The New Generation Of Israeli War Movies

Article Summary
The more the time passes, the more movies become critical of national and traumatic wars, writes Meir Schnitzer, except in the case of Israel. Despite the prolific activity of Israeli cinema with war, since the attacks of 2001-2002, the Israeli cinema withdrew and ceased to present the arguments of the "Other." 

Despite the Israeli cinema’s prolific preoccupation with war, it seems that the Israeli side has withdrawn into itself and stopped presenting the arguments of the Other ever since the period of the terrorist attacks [during the Intifada 2000-2004].

The principle is simple, and its execution always went like clock-work: The more that a war recedes into the past on the axis of time, the more that the movies produced about that war will be critical and analytical. This was true for British films about the Second World War, and about American Hollywood products dealing with the Vietnam War. Even the French depictions of what their soldiers did during the war in Algeria, fit this mold — although truth be told, French filmmakers don’t often feel like addressing this issue. Anyway, this was also true for the Israelis.

Local films about the War of Independence that were produced in the first decade of Israel’s existence (Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer [Giv'a 24 Eina Ona]; Faithful City [Kirya Ne'emana] and more), do not at all resemble the films made on that same war scores of years later (Himmo, King of Jerusalem [Himmo Melech Yerushalaim] and Forgiveness [Mehilot]). Similarly, heroic movies on Six Day War fighters [1967] produced soon after the war (such as Every Bastard a King [Kol Mamzer Melech] and Objective: Tiran [HaMatara Tiran]) have no resemblance to later movies that focused on this war (Avanti Popolo and Repeat Dive [Tzlila Hozeret]). So, too, with the 1973 [Yom Kippur] War, and the later films that try to come to terms with it (Kippur; Shell Shock [Helem Krav]; On the Fringe [Bouba] and others).

Clearly, this is a completely logical, psychological-creative process in which an artistic medium — the cinema — that first serves as a propagandist, morale-raising agent, changes over time to examine and critique a war while attempting to write history with pretensions to objectivity. That’s all very nice and good, except for what has happened regarding the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 [Operation Peace for Galilee]. That was, as we remember, the first Zionist war that begot strong, noisy objectors even in its earliest stages. The strange social-political process surrounding this war — that garnered demonstrations against it during the actual fighting, even refusals to obey orders that bordered on military insurrection — also affected the early movies produced about it, chronologically close to the real-time action.

The film Point of View [Nekudat Re'Ut] (directed by Noam Yavor), seriously examines the possibility that IDF soldiers are none other than murderers of children. Haim Bouzaglo’s Time for Cherries [Onat Duvdevanim] reveals the cynical apparatus that creates death and heroic Zionist memorialization; Eran Riklis’ Cup Final [Gmar Gavia] depicts, for the first time in the history of local films, an Israel soldier taken captive; in other words, defeated by his Palestinian enemies. Yossi Zommer’s Burning Memories [Resisim] goes as far as to portray IDF soldiers as a community of tormented souls in need of medical treatment — treatment that does not always help them.

True, there was also Eli Cohen’s Ricochets (also known as Two Fingers from Tzidon [Shtei Etzbaot Mitzidon]), that portrayed a reversed [i.e. positive] picture on the screen. Ostensibly, however, we are allowed to “forgive” Cohen, because this film was produced by the IDF’s Film and Photography Unit. Most of the movie’s participants did so as part of their reserve service, and the entire film was shot in the territory of an occupied country. Of course, given these pre-conditions, Ricochets could only be the most pro-Zionist product that an enlisted [propagandist] filmmaker, mouthpiece of the establishment, could concoct.

But the strange thing is that the dubious ethics propounded in Ricochets still hold sway in the four later movies on the Lebanon War [Operation Peace for Galilee] —movies that are all products of the 21st century. According to the clear rule we established at the opening of this article, a rule that was routinely observed in the movie industry of a country embroiled in frequent wars, one would have expected the four films (Yossi and Jagger, Beaufort, Lebanon and Watz with Bashar) to take more extreme, oppositional approaches to the political/messianic delusion that led [Prime Minister] Menachem Begin, [Defense Minister] Ariel Sharon sndChief-of-Staff] Rafael Eitan to plan the invasion of Lebanon.

After all, even the earlier movies of the 1980s and early 1990s succeeded in formulating clearer positions toward the war. Yet, precisely the four films mentioned above that were produced in the last decade, return to Israel’s apologetic, self-righteous tone [of yesteryear]. They all back-track to the era prior to the formulation of research studies and harsh legal insights that were conceived with regards to the First Lebanon War, ever since the hapless invasion in June of 1982. It is as if the IDF’s Film Unit got back into the saddle to produce new, modern-day versions of Ricochets.

