The documentary begins by showing the director, James Miller, who was killed while filming in Gaza. This serves the purpose of not only paying tribute, but capturing the interest of those otherwise unaffected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It makes the viewer, especially one who may be uninformed of the conflict, interested in a cause that was so important to a husband and father of two young children that he was willing to risk, and ultimately lose, his life to show it to the rest of the world.
The story is further deepened when the film proceeds to follow the conflict through the eyes of Palestinian children, the oldest being only sixteen. The generation these children are a part of is described by many, including the narrator, to be those who decide to make peace, or continue what seems to be a never-ending war. When the film begins, the children, despite being surrounded by tanks and guns, ruin and debris, seem to be no different than the children around the world. They play games similar to those in the U.S., although instead of Cops and Robbers they choose to call it Jews and Arabs. They kick soccer balls, think of excuses to tell their teachers when they are late to class, and want nothing more than to play and spend time with their friends.
It is quickly revealed, however, that the lives these children lead are in fact very different from those watching the documentary from their computer or television. These are children who have seen so many friends and relatives lose their lives in the battle for an independent Palestine that death is an everyday aspect of life. Funerals are as common to these children as mealtimes in other countries. The streets are lined with pictures of the deceased, or martyrs as the Palestinians call them. In fact, these deaths are no longer mourned, but rather celebrated as furthering of the cause, so much so that children look forward to martyrdom. Many have already written letters to their families in case they are killed, including a boy, Abdul Sattar, who is only eleven years old. Others quickly join Palestinian insurgent groups and militias, acting as lookouts and assembling hand grenades when they are not throwing stones at Israeli tanks and bulldozers.
Despite the vivid and brutal scenes of Gaza the film captures, the documentary delves into a much deeper issue, the mentality of these children. It is surprising to see that these children can speak with an innocence so characteristic of childhood about things such as friends and school, but in only seconds can exude developed, adult hatred and abhorrence towards Israelis. One of the boys, only twelve years old, tells the interviewer that he hates fighting and wants to be friends with everyone, the way he is with his best friend, except with the Jews. This mentality is blatantly obvious in a young girl named Ayyah, who is no more than five years old. She speaks of the only time she saw the sea with a sense fondness and simplicity that is so often seen in children. However, when asked about the Israelis, she immediately displays hostility and revulsion, calling them sons of dogs.
The mentality these Palestinian children have is so mystifying and peculiar, yet familiar at the same time. It is unimaginable to most to think of children so young having such anger towards a group of people, yet the mindset is similar to issues facing our own society, such as racism and prejudice. It can be partially attributed to the teachings of their parents and the generations before them, but is justified to these children every time they see a friend lose a life, an Israeli tank shoot them with bullets in return for their stones, or when a bulldozer continues to push them further away from home. A large theme throughout the documentary is whether or not this generation will choose to make peace or continue making war, and it serves the purpose of engaging the viewer in the debate of whether the desire for peace and inherent friendliness of these children will ever overcome the rooted hatred and thirst for violence.
While the documentary does an excellent job of showing the Palestinian viewpoint, it does not even touch on that of the Israelis. Though the narrator attributes this one-sided argument to the death of the director, it still does not accurately show the entire scope of a two-sided battle. Had Death in Gaza shown the Israeli vantage point, be it through the eyes of children or the soldiers manning the tanks Palestinian children often attack with rocks and stones, it would have better served the purpose of shedding light on a very relevant issue that has caused devastation upon many. In addition, the film itself took what can be interpreted as a harsh tone on the Israelis. The narrator was often sarcastic in her remarks, often asking why Israeli soldiers returned stones with bullets, or destroyed entire neighborhoods searching for suspected smuggling tunnels. While these are applicable and substantiated questions, without engaging in the Israeli viewpoint the film tends to portray the Palestinians as merely victims, rather than one side of a heated conflict.
Regardless, Death in Gaza accomplishes the goal of bringing attention to a struggle that impacts so many, yet is often overlooked by a majority of the populous not directly affected. It shows the everyday consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through children who one can easily relate to themselves or those they know. The documentary further intrigues the viewer by showing the violence and death in these childrens lives, and asks one to question whether their mentality towards the Israelis will only lead to further war and destruction. While the documentary seems incomplete without both sides of the argument, it does bring forth the interest and attention of all who watch it.