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BOOKS & THE CULTURE `Censorship is Everywhere’ BY RACHEL PROCTOR While many people tend to think of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as just that a conflict between two nationsit is easy to forget that cleavages just as deep run within the Israeli and Palestinian communities. Cinema is a major front on which the battle to speak for the community is fought. Judd Ne’eman’s film Paratroopers ered by many to be the first openly political feature film to come out of Israel, helping to usher in a wave of political filmmaking that challenged the myths and narratives on which the state of Israellike all stateswas built. Ne’eman is now a film scholar and critic at Tel Aviv University. He recently visited Texas for a festival honoring his work at the University of Texas at Austin. Texas Observer: What was the cinematic scene like when you first started making films? Judd Ne’eman: When I made my first feature film, which was three love stories set in Tel Aviv in the end of the 1960s, movies were not at all interested in the sociopolitical problems of Israeli society. Looking back, we can see these individualistic kinds of films came from a very deep need to play down emotions and appear as if everything’s fineI like to call it a death mask. These sorts of movies came out of the traumatic past of people like myself, the generation that experienced World War II, the Holocaust, and the war of ’48, people who wanted to pretend that everything was just business as usual. TO: How did you start making political films? JN: I was about 30 years old when the war broke out in 1967. My generation had not been aware of the Palestinian problem. The Palestinians were like a ghost in the past; they were living in other [countries], except for the small minority that had become citizens of Israel. But suddenly, we were the occupier. Suddenly we were all faced with the results of the naqba [expulsion of Palestinians]. The refugees, the camps. So there was a new consciousness that the War of Independence was not the naive, political event like our educational system made it out to be: that we were an oppressed minority and there is no blood on our hands; that everything is the fault of the Arab world that rejected us and the Palestinians who fought against us and rejected the UN partition plan that would have given them their own state. We believed that that was history, and we were absolutely unaware that there was another narrative alongside our narrative, one that is entirely different. Slowly, slowly we started to get information, and this caused a change of heart, mind, vision. TO: Has there been an evolution in political filmmaking since then? JN: The height of political filmmaking took place in the ’80s, between 1977 and 1990. These days what you see are films that deal with class and ethnic issues [such as between Ashkenazi and Sephardim]. But the style has changed; it’s not overtly political anymore. On the other hand, there is now a flood of documentaries which are straightforward political films that deal with the conflict, with Israeli militarism and the Holocaust. There are many second or third generation filmmakers telling fam ily stories about the Holocaust, or stories of the traumas suffered by Jews uprooted from Arab states like Egypt and Iraq in the 1950s and 60s. All of those stories that were heavily suppressed by the Zionist-socialist ideology. TO: What form does this suppression take in the cinema? JN:The control is there, but it’s very complicated. All my films were censored, in this way or that.We do have an official censor in Israel, but there are other techniques, too. Take as example my film Paratroopers. It’s a story that takes place in boot camp, so I needed the help of the army because there is no civilian storehouse where you can rent props like jeeps or rifles on a commercial basis. Before they would give me the props, I had to submit the script to the public relations department of the army. They read the script and said no way, that the story was distorted. In the story, a soldier who is being harassed in boot camp commits suicide. But they said that this would never happen, and if I must kill this soldier, it should be a “positive suicide”they suggested the soldier jump on a hand grenade that falls during the training to protect his comrades. They actually said that if I replaced my scene with their positive suicide, they would give me everything. Of course I wouldn’t do that. . . [After taking the script all the way to the Chief of Staff and being rejected] I started to check the possibility of importing my props, but I wasn’t licensed as an arms dealer, and couldn’t get a license. Finally I wrote a letter to the Minister of Defense, who at that time was Shimon Peres, arguing that if Israel is a democracy the army cannot 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/9/03