Greetings again from the darkness. Decision time is 6 months away. That’s the scheduled day of conscription for Atalya Ben Abba, a 19-year-old Israeli woman. On that day, she either accepts her mandatory Army assignment or subjects herself to a sentence in military prison. Filmmaker Molly Stuart expands her 2017 short film and follows Atalya as she educates herself on just what is at stake.
Civil disobedience, conscientious objector, and traitor…all of these labels can apply, and only Atalya can make the final decision about what direction her life takes. By tagging along, we gain a perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through fresh eyes. It’s a very personal journey for Atalya. At times we feel that perhaps we are a bit too close, and maybe the camera is influencing the actions of those being filmed.
We have a seat at the family dinner table as Atalya debates the issue with her mother, father, and brother. Her brother Amitai secured a military exemption, but both of her parents served, as did her Uncle, who states non-violence is for the weak. Her grandfather and most everyone they know views the military as a civic duty not to be questioned. Her grandfather attempts to shame her by calling her an “optimist,” and labeling her ideas as “stupid.” It’s the most obvious sign of a society that has stopped questioning, and simply accepts its lot. Her family does question whether she knows enough to make this decision.
The film is at its best when Atalya is having conversations on the topic, and she is working through how best to articulate her views on this conflict and tradition she was born in to. At times, she comes across as a typical teenager, too young to be weighted down with this decision; while at other times, she is a deep thinker making up her own mind and reinforcing her beliefs and convictions.
Avoiding social shame and prison would be the easy choice, but of course, Atalya refuses service in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), serves 110 days in prison, and is denied status by the Conscience Committee. Her close bond with her brother and family is further strengthened as she transitions into a public figure – her very public stand leading to notoriety and a call-to-action speech in a town square near the film’s conclusion. Atalya’s main questions seem to all start with “why?” and most of the answers seem to be a twist on ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it.’
Every society needs citizens like Atalya who question the way things are done and expect an answer as to why those things are being done. Ms. Stuart’s film will surely have you digging a bit deeper in your own thoughts.