CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007
The news this week is about trouble in the Middle East between two Palestinian factions. This is nothing new and will no doubt be news whenever this review is read-or at least some version of it. Despite my optimistic outlook on life, when it comes to the situation between Israel and Palestine, I really see no hope.
To show another facet of the complexity of the situation, Raised to be Heroes looks at a division that is growing on the Israeli side of this issue. According to the film, a number of Israeli soldiers feel that what is going on in the Occupied Territories is criminal, and they have refused to take part. Of course, this is not a position the Israeli government supports, and many of these "refusniks" have been sent to jail for their views.
Clearly, this topic is incendiary at best. The film is on the side of these soldiers who have seen what is happening to the Palestinian people and can no longer follow the orders given to them. Some of those featured in the film have simply refused to answer their military call. Others are experienced reservist officers, who initially followed orders, but can no longer in good conscience do so.
The film begins with Noam Kaminer who is going to visit his son in a detention centre. Maten Kaminer, when called to the induction centre, refused to enlist. He was given 28 days in jail. When he was released, he refused again and received another 28 days. This was repeated until he and several others requested a trial which was ultimately granted.
In Israel, every citizen is to serve in the military when he or she turns 18. Men are to enlist for three years, women for two. Once that term is over, each male is to spend one month a year in the reserve until he is 45.
The reservist officers featured in the film have served in the Occupied Territories and now feel that they cannot go back. As one states, "[we are] forced to commit war crimes-expel, starve and humiliate an innocent population-not a democratic act for me." This statement sets the tone for the rest of the soldiers. Each, based on his experiences, can no longer simply follow orders.
The film is a series of juxtapositions. Maten's looming trial is the beginning, but, throughout, a number of officers give their views. At key places, a narrator gives the history of Israel's development as a nation. Throughout the film, the need for Israel to be strong is made clear. At the same time, the manifestation of this strength is called into question. Maten says that "people in the territories are treated like animals, corralled. Most Israelis don't know this as they don't go to the territories-except if they're soldiers. If more people went to the territories before they became soldiers, more would refuse to go."
The reservists interviewed are proudly Israelis. One points out that his family goes back 10 generations on one side with a grandfather on the other who was born in Jerusalem. He is "willing to fight for Israel, willing to die for Israel. This is my country. I love it, but our being in the territories has nothing to do with defending this country." He takes his argument to his grandfather who tells him, "Serving in the army is not one of life's pleasures. It is utterly impossible to decide for yourself. That would lead to anarchy. As long as you're a citizen here-and you're a citizen here-you have no choice." The camera lingers on the grandfather after his grandson leaves, and he mutters, "Hell of a problem." The issue is divisive in families and in the country as well. The newscasts are not at all sympathetic to the stance that Maten and the others have taken. Those who refuse to serve are deemed "unworthy of being Israeli citizens. No army in the world can exist by allowing people to choose when they'll serve. We must protect ourselves."
Another reservist reveals how once he and his unit took a 14-year-old Palestinian boy into custody for questioning because he had information. "He was tortured all night until he died. I can't even talk about it."
At Maten's trial, he and the other refusniks are given a year in prison for their stance. They are severely criticized for attempting to change government policy undemocratically. Each is given air time to speak. This shows the contradictions. The refusniks are free to speak, but not free to act, and yet are free to be part of this film.
The trial, however, is only one side of this issue. Another reservist has realized that "occupying Palestinians has nothing to do with Zionism. What we are doing goes against the very essence of Judaism. If we continue in this way, it won't be long before nothing remains here. You become abnormal when you accept the demolition of someone's home as something you have to do-displace a family - a crazy thing to do."
For refusing a direct order, another reservist is given 28 days in jail. He wants to meet with his commanding officer to explain why he chose 28 days in prison over 10 days in the Occupied Territories. The officer is sympathetic, but, when it is suggested that he, too, might disobey a similar order, the officer responds, "Never, never, never, never. [We] shouldn't be there, but when I put on a uniform, I must obey orders. A chain of command exists and must be followed."
Maten's father tells about how he was sentenced to jail for refusing to join in the invasion of Lebanon 20 years before. He has a photograph of himself holding a young Maten, taken while the family came to visit him in jail. He tearfully states that he had no idea when that photograph was taken that the baby in the picture would also be sentenced to the same jail.
Some of the officers go to Chicago to gain support for the message "You can be anti-occupation and not be anti-Israel. The occupation is killing us all." However, this message is not greeted with much acceptance. One person asks, "Are you religious? We believe it is God's land. That's the end of it. It's our land. God gave it to Abraham. The Palestinians are there, and they must go, and they will go." The debate is over.
The film ends with the statement that the number of refusniks has passed 1600 and continues to grow. What this actually means will only be revealed in the future.
Raised to be Heroes is a film that will no doubt generate a great deal of controversy. No clear answers are given, but it is an excellent look at what happens when people act out of conscience. The main voices in the film are all experienced soldiers. Their names, rank and company are all identified. Whether this film would act as a door to understanding or a bucket of gasoline thrown on an already hot fire, I do not know since I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. However, the film has value. The refusniks all feel that their refusal makes them human. How important is humanity? That could be a good discussion starting point in any senior level class.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian in St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.