On HBO tonight, you can watch a 14-year-old boy die. When we first see
Salem al-Shaer, in the documentary “Death in Gaza,” he is being taken from
an ambulance, still conscious, still able to raise his head. In the
hospital, doctors roll him over, revealing blood-soaked sheets, and find a
bullet wound in his back. He was shot, we’re told, after throwing stones at
an Israeli bulldozer.
“I can’t bear it,” he says, crying as the doctors implore him not to move.
He dies six hours later and is buried, by hand, in a sandy grave in the
Gaza Strip. His death is celebrated as another martyrdom in the resistance
against Israeli occupation.
It’s a waste, an infuriating waste of a child, and an almost unbearable
several minutes in this unbearably wrenching film. It might feel
voyeuristic, a boy dying as cameraman James Miller moves in close to record
it all — the physical pain of the young man, the emotional pain of his
mother, the exhaustion and tempered anger visible in the faces of the
doctors — but for one thing. Miller himself is killed shortly after he
filmed this scene, also by an Israeli bullet, also in Gaza. Not showing
Salem’s death would have turned this into a movie about the movie maker,
the risks he took and the consequences he suffered. Showing it, on the
other hand, both justifies those risks and gives the title — “Death in
Gaza” — a broader, sadder, more encompassing meaning