlifts to get the remaining refugees from Sudan to Israel.
The movie has received some criticism for focusing on the Israeli rescuers and not the Ethiopian Jews themselves, but for whatever reason this is the story the filmmakers (led by Israeli director Gideon Raff, creator of Homeland), chose to tell. But the film reminds us why Israel exists and how American administrations of both parties have worked closely with Israel to ensure its security and its status as a haven for those who need it.
The second is a much less happy story and that is the ten part series “Our Boys” on HBO. First of all, in watching this I was reminded how accustomed I have become to watching streaming on-demand television and being able to binge watch all or most of a series. But “Our Boys” is being shown by HBO one episode at a time, with a new episode each week, and so I have only been able to see the first two episodes.
“Our Boys” is based on the events of the summer of 2014 in and around Jerusalem. As you recall, three Israeli teenagers, Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frankel, were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. Shortly after their bodies were discovered, some extremist Israeli settlers kidnapped a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and killed him by setting him on fire while he was still alive.
The first two episodes focused mostly on the family of the Palestinian teen, their anguish while he was missing, and the Israeli Security Services’ attempt to find him. At the point where the second episode stops, the body of Mohammed Abu Khdeir has been found but his parents have not been notified. The police say that it’s unthinkable to them that any Jew would have done such a thing, but the Shin Bet officer assigned to the case knows differently (as, of course, do we).
Some of this is painful to watch. The treatment of the Abu Khdeir family by the police was not always courteous or respectful. The series shows documentary footage of angry Israeli mobs rampaging through Jerusalem shouting “Death To Arabs.” I was not in Israel when these particular events happened. (I did go, as you may remember, a few weeks later when the war to which the events of earlier that summer led broke out.) But I was in Israel after a major terror attack in 1994 and witnessed at that time the same type of mobs and the same chants.
But we also know that Israel did find, prosecute, and convict the three men who murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Beyond that, as I was watching the show, which was written and produced by both Jewish and Arab Israelis and is in Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles, I was reminded of the fact that for all its flaws, Israel is a democracy with freedom of expression and a thriving creative community which by and large leans to the left politically.
It’s hard for me to imagine that any Arab country would have permitted the creation of a television series that humanizes Israeli Jews the way that “Our Boys” humanizes Palestinian Arabs. Israeli movies and television are great in part because they tend to show the full truth of Israel, warts and all; the good parts and the not-so-good parts, the parts which fill us with pride (a la “Red Sea Diving Resort”) and the parts which are troubling. A true democracy has nothing to hide.