“Whilst I was there, I lost all my faith in the Israeli army. They put it right in your face: ‘Go be the oppressors for your people. Force yourselves upon them.’ They told us … ‘take these bats wrapped up in plastic and … calm things down’ … We had skulls on our helmets, dude. We walked around with machetés, all kinds of crazy stuff. Sheriff badges. We’d improvise some very unique solutions.”
This is Ehud, speaking 12 years after having served in the occupied Palestinian territories. Like the thousands before him, he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army during the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993). Some of the improvised solutions he came up with while serving in the occupied territories included attaching the plus and minus cables from a two-way radio battery to the ears of a Palestinian to give him an electric shock.
“We had lots of ‘sophisticated methods,’” Ehud relates.
Aftershock is a film about four soldiers — Ehud, Haim, Omri and Haliva — who served in the occupied territories during the first Palestinian intifada and were interviewed by Yariv Horowitz, who at the time had been given a mission by the IDF to make a film for the Educational Corps. The army hoped the film would boost morale in Nablus, but after they saw it they decided to censor it, for as soon as Horowitz turned on the camera, “Things were said that would get everyone into trouble.”
Over a decade later Horowitz decided he couldn’t wait any longer. He had already been waiting for 12 years. So he decided to pick up his old videotape and camera and revisit his former comrades to make a film about them. This is it.
Today, Ehud lives in the Galilee with his wife and two children. He has hair almost down to his waist. He looks like a hippy, rolling a cigarette, topless, with a tattoo on his left arm and an earring in his left ear. Ehud had a conventional upbringing. He had lots of paratrooper books at home and his heroes were former paratroopers Eitan Naveh and Gad Manella. In 1989, Ehud fulfilled his dream. He enlisted in the paratroopers and was sent to Nablus. Around the same time, Horowitz was also sent to Nablus. This is where he interviewed Ehud, who boasted on camera how he could beat up Palestinian boys for no apparent justification and get away with it:
“We’re walking down the street and see a group of five teenage boys drinking tea, playing backgammon, all peaceful like. We pass by, turn their table over and start beating them up. Our commander asks, ‘what are you doing?’ We say, ‘they cursed us’ as a cover story, so we don’t get in trouble.”
When Ehud meets an old buddy of his, Haim, a former company commander in the Givati infantry brigade, he has to reassure him that “we have a lawyer.”
When Haim was drafted, the intifada had just begun. According to Haim, the late Yitzak Rabin would go on patrol with his brigade:
“He [Rabin] would come on patrols with us, he and Efi Fine, my regiment commander. One day when we were driving around Gaza, Dir al-Balach, Efi decided we had to do some damage that day. We were to take out all the TVs, stereos and furniture onto the street and burn and smash everything. And that’s what we did. We went in and smashed everything. They got angry, started throwing stones, and we laid into them again.”
Haim continued: “I don’t know if what happened to me there affected me at the time, but we used to kill people dude. That’s as bad as it gets. We beat people to death. Not one or two. At least four. And we just carried on as usual.”
Aftershock was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Tuesday 22 June at 12:05 a.m. Hardly peak viewing time, but compulsory viewing for anyone interested in the psychology of soldiers who serve in the occupied territories. Those who were interviewed for this film were former paratroopers, company commanders, and a Lieutenant Colonel (Haliva) who is currently serving in Hebron. For these reasons, their experiences and opinions cannot be so easily dismissed. After all, it was the Israeli army that wanted this film made in the first place, although for a different reason.
For those interviewed in the film and for those who made the film, the army was everything to them. Horowitz’s first childhood memory was the sirens of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He had posters of Moshe Dayan and other generals and records like the “Six Day War Victory” album. His father had fought in that war and he was taught in school that it was a good thing to “liberate the Holy Land.” His brother had fought in Lebanon. Horowitz even spent kindergarten in army camp. His childhood was surrounded in stories of heroism and war.
“Israel loves its paratroopers,” Horowitz points out at the start of the film. Yet these former paratroopers did nothing valiant or brave. Instead they were sent to the occupied territories - which their fathers had helped capture - to brutally repress a Palestinian population longing for independence. Although Aftershock includes footage of the occupation, there are no interviews with Palestinians. This is because “Aftershock” is about the occupation from an Israeli military perspective.
Ehud and his friends had to be given psychiatric treatment after their discharge. When Ehud returned home after he finished his army service, he was so angry that he trashed his parents’ home. He told them he was carrying out a “search.” Yet despite the psychiatric treatment Ehud and his friends were given, and despite wherever they are now (Omri fled to Seattle) and whatever they are doing, what these soldiers did in the occupied territories will haunt them for life. The memory remains.
Tamuz & Blue Rose Productions (Israel 2002)
Written and Directed by Yariv Horowitz
Produced by Ronit Reichman, Sharon Schaveet and Yariv Horowitz
Director of Photography: Gadi Afriat
Music: Dani Richental
Editor: Aliza Askira
Translation: Suzy De Lowe
Language: Hebrew / English
Film Length: 22 minutes
Victor Kattan is a correspondent for Arab Media Watch and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org