In Israel/Palestine, Occupation Has No Future
by David Zlutnick
In the Fall of 2009 I had the privilege of following a delegation of US veterans and war resisters traveling to Israel/Palestine to meet with their Israeli counterparts in an effort to strengthen connections between the US and Israeli anti-militarist movements and to share their experiences of refusing to be part of an occupying army. Made up of members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Courage to Resist, the War Resisters’ League, among other groups, the group—called Dialogues Against Militarism (DAM)—spent a month traversing the Israeli state and the Occupied West Bank meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. As a filmmaker, I was asked to accompany the delegation to document its travels and record their conversations and interviews.
My latest film, Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine, is the result of dozens of exchanges and encounters during the month that DAM spent in Israel/Palestine. The documentary uses this trip as a lens to study Israeli militarism, examine the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, and explore the work of Israelis and Palestinians organizing against militarism and occupation.
Through conversations with Israeli conscientious objectors, former soldiers, and civil society activists, Occupation Has No Future creates a survey of the current atmosphere in the State of Israel. The film explores the Israeli social environment that creates such heightened militarism and leads to attitudes of fear, exclusion, racism, and ultimately aggression. Interviews demonstrate how institutions like the education system and religion, along with practices of victimization, xenophobia, and alienation all contribute to the state’s ability to maintain popular support for conscription and militarization, while simultaneously preserving belief in its label as the “only democracy in the Middle East.”
In Occupation Has No Future, the consequences of Israeli domestic policy are revealed in stark terms, not only for the Palestinian people, but for Israeli civil society as well. During months of pre-production research I came to learn a lot not only about the Israeli occupation and life in the occupied territories but also about Israeli civil society, and its absence. Even with this new-found knowledge I still found Israel’s all-encompassing system of militarization hard to fathom. The military interpenetrates all aspects of society from the top to the bottom. Civilian institutions completely independent from the military are rare. Hospitals, for instance, are supplied with doctors and resources from the armed forces, so the military is allowed significant, if unofficial, control over policy. The media, a cornerstone in any supposedly “democratic” state, is still subject to military censorship (even if it is rarely imposed, as self-censorship prevails). And the question most often asked in job interviews? “What did you do in the army?”
Daniel Dukarevich is a medical student who is due to report back to the military this May. “All this system, it creates something,” he says at one point in the film. “It’s hard to break it. Unless you have a very strong personal experience with something else, you keep believing in it. You have no reason to doubt it.”
From a very young age Israelis are taught about the Jewish history of persecution, and how it continues to this day from all sides—figuratively and literally—in the form of the Arab states and Palestinian terrorism. Criticism of Israeli policy is interpreted as the proliferation of Western anti-Semitism. The military is rarely absent from the classroom. A military emphasis is present not only in the curriculum, but in the form of uniformed soldiers teaching classes, or recruiters advertising their specific units. Even the funding of schools is tied to their rates of military enlistment.
An erosion in basic civic participation is quite evident. “For the Israeli society itself, sending every 18-year-old into the army, having them grow into a position where they don’t ask questions but just follow orders—I’ve seen that happen to me,” says Tali Lerner during her interview. A former soldier who refused to finish her term of service, Lerner now works with the feminist anti-militarist organization New Profile. “I think it’s hurting this society in much more than just the occupation itself, but in all fields of society.”
The documentary also examines the Israeli anti-militarist movement and those Israeli youth refusing conscription, refusing orders, and seeking to change the fundamental nature of their society. Dukarevich, the medical student, is planning to refuse his impending military assignment in protest of the continued occupation of Palestinian land. In so doing he risks not only imprisonment but being blacklisted as a doctor within Israel. In addition to finishing his medical residency, Dukarevich spends his time working with the small, but growing number of Israelis choosing to partner with an emergent grassroots Palestinian campaign of civil disobedience to defeat the occupation. Organizations such as Anarchists Against the Wall, Ta’ayush (Living Together), Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity, and many others have sprouted up over the past several years to both challenge militarism in Israel, and to support a continuing “civil resistance”—organized disobedience and demonstrations against the symbols and rules of occupation—arising among those most affected by the occupation.
Some segments of the film take the viewer deep inside the occupation by visiting the West Bank. From Ramallah to Hebron, to the checkpoints to the refugee camps, Occupation Has No Future lets the audience understand the results of a militarized Israel through the words of Palestinians living under—and resisting—the occupation.
“Our message to all the world, this is not a security wall like the Israelis said. This is just for confiscating more land, to build more settlements, and to put the Palestinians in a big jail with their families.” These are the words of the Iyad Burnat, Chair of the Bil’in Popular Committee, one of the grassroots organizing bodies leading the protest movement against the construction of the Separation Wall through the West Bank.
The Palestinian voices in the film are not alone, however. They are echoed and reinforced by their Israeli allies—many of whom are former soldiers who served in the areas the film explores.
While the title of the film is hopeful, I do not mean to indicate that the struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation will be over soon. There is a lot of work to be done. But here is a place to start. Honest about the extremely daunting challenges, Occupation Has No Future also reveals the hope of a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians to live together, free from occupation, with peace and justice.
For more information about the film, to see a trailer, and find out about upcoming screening dates, visit:
David Zlutnick is a documentary filmmaker and founder of Upheaval Productions. He has produced several short and feature films including Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine (2010), Dos Americas: The Reconstruction of New Orleans (2008), and Down But Not Out (2006). He lives and works in San Francisco.