For a nation so shaped by its conflicts, Israeli film archive is surprisingly lacking in epic war movies. Much of the reason is the fact that in its early years, the industry lacked the resources or infrastructure to produce them. But another reason is the fact that the country’s reality is so compelling that it lends itself more easily to documentaries than to feature films.
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The features that have been produced that characterize each conflict focus on the personal experience of war, unlike other countries, often coming from filmmakers who have experienced war as soldiers themselves. Each of the following films captures the nature of the particular war it portrayed in a unique way, the horror, heartbreak, humanity, and in some cases, humor and absurdity. The Lebanon War inspired so many compelling films - and changed so radically between the 1982 invasion and the 2000 withdrawal that the list includes two films - one that characterized the conflict’s beginning and one its end.
All of the films can be purchased for viewing on-demand at websites that stream Israeli films - some are available for free on YouTube.
Not only the first Israeli war film, this classic movie was the first feature film ever produced in Israel, and so it is appropriate that it chronicles the conflict that made the creation of the state possible. The film tells the dramatic individual stories of four volunteer soldiers from a wide variety of backgrounds from around the world as they fight to hold on to a strategic location at the entrance to Jerusalem - Hill 24 - just before a truce is declared in the first Arab-Israeli war.
Remarkably, Israel’s most famous, dramatic and fateful conflict has not yet inspired a real dramatization on film. Instead, the most prominent Israeli film to grapple with the Six Day War is is a quirky movie set in June of 1967, immediately following the ceasefire, whose main characters are Egyptian, not Israeli soldiers. The film, which was controversial when released for portraying the enemy sympathetically, follows Gassan and Haled, two lost and wandering Egyptians in the Sinai desert and their surreal encounters as they struggle to reach the Suez Canal.
One of Israel’s legendary cult films, The Band is a rare creature - a military comedy/musical, with dramatic moments, that is filled to bursting with future Israeli stars and songs that became classics over the years and lines that became catchphrases. The movie is based on one of the IDF‘s legendary singing groups - the real-life Nahal entertainment troupe which traveled on rickety buses to perform for IDF soldiers in combat zones in order to boost morale.
“Kippur” is one of the many films by Israel’s most prolific film auteur Amos Gitai, based on Gitai's own experiences as a soldier the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The movie tells the story of two young reserve soldiers called up in the conflict sparked by an Egyptian-Syrian attacks on the Sinai and Golan Heights. Pulled off of the silent streets on Israel’s most somber holiday, they head to the Golan Heights to join their reserve unit, but in the chaos of war, end up with a first-aid rescue team evacuating dead and wounded soldiers from the devastated battlefield.
This film captures the mood of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which happened just as the FIFA World Cup competition was taking place. It deals with the relationship between enemies - the head of a PLO gang in Lebanon and one of the Israeli soldiers they capture in a film the Washington Post called “one of the most unassuming great movies ever made.” The film features brilliant performances by Moshe Ivgi and Muhammed Bakri, two of Israel’s most acclaimed actors, who discover each other’s humanity in mutual admiration of the same soccer team - but realize that this isn’t enough to stave off the tragedies of war.
Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award, director Joseph Cedar’s “Beaufort ” portrays the saga of IDF soldiers in charge of protecting Beaufort Castle, a strategic and historic mountain fortress in southern Lebanon in the days leading up to the exit of Israeli forces from the country after 18 years of occupying the southern region of the country. Based on a best-selling novel, the movie explores the theme of how the same war can feel necessary - and futile - at once. It’s obviously not the first time an Israeli filmmaker grapples with this idea and sadly, not the last.