"Dear Father, Quiet, We're Shooting" Face to Face with Conscientious Objectors By Janine Euvrard

in 20th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Janine Euvrard

David Benchetrit is not a typical Israeli film maker. He was born in Morocco in 1954, came to Israel in 1967 and was placed in an orthodox boarding school. He ran away. For five years he washed dishes in restaurants to earn a living. He worked alongside Palestinians at his age and even younger whom he protected against their Israeli employers, an experience which sensitized him to the Palestinian problem. He was called for military service in 1972 just before the Six Days War and became one of the first conscientious objectors in Israel. Very early he realized of the power of images and how they could be an instrument to awaken people’s conscience and move them to action.

Dear Father, Quiet, We’re Shooting is probably the first film to bring us face to face with the conscientious objectors: Sergio Yani, a young south American, tried nine times to avoid the army and ended up in prison for a year; Yoel Piterberg, an El Al pilot, was thrown out of the army; Gadi el Gazi, a philosopher, spent one year in prison; Igal Efrati, a Sephardic Jew, head of a theatre company with Arab and Jewish members in Jaffa, was also expelled from the army; Elie Geva, a general (the highest army rank) who refused to enter Beyrouth with his army in 1982 was expelled from the army by Sharon.

Benchetrit’s unobtrusiveness is one of the strengths of the film. We listen to these men’s confessions as they speak directly to us. They are calm, courageous and convincing. We see images of the Israeli army’s invasion of south Lebanon in June 1982 to drive the PLO away. This so called “Peace in Galilee” operation turned into a war lasting for 18 years.

Being one of the first conscientious objectors, Benchetrit kept the experience to himself for a long time. But little by little he came to understand today’s refuzniks. “They are amongst the last moral voices in Israel today”, he says. They were 400 hundred objectors during the war in Lebanon, 200 went to prison, and since the second Intifada in October 2000 a thousand went to prison.

Benchetrit made a first 52 minutes version of Dear Father, Quiet, We’re Shooting… three years ago. In Fribourg we saw a new 90 minute version. Benchetrit became aware of the new wave of refuzniks of the second Intifada. He has broadened the scope of the film by meeting pilots and officers of the Air Force and the Ashkenaze elite of the army who say “no”. The film is an indictment of the folly and futility of war. It depicts the phenomenon of conscientious objection from the war in Lebanon in 1982 until today and raises the question of the responsibility for the war crimes of the officers, the military commanders and politicians. It is a strong and courageous film.

Benchetrit paid a high price for his courage: In April 2004, while consulting documents in the archives of the ministry of defence, the ministry’s security men assaulted him, hit him with their rifle butts and threw him on the pavement with concussion and a leg broken. He spent several months in hospital.

We were deeply moved to see him in person in Fribourg to present Dear Father, Quiet, We’re Shooting … in a packed theatre. With calm and conviction he answered the questions from a mostly young audience, eager to get a clearer view of a war which has torn two peoples apart for so many years.