Film Review: The Law in These Parts

A must-see documentary about the questionable laws, enforcement and justice at work in Israel’s occupied zones, where an apparent double standard and parallel system are imposed on the densely packed Palestinian occupants in the name of security.

The Law in These Parts, from Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, is the latest evidence that this filmmaker is a tireless researcher and that the stalemate and violence in the Middle East must end. For all viewers concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian “troubles” of more than four decades, the documentary, offering candid answers from a handful of top brass retirees in the Israeli military and judicial system, is also packed with archival material conveying important news events and often damning footage of Israel’s treatment of their adversaries.

Already enthusiastically embraced in Israel, the film also suggests that it’s not just liberal Jews and politically engaged citizens everywhere who are frustrated as hell at the stalled, so-called “peace process,” but also Israeli natives, no doubt countless Palestinians and a perplexed world. Alexandrowicz’s strong purpose, remarkable access to former big guns in Israel’s military and judicial arena, and deep research make a powerful statement—if not, in the long run, a difference.

The situation presented in The Law in These Parts isn’t quite a Wild West in Israel’s West Bank or Gaza occupied zones, but a different kind of justice and law prevail—one for the Palestinians and the other for the ever-growing Israeli settlers moving onto the lands. The zones are a result of Israel’s Six-Day War victory over Palestine in 1967. But the Jewish state’s win has become a catastrophic lose-lose situation wherein the defeated Palestinians have been noticeably stripped of their land, their normal means of earning a living, and, ironically, literally walled in ghetto-style with military checkpoints for entry and exit. For their 1967 war spoils, the Israelis have become victims of retaliatory terrorist acts, bombings and the lingering threat of same.

The doc conveys the harsh realities: Israeli settlements are increasing in the occupied territories and even as Israelis and Palestinians live (almost) side by side, the laws favor the former in what amounts to parallel systems of justice in force. The Israeli military engages in (and gets away with) torture during interrogations as it tries to control Palestinian violence. The doc also serves up plenty of footage showing the Palestinians with stones as weapons and the Army sporting guns and often roughing up their adversaries.

What complicates matters is that Israeli authorities’ rationale for the country’s questionable laws (and notion of justice) is, understandably and rightfully, a concern for security: The Palestinian violence originating in the occupied territories is a very real and ongoing threat.

The doc’s interviewees, all retirees who oversaw the occupied territories in a variety of military, legal and judicial capacities at the highest levels, comprise former Israeli Army brigadier generals, colonels, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and even one former president of the Supreme Court. All handle Alexandrowicz’s unsparing questions as good sports and inspire the question of why in the first place did they agree to participate in such a critical documentary probe.

Depending on the individual, these former insiders are often confident and forthcoming. But several betray bad consciences, discomfort, arrogance, paranoia, a disturbing nationalistic bent, equivocations about the clash of law and justice and the fact that the system in place does not treat Israelis and Palestinians equally. Often they reveal their own flaws and, doing nothing to soften the reputation of lawyers everywhere, the flaws of their former professions.

By the tone of his voice and the way he casts his challenging questions, Alexandrowicz, who is heard off screen grilling his interviewees, makes clear his biases against what passes for law and justice in the occupied territories and his passion to right wrongs. Also clear is the amount of work he put into his film, but there was a lot of help from the outside from innumerable foundations, government and broadcast funding, the Sundance Institute, etc.

Winner of numerous top festival awards, the film does not present a compelling solution, but neither do many other docs (the current 5 Broken Cameras and Sony Pictures Classics’ upcoming The Gatekeepers, to name two) and narrative fiction features like Cohen Media’s current The Other Son or the award-winning 2008 Lemon Tree that tackle the same problem. On the downside, what The Law in These Parts may bring to mind is that film does not stop wars; even arguably the greatest of anti-war classics, Grand Illusion, gave way only a few years later to World War II.

But on the upside, the doc forces dialogue about a problem that plagues not just the Middle East but reverberates across the globe with Muslim anger. It continues a universal conversation that too often fails to speak to human nature.