The bright side of the Beaufort    

The first movie, in chronological order, was Yossi and Jagger. Supposedly the movie’s focus is on a male love story between two soldiers, and the location of the story — Israel’s northern border — is secondary. But in fact, the fighting in Lebanon that is detailed in the movie is not marginal at all; it is actually the heart of the movie. That is because Jagger, lover of officer Yossi, is killed in Lebanon, and “he died so that all the homosexuals in the army could live.”

This successful film of director Eytan Fox and scriptwriter Avner Bernheimer deals with the normalization of Israeli society’s attitude to male members of the gay community. Thus, according to the logic adopted by the movie’s creators, these homosexuals must sacrifice or “tithe” one of their members, for the benefit of the Zionist society in its entirety. When a homo falls as a regular Israeli combat soldier and not as a homosexual individual, that proves that his gay brothers are part of the Jewish-Israeli pathos.

In other words: the so-called avant-garde creators of Yossi and Jagger actual harbor the most conservative, unprogressive and illiberal social viewpoints in the Zionist context. According to this perspective, the connection of blood-man-earth is essential to prove one’s tight affiliation with the local society. Thus it turns out that this pioneering movie that reveals the love-story of two young men locked up in a snowy fortress in Lebanon, is really a movie that extols the victimhood of IDF soldiers in their fatal encounters with the Arab enemy. This is a well-known type of the “shooting and crying” genre, but this time with [the dramatic singer] Rita stuck on the soundtrack.

An even graver approach, with regards to a calculated spin based on an Israeli [misguided] sense of victimhood in the conflict on the northern border, is Yossi [Joseph] Cedar’s movie Beaufort, that was screened here with sweeping success five years ago. This film, no less homo-erotic than the former, reveals Cedar’s stubborn adherence to a supposedly apolitical bias. Ironically, this bias — which completely averts all discussion of the political context of the war in Lebanon — was the most political element of all about the movie.

Why is that? Because from the moment that the script prevents discussion of the circumstances under which the soldiers in the Beaufort fortress find themselves rubbing shoulders with one another in this intimately close setting, it reduces life in the blood-freezing stronghold to life in a vacuum. It’s as if the film announces the truth about itself — the Godly right to control the northern ridge. If the reason we got to such a place was not for some political machination, then we must have done it in God’s name.

The Beaufort plot focuses on a horrific night experienced by IDF soldiers in charge of guarding the Beaufort fortress, 24 hours before the final withdrawal from the place. They face terrifying darkness, a darkness inhabited by the abstract Angel of Death enemy, plus all the demons of Gehenna and other ghosts thrown in from our familiar horror-movie genre. The Israeli soldiers face this pure evil, and their survivability is tested.

This is not an allegory, there is no moral here — all there  is “them” and “us.” Erasing the faces of the evil ones also contributes to the built-in argument of the movie: that absolute righteousness is on our side, as opposed to the fiendishness of the other side. As a matter of fact, this is a religious point. In the absence of a political explanation for the reason that the soldiers stay on the illuminated side of the Beaufort — the opposite, dark side is transformed into true evil. Considering the fact that this movie was produced 25 years after the invasion of Lebanon, and 7 years after the final withdrawal from it, I would expect greater personal integrity from the movie’s creators. Not to mention getting rid of the brain-washing, which works overtime in this film.

Much worse than Beaufort is the fraudulent movie Lebanon, written and produced by Shmuel Maoz. Unlike Cedar, Maoz chose to position the plot during the days of the first invasion and not during the final withdrawal. Thus he places himself as the spokesperson of the original Israeli [Prime Minister]Begin-[Defense Minister]Sharon argument — the claim that was found to be untrue by formal commissions of inquiry many years ago. Maoz adheres to the original version, with the fashionable lateness of half a jubilee. Thus his plot is even more emotionally charged than the usual shoot-and-cry scenario. By him, the soldiers only cry and cry; they don’t even shoot at all. That’s how great is the “purity of arms” (battle morals) of our IDF.

