“Order and justice don’t always go hand in hand.” Those are the words of an Israeli judge in Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s documentary The Law In These Parts, which attempts to explain—and understand—how the Israeli seizing of Palestinian-occupied territory became accepted practice, and not a national outrage. Mixing together archival footage and new interviews with lawyers and judges who’ve been involved with Israeli law since the ’60s, Alexandrowicz documents the slippery slope of “security measures,” tracing how laws originally drafted to protect the Israeli population from Palestinian violence later turned outright oppressive, denying people of their human rights as recognized under international law. The fundamental dilemma for the courts: How to treat people who live in their country, but aren’t considered citizens.
One of these “non-persons”—a Palestinian teenager who’d been in an earlier documentary—inspired Alexandrowicz to make The Law In These Parts. He traces the roots of the injustice back to a turbulent time, and gets the people involved with setting up the system to explain how a makeshift, wartime tribunal became established practice, mainly because it was “working,” and would’ve been too complicated to replace. Alexandrowicz grills his subjects, asking them to justify their actions without resorting to slippery legalisms. In essence, he’s putting them on trial, in what he recognizes is a weak kind of justice, given what some of the Palestinian convicts he cites have been through.
There’s an unnecessary meta element to The Law In These Parts, as Alexandrowicz acknowledges the artificiality of cinema and admits that the facts he includes in this movie are as selectively chosen as the evidence in a courtroom. But while his evidence won’t surprise anyone who’s paid even the slightest bit of attention to what’s been going on Israel for the last four decades, the direct inquiries into who should be classified as a “soldier” and who is a “terrorist” is bracing—and relevant to more than just the Israelis. As a documentarian, Alexandrowicz is sympathetic to how people take positions first and justify them later, but he still gets these judges to admit that politicians punted the issue of how to handle the Palestinians to the courts, who deferred to the military rather than operating independently. As one judge sadly, chillingly puts it: “It’s very hard to shake off the feeling that you’re serving a system.”