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By Mark Bell | January 21, 2012

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has long been a complicated and divisive issue. I’m not going to pretend that I understand it entirely, and I’m definitely not going to pretend that I can speak authoritatively about it. However, after having seen The Law In These Parts, I have more of an understanding of some aspects, and a grasp of a disturbing and sad logic, that may have contributed to the continuing unrest in the region.

Simply, the documentary investigates how the occupation relied on a legal foundation for its justification worldwide, and explores both the lawyers and judges who contributed to that foundation, as well as the consequences to a scenario where the occupied are ruled by a military law separate from that which governs the occupiers; a situation further complicated when the occupiers become active residents in the region, and the lines between the two muddy while the legal system slowly breaks down under its own hypocrisy.

There’s a moment in the film where the thought that “order and justice don’t always go hand in hand” is expressed, and I feel therein lies the crux of the initial problems. The legal framework was meant to keep order in the region, but not necessarily in a way that is just for the occupied. Further examples of injustices whereupon legal justification is imposed after-the-fact, in a form of law offering credibility to unjust actions, further shows how what was supposed to be a simple solution for a smooth legal transition in an occupied region got more and more out of hand as the years went on.

This is not an easy film to watch or follow, and it truly makes you think. At times there is an arrogance to the lawmakers, who seem to find joy in the creative ways they circumvent their own laws to fit a situation that would otherwise be illegal (seizing land from the occupied and then using that land for new, commercial settlements, for example). Other times there is a practical-minded, almost exasperated grasp of a scenario that was never supposed to go on as long as it has; their laws were meant to keep order in a short term occupation, not for 40 years.

In a clever move, the filmmakers continually remind you that you are indeed watching a documentary entirely within their editorial control. As lawmakers use legalese and technicalities to fit the laws to justify actions after-the-fact, so too does the documentary attempt to exemplify this method by pointing out that we’re only getting the perspective that they want us to have. It raises a healthy questioning of the documentary form, getting one in the mindset needed to additionally question laws and methods that have long been justifying themselves, one international incident at a time.

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