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Friday, May 27, 2022

Traitors or patriots?

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There is a lot of talk about silence in the Israeli discourse in this film, but breaking the silence is actually the subject of intense debate in public opinion forums. Knesset members shout wildly at a plenary session about the NGO. On the streets of Tel Aviv, its members have to listen to savage insults at an information booth. And even in the organization’s internal team meetings, things get noisy to the point.

Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004 by former Israel Defense Forces soldiers. Over the years, the NGO has not only distinguished itself by criticizing military practices, but has also become an influential voice at the international level against the country’s occupation policies, which governments and actors regularly refer to. foreign non-states. In fact, more than half of the annual budget comes from financing from foreign governments, mainly from Europe, as the NGO itself reveals on its website.

Silvina Landsmann’s “Silence Breakers” takes a look inside this political institution at a turbulent time. Much of the film was shot in 2016, when Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was using legislative and legal means to restrict his work. Because of that, there is a lot about self-image and crisis mode PR strategies, but the three pillars of his work can also be seen in the film.

Above all, Breaking the Silence collects statements from former soldiers about their service in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories and publishes them, mostly anonymously, in extensive dossiers. They are reports that question the ideology of the government of an army with the highest standards of morality. In one scene from an interview, a veteran describes how she routinely aired her aggression against defenseless Palestinian prisoners.

There are also criticisms of the NGO investigation

The film also features tours of the divided West Bank city of Hebron, where BtS members offer their perspective on the occupation to a busload of international tourists. These sequences manage to accurately capture the charged status quo in the occupied territories. In the deserted Old City of Hebron, protected by a checkpoint, Jewish settlers continually interrupt the tour (more tirade than information), while Palestinian residents film the scene from windows and military officers present struggle to keep a stoic attitude in front of the public. cameras


Last but not least, the NGO organizes conferences and exhibitions in Germany and abroad, and there is a photo exhibition at the Filmhaus in Cologne to accompany the German cinema premiere of “Silence Breakers”. Even the rather hyped title, originally “The Good Soldier,” raises the question of the director’s independence. The sympathy among leftist Israeli filmmakers is no secret. Avi Mograbi, who is also on the NGO’s supervisory board, used his interview archive last year for his essay film “The First 54 Years: An Abridged Manual for the Military Occupation,” which was shown at the Berlinale.

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In any case, Landsmann avoids the impression of an image film, in which he focuses on public dispute and gives much space to criticism on talk shows and debates. However, on closer inspection, the conservative side’s rather weak arguments are repeated here: the NGO is damaging Israel’s reputation and is some kind of gang of foreign agents.

(In theaters from Thursday)

Meanwhile, there is no substantive criticism: In 2016, the year the movie was shot, the Israeli investigative TV show Hamakor raised doubts about the factual accuracy of some witness statements based on random samples. Overall, a behind-the-scenes look at the soldiers’ interview and statement verification processes would have been extremely interesting.

What remains is the impression that, also because of Breaking the Silence, probably no other army is viewed as critically by the national and international public as the Israeli one. And that in Israeli democracy, despite the strong polarization, people still talk to each other. “There is nothing more extreme than the occupation,” a BtS veteran says at one point. “There is no occupation,” replies a woman who describes herself as a conservative activist. “We should definitely continue this conversation.”


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