As Americans, we enjoy violence and war in our entertainment. Some would say we enjoy violence and war in general, but when we think about these topics, it’s typically involving soldiers and other honored combatants. It’s rare that civilians are ever considered. Tears of Gaza highlights that often overlooked aspect of war and pokes it in the eyes of anyone willing to gawk to remind them that there is a very real, very human and very innocent cost when nations resort to violence. The visuals aren’t pretty, but they aren’t meant to be. Unfortunately, it’s also a little incoherent.
In late 2008 and early 2009, Israel initiated Operation Cast Lead and launched a sustained attack on the Palestinian city Gaza. Many civilians were wounded, maimed or killed. Of the multitudes that were injured, the film focuses on three children, Amira, Razmia and Yahya. They have all experienced unbelievable loss and live ruined lives. For them, every day going forward is a waking nightmare.
Tears of Gaza is unrelenting misery for the majority of the film. The three children truly live pitiful lives. Amira was made lame following an attack. Razmia sleeps on the floor of a tent, wishing she could have more water. Yahya laments the loss of his father. Misery and hatred of the Israelis and the West bonds the children even though they don’t share the screen much. The film doesn’t solely focus on these children, however. Instead, viewers get to spend time in emergency rooms as doctors try to save those they can, and viewers listen to a man describe how his baby girl was burned right in front of him and survived. He picks her up to show how disfigured she became. Even happy moments, like a wedding, are blunted when the groom talks about the people he wished could be there, but can’t because they’re dead. Finally, audiences will see bombed out buildings, people with arms and legs having been freshly blown off, and dead children.
It’s the violence that’s truly unsettling. Even though American films look for new and exciting ways to eviscerate human beings, Americans don’t want to see real people dying – especially if those people are children. Yet, the violence and gore aren’t any worse than what any enterprising individual can find in the darker parts of the Internet. The flesh on some explosion victims looks like freshly ground beef, so viewers with weak stomachs should probably close their eyes during those moments.
Impressively, the footage is shot very well. The Palestinian camera crew really went above and beyond to capture the destruction of property and human lives. It’s as close to war as any civilian can be without actually being in it. Not every shot feels organic, however, and some scenes seem right out of a reality television show. In one instance, Yahya rummages through the rubble of an obliterated building, rooting for bric-a-brac in the dead of night. Yet, even in an area with little to no electricity, Yahya is lit beautifully, and not by a light mounted to the camera. That means someone took the time to set up proper lighting, accounting for shadows and exposure. Documentaries often use dramatizations to illustrate how a past event possibly occurred, but presenting an obviously directed moment as something presently happening felt odd and unnecessary.
The biggest issues audiences should have with Tears of Gaza are the lack of context and incoherence in the presentation. First, the film doesn’t really explain why Gaza is being attacked. The filmmakers present a couple of title cards in the beginning to point out that the aggressors are Israeli and that the victims are mostly Palestinian women and children. The three young subjects of the film are introduced, civilian life in Gaza is depicted, and then the devastation begins. There’s no mention of why the attack is happening or who the targets are. The message here is that Israel’s sole purpose was to murder women and children. Second, the film frequently jumps around in its own timeline, so much so that the presentation gets confusing at times. If a viewer happens to look away when the film pops up the date of the current stretch of footage, he or she will need a few moments to orient themselves.
One of the more universal truths is that a person shouldn’t watch sausage being made. The same can be said about how wars are fought. The conversation people should have should be about whether or not they would stop eating sausage or supporting wars if they saw what was going on during the process of either. Tears of Gaza only contributes only a little to this discussion, because it only presents the sausage-making for the sake of making sausages, but it’s a very important part of the dialogue nonetheless.