New Israeli TV series follows lives of Palestinian security prisoners

‘Meggido’ director Itzik Lerner documented convicted terrorists for over a year, grappling with his own misgivings in the process, as he sought to gain a glimpse into their hearts

Palestinian security prisoner Abed al-Basat (Channel 2 screenshot)
Palestinian security prisoner Abed al-Basat (Channel 2 screenshot)

For most Israelis, the stories of captured Palestinian terror suspects are limited to what they hear in the news, and those stories generally end when the suspects are convicted and enter prison, to serve out their often-lengthy sentences.

But for those jailed for months and years — however questionable or vile their acts — life goes on. And while the public largely prefers to ignore the continued existence of the people it considers monsters, exist they do.

The lives and outlooks of security prisoners held in Israel’s Meggido Prison are explored in a new series to be broadcast on Israeli television. Created by director Itzik Lerner, “Meggido,” which will begin airing on Yes Docu on Wednesday, March 22, follows the approximately 1,000 Palestinians held at the facility in northern Israel, as well as the 300 Israelis who guard them.

Prisoners at the facility include people who planned attacks, those who assisted assailants, and some who have received multiple life sentences for their involvement in the murder of Israelis. All spoke to Lerner, who was given unprecedented access and practically lived with the prisoners for over a year, documenting their day-to-day routine.

מוכנים להיכנס לכלא? "מגידו", סדרת דוקו חדשה בת 3 פרקים על מה שקורה בבית הסוהר הכי שמור בישראל. פרק ראשון עכשיו ב-yesVOD ובערוץ yes דוקו מה- 22.3

Posted by ‎yes דוקו‎ on Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“I’m not looking for the political (aspects): ‘Jews are good, Arabs are bad’ or the other way around,” Lerner told Channel 2 Friday ahead of the series’ premier. “I’m looking for people’s hearts and I start from there.”

The series will focus on two characters: Prison administrator Benny Tayar and the man prisoners have elected as their representative with authorities, Hamas member Abed al-Basat.

Living together in close proximity, the prisoners and their guards inevitably develop a certain rapport — they must, as they negotiate daily matters relating to protocol and prisoners’ conditions.

Palestinian security prisoners pray together in a cell at Meggido Prison (Channel 2 screenhot)
Palestinian security prisoners pray together in a cell at Meggido Prison (Channel 2 screenhot)

“Life in prison is like a matchbox. We live in a matchbox, we and the management together,” al-Basat told Channel 2. “If we burn, we burn together…It is in the interest of both sides to maintain stability.”

Al-Basat said he agreed to cooperate with Lerner in the hope of showing Israelis “a different face of people they consider killers, terrorists…Maybe it’ll lead to a small change in their positions.”

Still, many of the prisoners have hardly renounced their animosity towards the Jewish state. Authorities conduct periodic raids on cells, sometimes finding notes with messages from terrorist leadership outside prison. And Israeli officials are keenly aware of the fact that placing hundreds of prisoners in close proximity, and with no shortage of time on their hands, could lead them to concoct new terror plots.

Itzik Lerner, director of the documentary series "Meggido," which follows the lives of Palestinian security prisoners (Channel 2 screenhot)
Itzik Lerner, director of the documentary series “Meggido,” which follows the lives of Palestinian security prisoners (Channel 2 screenhot)

Lerner admitted that living and speaking with people who had actively sought to harm his countrymen was not an easy task. At one point a prisoner is seen describing to him with a sheepish grin — as though recounting a slightly embarrassing flub — how he had agreed to carry out a suicide bombing but was caught before he could do the deed.

“It’s difficult to hear,” he said. “It was important for me to meet people who (carried out attacks) and to check if they felt any remorse for what they did.”

Lerner said he wrestled with the humanity of his subjects as it clashed with the reality of their actions, and eventually realized he had to “put aside that dilemma” in order to do his job.

He expressed hope that viewers too, when they tune in, would “put that dilemma aside for a moment” and approach his work with an open mind.

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