The conception of The Law in These Parts can be traced back to another film, a documentary called The Inner Tour that I completed a decade ago.
One of the things that happens when you make nonfiction cinema is that you touch people’s lives with your camera, and at the same time, your life is touched by the people and reality you document. In mid-2004, I got a phone call telling me that Ahmad S., a boy who had just turned 16 and was one of the barely-seen participants in The Inner Tour, had been taken from his home in the middle of the night by masked Israeli soldiers. Ahmad was charged with throwing stones at a military Jeep and was held in a maximum-security prison. After confessing during the interrogation, a remand hearing in a military court was scheduled for Ahmad. His family members asked that I attend with them.
For the first time in my life, I found myself in an Israeli military courtroom, witnessing the mechanism with which my society purports to administer justice to Palestinian residents of the territories we have occupied since 1967. This event profoundly changed my understanding of the situation in which I live.
There were many striking differences between trials I had seen in regular civilian courts in Israel and Ahmad’s military trial, but the thing that disturbed me most was that I was witnessing a supposedly legal procedure, an effort to bring a “criminal” to trial, something that I, like any law-abiding citizen in a democratic state, usually support. But there was one major problem: This 16-year-old boy was not part of the society that was indicting and convicting him. Neither Ahmad nor his parents had any democratic way of influencing the law under which he was now being tried: the law of occupation, the same law that enabled an Israeli settlement to be erected on their family lands. Everyone was “playing along,” but the truth was that Ahmad and his family didn’t really think that he had truly committed a crime by resisting a military occupation. Ahmad was the subject of a legal proceeding, but the concepts of justice and law, words that were repeated again and again during the trial, belonged to someone else.
After seven and a half months, Ahmad’s trial ended. The judge ruled that the time he had spent in prison for the period of the proceedings would suffice as a punishment for what he had done. These seven months led me to try to understand the law of occupation.
I began reading the archived legal material published from the beginning of the occupation in 1967 until today. The more laws, orders, trial records and appeals I read, the better I understood how the system actually works and how it developed over the years. I was gaining what I felt was an almost unknown perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its evolution over the last 45 years. I decided to try to represent this perspective in the form of cinema.
The military law and justice system functions as a parallel system to the one to which I am subject, though both are implemented by the same state. That system applies to people who, in fact, live in the same territory with regular citizens but are defined legally as a population under occupation. It is probably one of the most significant contradictions in Israeli democracy. And this contradiction is plainly visible, but somehow it is hidden from the public eye. In The Law in These Parts, I attempted to provide a clear view of the historical and social evolution of this contradiction and the way it functions today, in order to show the price a Western democracy pays for this kind of inconsistency.
Translating my research into a film was the most complicated cinematic challenge I have ever faced. I searched for a structure, a point of view and a cinematic form that would engage the audience in this journey into the heart of Israel’s moral quandary—and the basic universal questions that it raises. Following my research, I actually had the unique chance to interview some of the people who wrote, developed and implemented the law of the occupation. I decided that it was my responsibility to look at the issue not from the perspective the victims of the occupation, but rather to find a way to tell the story of the creation and evolution of a the system itself, this in effort to try to and understand how it is that we all participate in the creation of such systems and rationalize them.
— Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Director