In 1978, Dani Vilenski was a soldier in the Israeli army. At that time he received orders to evict the owner of a house from his property in the occupied territories. Then the old man, a wrinkled-faced Palestinian, mounts his donkey and slowly rides away: “To this day, even though 40 years have passed, the image is burned into my memory. I can still see the donkey climbing up the slope and slowly disappearing.”
The two-part documentary “Israel as an Occupying Power – Soldiers Tell” begins with this sad, even traumatic story. More than thirty named veterans of the Israeli Liberation Army (IDF) have their say. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, which ended with the occupation of the Gaza Strip, among other things, they have been on duty at checkpoints and fighting Palestinian terrorists.
The self-critical descriptions of these veterans sometimes sound like confessions. These soldiers need to get something off their chests. Some of them tell of setting up random roadblocks, shooting children with live ammunition and caning old women.
The film documents what appears to be an everyday routine of torture. For example, when suspected Palestinians have to sit for hours in the sweltering sun. Oppressive archive films documenting nightly house searches of Palestinian families illustrate these descriptions.
These military attacks are classified and commented on by the director himself. Avi Mograbi is an Israeli documentary filmmaker who is regularly present at well-known international festivals. Referring to a fictional “Handbook on Military Occupation,” Mograbi sarcastically dissects the Machiavellian mechanisms of repression used by the Israeli armed forces.
These discourses, held in evocative French academic language, take some getting used to. What is particularly striking, however, are the journalistic deficits. Mograbi largely ignores the background to the Middle East conflict. What is not mentioned is that 22 years after the Shoah, Israeli Jews once again faced an existential threat when Egyptian head of state Gamal Abdel Nasser announced that he would “drive all Jews into the sea”.
After the victorious preventive strike in 1967, a complex situation arose out of necessity, which still influences geopolitics today. Day after day.
The film deals only vaguely with these complicated connections. He confines himself to the – in some cases quite justified – criticism of the Israeli military, in which an encrusted mechanism of oppression seems to have taken on a life of its own. Interestingly enough, the filmmaker doesn’t speak to Palestinians at all. This one-sided view, which is culminated in moral self-accusation by the soldiers who have their say, also has a political background. Avi Mograbi is a founding member of the NGO Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004.
This veterans’ organization documents human rights violations in the occupied territories. Due to its proximity to the anti-Semitic BDS movement, even Israelis critical of the government have serious problems with “Breaking the Silence”. Despite its provocative one-sidedness, Mograbi’s film is worth seeing. It indirectly shows how irreconcilable the positions and how deep the rifts have become. “Israel as an occupying power – soldiers tell” hardly serves the reconciliation between the peoples.