Friday, July 25, 2014

What's THE LAW IN THESE PARTS, Honestly?

THE LAW IN THESE PARTS, in a certain sense, is a perfect companion to THE GATEKEEPERS.  Both trace the history of the post-June 1967 Occupation from the perspective of an institution that actualizes the Palestinian way of life, here the legal code created by the IDF to control the land and its people.  Both tell their stories using unimpeachable interviewees, in this case former IDF legal advocates that developed the individual laws down to the most minute details.  But, unlike THE GATEKEEPERS, the film makers are less inclined towards false pathos and wishy-washy apologias.  The film makers utilize the notion of questioning the very reality of documentary itself so to maintain a certain kind of apathetic objectivity that was almost impossible for GATEKEEPERS to establish.  As such, while being far less technically innovative, this film certainly outshines Moreh's work in several regards.
The interview subjects themselves seem as if they perhaps were unaware of what they were dealing with when they agreed to their interviews.  Throughout the film, they shift uncomfortably in their seats, look away, or turn stone faced to the inquiries, until finally one subject, a former Supreme Court Justice, begins to dismiss questions as 'Leninism'.  By the close of the film, it is clear they have all been slightly annoyed with posing against a green screen answering what seems like endless technical questions.
But then the film makers add another element that brings the true power to the film.  Replacing the green screen background with archival film and video of the Occupation's history, the various judges sit, almost overlooking yet again, the circumstances and issues that brought the cases before them they reminisce about.  However, because the audience both knows they can only see this imagery and the judges cannot, the trick is really played on the judges.  After years of disallowing basic norms in their courtrooms, or so they say, the judges are retroactively judged for the results of their actions without being presented with all the elements being introduced into their judgement.  In this sense, the film makers reverse a certain kind of action used by the judicial system for decades against the Palestinians.
From the first legal decision, that the Palestinians did now qualify as POWs, until today, these men have been responsible for determining the fate of an entire ethnicity, and yet they are stubborn, refusing to see the connections.  In one instance, a former advocate explains how, by utilizing an arcane notion of land rights originally developed under the Ottoman Empire, he was able to actualize every hope and dream of Ariel Sharon, who at the time was charged with agricultural development of the West Bank.  Despite the questions and the obvious direction they are leading to, the judge remains merely bemused when asked to consider how his simplistic suggestion ended up accelerating the crisis towards a higher plane of violence.
What makes THE LAW IN THESE PARTS a fundamentally more honest documentary is the objective disconnect Moreh was unable to actualize in GATEKEEPERS.  It is to the credit of the film makers, especially in regards to such a contentious subject, that this disconnect can be maintained.  It is my hope that, perhaps in watching these two films in tandem, a more honest view of what Israeli society enforces on those it occupies.  Perhaps the most telling moment is when the interviewer asks one judge "What do you think Israelis would say or do if they were put under the military laws that govern the Palestinians?"  Although the answer is obvious to everyone, the judge waffles out of the question, saying it is too hypothetical to be considered legitimately.  This is where the true nature of the Occupation becomes clear; it is not that Israelis are unaware, it is that they conscientiously ignore these questions so to avoid a burden of guilt.

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