Situating itself in the titular old city of Jerusalem, the show chases stories of unrest across the narrow alleys of the contested hotbed. It, however, fails to catch a shot at meaningful storytelling and stumbles through four episodes of a police-procedural cliché.
A man falls into his own toilet after the floor gives way, and that’s how Jerusalem begins. The local police find themselves in a tight spot as investigations reveal an underground excavation to be the culprit behind the nuisance. To understand why this seemingly innocuous incident springs multiple plotlines, it is key to understand the identities of the characters involved. It is a Muslim whose house collapses after a Jew excavated the ground below the house to expand the Yeshiva (a Jewish religious educational institution) he runs.
Shira (Rotem Sela), a new recruit, is immediately cornered in a narrow alley as unrest breaks out between the two groups who blame each other for the man getting injured. Jerusalem repeats this plotline multiple times as an incident quickly spills over to engulf alleyways with communal disharmony.
The Jerusalem police, meanwhile, focuses its efforts on maintaining what it calls a “status quo”— a negotiated and enforced peace between the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians living in the city. The incident takes place ten days before a major Jewish holiday, that happens to coincide with a major Islamic holiday.
Director: Ilan Aboody
Cast: Rotem Sela, Doron Ben-David, Zvika Hadar, Makram Khoury, Anastasia Fein, Hisham Suliman, Ala Dakka, and others
Storyline: When two important Jewish and Muslim religious holidays coincide, Jerusalem police race against time to maintain peace in the old walled city.
A status quo therefore also entails that Amir (Doron Ben-David), a high-ranking police officer, blackmails the city planner to shut down the Yeshiva to maintain the simple facade of law and order. However, the police are not the lone player in the city and they soon find themself racing against time to curb another violent episode from stemming.
Director Ilan Aboody weaves in numerous factual cases to play out a cascading sequence of criminal events. In the second episode, tensions between two Christian denominations bubble up as the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, of which two Muslim families are in charge, get stolen.
Modern-day Jerusalem stands on top of a mountain of complex history teeming with intricate relationships. It has plenty to offer to create a mosaic of a plot, and Aboody honours that whenever he introduces a new set of characters or squeezes in another layer to the story. He also manages to convey the paucity of land in an adequate manner, where the cinematography heightens the effect of many different groups staking claim over the walled city.
But, by the time he sees his efforts to the conclusion point, the tale has been papered over to make way for a story that borrows its plot from cliched sensationalist headlines. While the police officers, who happen to be Jewish, are shown to be committing the same type of moral offences as Muslim civilians — gambling, drug deals, and murders — there is an obvious difference in how the outcomes play out for either of them. To that extent, it is a clean mirror placed to the society, and exists as another show sympathising with the imagined powerlessness of the carceral institute.
While Shira is supposed to serve as the audience’s introduction to the city of Jerusalem, she is stripped of nearly any characteristic to ultimately resemble a blank wall at which every expository line and event is thrown. Meanwhile, the burden of showcasing the city’s multifariousness is borne solely by Amir, who besides holding a powerful position in the Jerusalem police force, also provides for a Muslim teenager feeling racked with guilt over his father’s death. This choice of not balancing the heft of the plot results in loose storylines that pop up now and then.
While attempting to handle an impending crisis in the city, the police commander reminds his team of their plan — ‘maximum force, minimum violence’ — which also summarises how the writers deal with the show. Though the show is about looking into how the Jerusalem police works, sticking to a singular lens lowers the quality of this examination.
The show also skirts around the possibility of delving deep into the issues, and only engages with the civilian characters at a surface level. It also tries to make itself out to be politically neutral but ultimately ends up showing its cards with the obvious manner in which it picks its Jewish police officers to be the heroes and the Muslim Palestinians to be the villains of the story. Therefore, in servicing a police-led narrative, Jerusalem restricts itself to a tired and biased viewpoint of one institution, making for an uninteresting watch.
Jerusalem is currently streaming on Lionsgate Play