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Tears of Gaza is a strange bird, a documentary that has a total grasp of its subject—the suffering of Gazans, particularly children, during Operation Cast Lead—but is almost defiant in its lack of context. Focusing on the 22 days when the IDF launched a devastating military campaign in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Tears of Gaza presents some of the most extraordinary footage of urban combat that I’ve ever seen. Its scenes of people scouring the rubble of apartment buildings and languishing in bloody hospital emergency rooms are difficult to watch. The smoke from bomb detonations, mixing with the dust of collapsed buildings, fills the screen like an apocalyptic weather event.

But Tears of Gaza, which is screening this week in New York, offers no background material about the nature of the conflict, such as that Israel launched an air and ground campaign against Hamas in response to repeated rocket fire against towns near the Gaza strip. Some characters in the film make mention of the economic blockade, but it’s otherwise unexamined. Nor is there discussion about the Goldstone inquiry and the controversy it engendered. We also don’t learn that Operation Cast Lead, while a particularly destructive and deadly campaign, can be seen as part of a cycle of tit-for-tat violence between the IDF and militant groups in Gaza. The word “Hamas” goes similarly unspoken.

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