Review: The Law in These Parts
By Jonathan Robbins on 11.13.2012
Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts is an exacting and heartfelt examination of the Israeli military’s legal system under which Palestinians in the West Bank have lived since the occupation began in 1967. Thoughtful, thorough, and powerfully persuasive, the film is organized around Alexandrowicz’s tense one-on-one interviews with nine former Israeli military judges responsible for adjudicating in the West Bank, interspersed with documentary footage of the social unrest that has occurred there over the past 40-plus years. Leveraging seemingly unfettered one-on-one access to these intimidating men—including the stony-faced former president of Israel’s Supreme Court—The Law in These Parts alternates between conversations with the judges and footage of what Alexandrowicz, in first-person voiceover, deems the consequences of their decisions: confusion, rage, and terrorism.
Each of the nine judges takes a turn sitting across a desk from Alexandrowicz as he fires questions about the viability, both moral and practical, of imposing a separate set of laws on an occupied territory for nearly 50 years, and asks them to consider whether, with the benefit of hindsight, they are satisfied with their own legal decisions. These men are accustomed to providing imperfect solutions to intractable problems, and only a couple offer more than a legal opinion. Some answer matter-of-factly, others are dismissive or wax philosophical (“only history can judge”). One judge, asked to read aloud a death sentence he had handed down many years earlier, begins to cry, and still another angrily declares that the legal system in the occupied territories is broken, volunteering that he knew torture was occurring during the first Intifada.
During the course of the director's conversations with the judges, the extent of the preparatory research that went into these interviews becomes apparent. Alexandrowicz successfully jousts with his subjects, wielding equal parts legal savvy and chutzpah. The film does get bogged down in legalistic exchanges at one point, but for such a deeply felt and argued documentary, a few tractionless moments are readily forgivable. A political but generally non-polemical film, The Law in These Parts is a powerful piece of advocacy that sets its rhetorical iron sights on average Israelis, as Alexandrowicz implicitly (and at times explicitly) asks, “Can Israel allow the occupation to continue as it has and still call itself a democracy?”
There is no shortage of European-funded Israeli documentaries making the festival and art-house rounds and angrily putting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank under the microscope, but The Law in These Parts stands out as a paragon.