Film tracks women IDF vets
The Jewish Review
October 15, 2008
By Yael Bridge
Tamar Yarom’s controversial documentary “To See If I’m Smiling” will be shown Sunday Nov. 2 as part of the Northwest Film Center’s series, Global Concerns: Human Rights on Film.
In this award-winning documentary (Best Documentary at Haifa International Film Festival), six women recount their experiences of service in the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza during the first and second intifada.
The women describe grappling with difficult ethical decisions and, as one of the women puts it, “the unbearable lightness of death.” As they share their own moments of doubt and confront the pervasive and disconcerting frivolousness of wartime life, we are invited into a world where the boundaries between right and wrong are muddled by nationality and responsibility.
“To See If I’m Smiling” is an unbiased account of what it actually is like in the occupied territories and is an important film for supporters and opponents of Israel alike.
For a film that does not directly address political issues, “To See If I’m Smiling” is, in fact, a deeply political film. Once the film is over we are left with a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation of the West Bank and the former occupation of Gaza.
The film also touches on gender equality and the experiences that women have in serving alongside men. It is about soldiering, hierarchy and their resolve to preserve the mechanism of the military apparatus, often over personal moral appeals.
Mainly, it is about being a veteran and learning to assimilate wartime experience into a civilian persona. This daily experience for Israelis is not lost on Americans, who also have soldiers coming home from wartime service with similar difficulties.
This film will challenge people of all political persuasions. Those on the left might be uncomfortable with how sympathetic the tone of film is to the army, while those leaning toward the right might decry how the film is publicly critical of Israel’s actions in the territories.
However, if you care about Israel then you also must care about individual Israelis.
There is no doubt that the Palestinians are suffering; however, what this film shows so clearly is that the Israelis also suffer tremendously. This film focuses exclusively on the ramifications of the occupation on the occupiers. The picture that it paints is at the very least alarming.
This is a perspective that we in America don’t see very much. When we hear activists talking about the cruelty inflicted on the Palestinians, we can become so defensive that we might not think about the effect on the Israeli people. In our desire to deny that the Palestinians are hurting we simultaneously deny the pain that is suffered by Israelis.
One of the women, Meytal, a medic, confesses that after completing her military service she became an alcoholic. In a manner reminiscent of Lady Macbeth, Inbar, who commanded an operations room, describes how she spent months compulsively washing her hands, crying about how she could not get the blood off.
Far more powerful than the candor of their words is the look in these women’s eyes. Despite the years that have passed since they served their country, they remain haunted by their experiences. And how could they not be? War forced these women to behave in ways that are incongruous with their daily lives. They will spend the rest of their lives struggling to reconcile who they are with what they have done, trying to create a coherent narrative of their own identities and the identity of their country.
In an interview, filmmaker Yarom said that she wants the audience to “come out with answers that are not definite, to understand that this is not about good people and bad people…I want the film to raise in people the possibility that maybe they are also not immune from moral mistakes.”
This is not an easy film to watch. It shows in no uncertain terms the transformation that the individual undergoes as a result of combat and it gives the viewer new insight into the realities of warfare.
If we want to believe in the possibility of positive change in the Middle East, we, as Jews who love and support Israel, must be willing to examine the ramifications of war and be open to these women and the stories they are bravely willing to share.
This film screens one night only, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. It is 59 minutes long and is followed by “Deadly Playground.”
Sponsored by the Marc Zwerling Fund for Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Portland Chapter. A panel discussion led by Rabbi Joey Wolf of Havurah Shalom and including former IDF soldiers will follow the film.