The team of an Israeli tank somehow find themselves in the territory of a Lebanese village, under unclear circumstances (perhaps a school trip gone lost?). The locals in the village are killing one another and the tank-crew soldiers are so aghast at the bloodletting that, shell-shocked, they are temporarily struck dumb; they don’t fire even one shell. But this pacifism demonstrated by IDF soldiers doesn’t help them, because the local rifles are very noisy all around them and the knives of the Syrians, Palestinians, and Christian Phalangist militia are working overtime. The young, fresh-faced Israelis are truly miserable, those fellows that left on what they thought would be a fun-filled excursion beyond the lines of the northern border, on a sightseeing vehicle that is not even protected like a real tank.

This falsification of history, and the pacifist disguise of the tank crew members that turns them into victims of the situation and not creators of it — this becomes even more grave if we take another look at the movie screen. In order to achieve the effect of his political fabrication, Maoz also falsified the realistic situation he pretends to display on screen. The four protagonists, all Israeli soldiers, therefore they are scared to death, are undressed naked and literally defenseless throughout the entire movie.

Maoz films the inside of the tank, in which most of the plot takes place, in which the tank-crew members sit without their communication headpieces/helmets. This does not prevent them from talking with those in their surroundings. But stripping a soldier of his helmet is inconceivable in a realistic situation. Here it is a well-calculated machination to intensify the effect of portraying near-defenseless Israeli soldiers against their enemies who are screaming in guttural Arabic, and post factum to intensify the “human” core that they create in their personalities.

But if any opportunities were “missed” in Yossi and Jagger, Beaufort or Lebanon, along came Ari Folman in his much-glorified movie Waltz with Bashir. This one can only be compared to the kid who climbs on the tallest springboard in the neighborhood, only to urinate from the highest possible site onto historical reality. Yes indeed we are war criminals, admits Folman rather gleefully in his movie; yes, we did what is attributed to us; but no, we are not guilty. The goal of Waltz with Bashir is to resolve the contradiction between confession of the acts that were perpetrated, with denial of blame and wrongdoing.

Memory and lack of memory

The enlightened Folman employs a defense-network gimmick in which he argues the case for loss of memory. I was there, I watched the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila camp, but I am not at all to blame for what happened. Actually I didn’t actually watch the mass slaughter as a passive bystander but I extended active help to the slaughterers by firing illuminating flares that revealed the hiding spots of the concealed Muslims to the Christian killers. That’s all true, but I don’t remember it. And lack of memory (hello, Freud) is what is supposed to provide moral backing to the Israeli soldier who collaborated with the gangsters of [Lebanese Christian President] Bashir Gemayel.

Twenty-six years after Folman’s protagonist admits that he was present at the massacre, Folman does a moral flip-flop and claims that those who carry out orders bear no responsibility; only those who give the orders are to blame. And even if the executor does bear responsibility, then his lack of memory of the events exonerates him in the moral courtroom. Thus, the real victim of Waltz with Bashir is the Israeli soldier — the one who participated (maybe even against his will) in the massacre, and not the Palestinian who was slaughtered.

You see, this memory-void issue no longer disturbs the victim who’s already fast asleep in the mass grave to which his remains were thrown. Instead it is the Israeli soldier, the one whose subconscious mind demands the restoration of the erased memory by inducing nightmares, who continues to be a victim of the massacre tens of years after the actual event.

Thus I conclude my tour of the plots of four Lebanon war movies, movies filmed many years after the fact. The question still remains: Why do these movies violate the principle I explained at the very beginning of this article, regarding movies filmed years after the other Israeli wars — movies that, due to the passage of time, were able to take a more critical approach? Why do these Lebanon War movies violate the expected psychological and perhaps historical “principle”? How is it that instead of critical analysis and critique, these four films return us to the bosom of the worn-out, sanctimonious and self-righteous approach, threadbare from years of overuse— the shooting and crying  and crying concept?

Clearly, Fuchs, Cedar, Maoz and Folman have their own personal agendas. Yet it seems to me that the answer lies in the fact that these four movies were filmed after the Second Intifada — as opposed to the initial wave of films that depicted the invasion of Lebanon closer to real  time. The fact is that ever since the terrorist attacks in Israel of 2001-2002 [during the Second Intifada], no movies have been produced here that attempt to present the Palestinian-Arab side of the conflict (with the exception of Udi Aloni’s Forgiveness). Instead the Israeli apartheid society has spent the last 10 years entrenching its ethical arguments to somewhat allay the criticism, cultural boycott and international isolation that is progressively stifling our consciousness. My guess is that these films justifying our military presence in Lebanon, have sprung from this trend. 

Found in: withdraw, war, terrorist attacks, national agenda, mobilization, israel, first lebanon war, criticism, cinema, boycott

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