Many Israeli films look at the country's conflict with the Palestinians [Scene from One Shot]

As part of its Israel Through Its Own Eyes series Al Jazeera spoke with Nurit Kedar, a renowned Israeli documentary maker.

When asked if it would be possible to make the documentary One Shot today, the film's Israeli director is unequivocal.

"Oh no," Nurit Kedar says. "There is no way today the army would ever let anybody have discussions with snipers. The guy who is now the spokesperson for the military is much more nationalistic and so one can only say good things about the army. So no way."

Many people both inside and outside Israel are surprised that the veteran filmmaker was granted the opportunity at all to speak with Israel's combat snipers.

One Shot combines interviews with the snipers and rare footage from the frontline recorded by combat soldiers on cameras given to them by Kedar and attached to their helmets and kneepads.

The result is an insight into a little seen aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an insight that could only have been produced by an Israeli director.

Sniper training

Since the last Palestinian intifada, snipers have been used to target civilians and any male member of a combat unit can become a marksman after undergoing a training course lasting just five weeks.

One Shot


Click here for more information on One Shot

Every unit in the army has a sniper, and given that every man over the age of 18 years is required to do national service, it is a feasible reality for many young Israelis.

The film contains no commentary and the men in the film speak candidly about killing and their heroic and non-heroic perceptions of the role.

One describes himself as "somehow intoxicated" when he started, while another questions whether his task constitutes cold-blooded murder.

"I found it was very easy to appropriate that glorious of the one who determines if someone would live or die," another says.

The mixed reactions to the film upon its release, both from the military and the Israeli public, were indicative of the special social and political position held by the army and the sensitivity the country as a whole often feels to how it is perceived from the outside.

Censorship

 

Kedar had to wait a year before she was granted the necessary permit to speak to the men in the film and prior to the film's first screening in Jerusalem the military censorship authorities stepped in.

"The military were allowing me to do what I want but its two different things the censorship and the army. I had a letter from the army saying everything is legitimate and I can interview who I want.

"But before the screening in Jerusalem a woman from the censorship wrote me a letter telling me not to screen the film showing the snipers faces.

"So I screened it with their eyes covered in a very brutal way and I gave letters to the audience explaining I was told to cover the faces – which is against everything I believe in."

She says there was a mixed reaction to the film within the military.

"I think [the film created] a big dispute in the army, some yelled and some said that it was time to show these things but most were against it and did not understand how I got the permit."
 
Such permits are harder to come by following the war in Lebanon two years ago and the negative fallout for the Israeli government and military that saw both the defence minister and army chief step down.

Kedar herself has been banned from working with the military for two years after a story she did one of Israel's senior commanders during the war after she was granted unprecedented access to the military's war room.

Wasted – last year's follow-up to One Shot returned to the theme of Lebanon.

Wasted tells the stories of soldiers who served in the fortress of Beaufort in southern Lebanon before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. It was recorded on the same set as Beaufort, the feature film by director Joseph Cedar that was nominated for an Oscar.

Mixed reaction

Whereas Cedar's film was met with acclaim by both critics and the public alike Kedar says her real account of the men's experiences was not popular with ordinary Israelis.

"People loved it [Beaufort]," she says. "Wasted was not successful. I took the real soldiers and the smells and the killing and the blood. People did not like it."

Despite also being well-received by Israeli critics and audiences in Europe and the US, she says One Shot met with a similarly negative response in some quarters domestically – even among her own family.

"My family did not like One Shot, not at all. They asked me 'why did you have to show these things, why not let someone else do it?' However there was a huge reaction and the ratings when it was shown on Channel 2 were very good."

"The Israeli public is very nationalistic. The army in Israel is seen as very untouchable, like a holy grail."

However Israel has a long tradition of independent documentary-making that does cast a critical eye on the country's society and conflicts with its neighbours.

Established filmmakers like Kedar, Avi Mograbie and Amos Gitai have won awards for their work both at home and abroad.

Conflict resolution

At Tel Aviv's tenth annual documentary festival earlier this month among the Israeli film's screened were Brides of the Desert, a look at polygamy in the country's Bedouin community; Brides of Allah, featuring Palestinain women in Israeli jails convicted of plotting suicide attacks and My First War, a personal account by reserve soldier Yoshi Mozer of the war in Lebanon two years ago.

Kedar says she enjoys making films
about conflict [Scene from One Shot]
Kedar says while such films are lauded for their technical accomplishment and prompt a huge number of responses often "the Israeli public do not like them".

"You are accused of being left-wing and people say that you sympathise with the Palestinians and that is why you get money to make the films.
 
"The public is very nationalistic, they like to see heroic films. We have two parliament members who recently appealed for a new law that will not give more money to directors who will not show Israel in a heroic light."

However forcing people to look at themselves is the reason why she says she has made films specifically with the military.

"I deal with the military because it is very sad about the Israeli society because you bring up a kid you teach them everything that you think is best, you know cultural, music and so forth.

"Then they hit 18-years-old and you send them to the army, get a rifle and he is asked to shoot. So for me that really is the life we create here and there is no end."

Kedar is now directing a documentary that follows the plight of Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband Udi was kidnapped along with Eldad Regev provoking the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Despite regular protests, including one by relatives and supporters this week, there has been no real news on whether the men are alive or dead for nearly two years.

"I like conflicts, anything that has conflict, that's what I like. That's why I do wars … because that's the conflict of our lives here," Kedar says.

"I don't believe in film you can really change people but here in society we do nothing to stop the conflict, that's why I am me.

"I personally don't see any light at the end. It is for me that I am critical and not easy to watch and lots of people don't like it."

One Shot was originally shown as part of Al Jazeera's Israel Through Its Own Eyes series. It can be watched at the following times GMT:

Friday 29 August: 1900, Saturday 30 August: 0000, 0600 and 1000.


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Source: Al Jazeera