OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Wrestling with memories of their compulsory military service that they would rather erase, six former Israeli female conscripts have spoken out in a new documentary about the darker side of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians territories.
"It’s easy to finish your military service and push it to the back of your mind," director of the documentary "To See If I’m Smiling" Tamar Yarom told Reuters on Friday, November 16.
"But these girls are telling their personal stories, which are not always very nice, to show people what is going on."
In the documentary, the six former female conscripts describe how they were traumatized for life by the residual guilt that they humiliated, abused and papered over torture of Palestinians.
One of the female soldiers is shown stripping a Palestinian man to his underwear and then beat him.
Another one is scrubbing corpses of Palestinians to hide signs of abuse by Israeli soldiers.
"How in hell did I think I’d ever be able to forget?" she says, fighting back tears.
Yarom said a personal experience encouraged her to make the film.
As a support soldier during the earlier intifada of the 1980s, she was shown a Palestinian torture victim but failed to speak out.
Almost two decades later, she still cannot shake the image of the man, slumped over a generator, his neck bent to the side and his face covered in blood.
"It’s the kind of picture that stays with you forever," she said. "During my service I detached myself. When you try to re-attach yourself afterwards it’s painful."
Yarom hopes the documentary will prompt soul-searching in Israeli society and encourage other traumatized ex-soldiers to talk about violence they may have inflicted or witnessed.
"This country is in a coma. With all the bombs and attacks, we are numb," she said.
Yarom said many of the Israeli female soldiers are still in their teens when they start their army stints, being highly vulnerable to psychological scars due to the violence into which they are thrust.
"You expect women to be more sensitive to suffering and more empathetic to the other side," Yarom said.
"But the strength of the film is how it shows what happens to human beings in such a warped situation, and how women are not immune."
Israel is one of the only countries to enforce military service for women.
The military service is compulsory for Jewish and Druze men and Jewish women over the age of 18, although exceptions may be made on religious, physical or psychological grounds.
Men serve three years in the army, while women serve two.
Following regular service, men may be called for reserve service of up to one month annually, until the age of 43-45, and may be called for active duty immediately in times of crisis.
In September 2003, twenty-seven reserve and active duty airmen signed a letter addressed to then Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, refusing to carry out "immoral and illegal" raids on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
They warned that the occupation of Palestinian territories was eating at the moral fabric of the state of Israel.
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