One Shot – The Silent Sniper Speaks

It used to be that in days of past, as the legends go, the cry would go out on the battlefield, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes." This was a necessary order in those days, as the technology of arms only allowed weapons with limited accuracy over longer the distances

longer the distances. If you could see the whites of their eyes, then the enemy was most likely within shooting range. Of course this meant that they were also probably within grappling distance, which made warfare in that time not all that much different from the era of swords and spears.
With the growing industrialization of warfare, the weapons have become more accurate (and deadlier) over longer distances. No longer does one have "to see the whites of their eyes" to eliminate the enemy. And yet, there still exists one position who maintains that close up, intimate warfare, the sniper.

"One Shot", is as intimate as its subject matter's profession. The film by Nurit Kedar delicately balances scenes of IDF soldiers on operational missions, with interviews of IDF snipers. The operational scenes are presented with no narration, just the stark imagery of soldiers carrying out their missions. The narrative is left to the snipers, telling their stories. It is important to note that the film opens with the message: "This is the first time snipers of the [IDF] were given permission to be interviewed for a film", and as such the filmmakers were required, against their will, to censor the film by the IDF military censor. I was in the audience at the Jerusalem Film Festival when this movie had its Israeli premiere. At the time there was great uncertainty as to whether or not it would even be allowed to be screened. In the end, it was, but as a form of protest, the filmmaker placed the word "CENSORED" in large letters across the faces of the snipers. With snipers as part of every combat unit (as the film further states at the beginning), one wouldn't think that interviewing them would be as sensitive as to need special permission. But that is the case.


What is fascinating about their stories is the wide range of emotion that they represent. Like the IDF itself, they are a cross section of Israeli society, and each react differently to their rigors of their job. One of them describes it as fun, another as a game. Still another takes it deadly serious. The current that ties them together is the still professionalism as they wait for the permission to take that "One Shot", and complete the mission. In comparison to the chaotic climate of the typical battlefield, with shouted orders and bullets flying, these sniper soldiers wait patiently, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, as they keep track of their target up close and personal, albeit from a distance through the telescopic sight. This waiting takes a psychological toll on them, how do they see the "other", the enemy? In many ways this is reminiscent of Lacan's mirror stage, but rather than a child discovering himself in a mirror, these snipers have the voyeuristic experience of seeing their enemy through a lens, to recognize themselves through the "other". It would seem that they would then need to maintain a psychological distance from their targets to avoid it having an adverse affect on their psyche, but according to a study about Israeli snipers, "do not always need to dehumanize their targets and that they experience killing in conflicting ways, both as pleasurable and as disturbing." This experience comes through in the interviews, even with their faces blurred we identify with their humanity. Perhaps it's because the subjects are now older, having gone through the initial excitement of a young recruit, and now as reservists they approach their profession with more reserve. (Most Israelis serve in the IDF reserves, generally until their 40s, continuing to train and deploy operationally anywhere from a week to a month or more once a year). Whatever the case, "One Shot" gives us a unique insight into a profession of quiet and stealth, one that is not generally talked about, but is integral to the operational activities of the IDF.