The significance of the documentary Death In Gaza goes beyond historical value when reporter Saira Shah and director James Miller (Unholy War, Beneath the Veil) enter the war-torn town of Nablus. Their story takes on social consequence because of their focus on the youth of the town and how the fighting affects their choices to make war — or peace.
The desperation to make their cause known is seen early in the piece that will air on Home Box Office when the British journalists happen upon the aftermath of an explosion and the crowd is urged to move aside to allow the crew to film.
Central to the story are the lives and consciousness of three youngsters who live in the border town of Rafah: Ahmed and Mohammed, both 12; and Najla, 16.
On afternoons, the boys play with their friends a game they call “Arabs and Jews,” shooting at each other with homemade toy guns, replicating the daily fighting around them. When one is hit, the others rush to his care as he pleads with them to continue the fight and allow him to be “martyred.” The word is used interchangeably with “killed.”
Ahmed provides nighttime reconnaissance for the real paramilitaries, who each recall how they have lost a young brother to martyrdom.
They feel a collective brotherly love for Ahmed that is not transcended by their willingness to put him in danger because “there are thousands more” boys like him.
Though many are willing, the question of “why?” is prevalent when watching Najla and her younger sister sit on a bed of broken rocks using the fingers of both hands to name the young men in their family that have died. After they lose another, Najla’s younger sister confesses that though people warn her of the dangers of dying in the streets, she can only wish for it.
The children’s maturity and candor amidst a world seemingly ready to implode from its own hate is at the least, surprising, at most, heart-wrenching. It’s difficult to watch at times, with moments that grab at the viewer’s throat.
When the crew is trapped inside of Najla’s home under threat of attack by tanks, the inevitable happens and Miller ultimately sacrifices his life for his story. Unable to shoot the Israeli portion of his documentary, Miller became a martyr to his own cause.
Death In Gaza debuts on HBO Aug. 12 at 9:30 p.m., with replays throughout the month.