HBO's Our Boys looks at killings of teens that ignited Gaza war

HBO's new docudrama series about the killings of four Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, violence which set off a cascade of events leading to the 2014 Gaza war, is set to air next week and is likely to reopen wounds on both sides of the conflict.

10-part series — co-produced by HBO and Israel's Keshet TV — premieres Aug. 12

Israeli film directors and screenwriters, Joseph Cedar, left, Hagai Levi, centre, and Tawfik Abu Wael speak about their new series, Our Boys, during an interview in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. (Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press)

HBO's new docudrama series about the killings of four Israeli and Palestinian teenagers — violence which set off a cascade of events leading to the 2014 Gaza war — is set to air next week and is likely to reopen wounds on both sides of the conflict.

Our Boys, co-created by Palestinian and Israeli filmmakers, presents a dramatized rendition of the chaotic events of that June following the abduction of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. The 10-part series — co-produced by HBO and Israel's Keshet TV, and premiering Aug. 12 — looks at the hatred and violence unleashed during one of the decades-old conflict's most frenzied periods.

In June 2014, Israeli teens Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah were abducted and killed by Palestinian militants outside a West Bank settlement. An extensive Israeli military search eventually located their remains over two weeks later. After the discovery, three Israelis kidnapped Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem, and burned him alive in the woods outside the city.

Israel launched a sweeping crackdown in the West Bank after the three teenagers went missing, and the Islamic militant group Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza in response to the arrests of hundreds of its members. In response, Israel launched a full-scale air and ground invasion of the coastal territory. The 51-day war killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, over half of them civilians, according to UN tallies. At least 73 people were killed on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.

The series was co-created by Joseph Cedar — twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Beaufort in 2007 and Footnote in 2011; Hagai Levi, whose Showtime series The Affair won a Golden Globe for best television drama in 2014; and Tawfik Abu Wael, a Palestinian citizen of Israel whose 2004 movie Thirst won a critics award at the Cannes film festival.

Our Boys will join the growing ranks of Israeli action dramas appearing on American television, following the success of Netflix's Fauda (Chaos), which is set to return for a third season, and The Red Sea Diving Resort, about a Mossad operation in Sudan that brought Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1980s.

Cedar said he and his colleagues approached the story with a "journalistic sensibility" when pre-production began in 2015. "We're trying to bring to the screen something that is as close as possible to the real events, or at least as we understand them."

Show creators Levi, from left, Cedar and Abu Wael, Avi Nir, executive producer and CEO of Keshet Media Group, and actor Shlomi Elkabetz participate in HBO's Our Boys panel at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour on July 24. (Richard Shotwell/Invision via AP)

'Hard for everyone'

A ceasefire on Aug. 26, 2014 halted hostilities between Israel and Hamas, but the years since have seen sporadic renewals of violence that threaten to drag the two sides back into full-blown war. Israel maintains a blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and the Islamic militant group still holds two civilian captives and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the war.

The show's creators acknowledge that any attempt to convey the suffering on both sides may be rejected at a time when lines have been hardened by decades of violence. Hamas and other militants have killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks targeting civilians over the years. The Palestinians and human rights groups say Israel often responds with excessive force and that it frequently fails to act when Israelis attack Palestinians.

"Let's be honest, we're going to be attacked from right, from left, from Arabs, from Jews," said Levi. "It's going to be hard for everyone."

"It's not the kind of show that is going to satisfy either the Israelis or the Palestinians," said Abu-Wael. But he said he hoped that it would "touch people and maybe change minds of people, at least a few of them."It's the first time HBO will run an original series in Hebrew or Arabic. The series, in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles, weaves archival news footage together with scenes filmed around Jerusalem to create a haunting reenactment of events.