Yehuda Ne'eman, Severe Critic of the Establishment, Wins Israel Prize for Film

Prof. Yehuda "Judd" Ne'eman, a filmmaker aware of "all the horrible things Israel does," has won the 5769 Israel Prize for film, the Education Ministry announced yesterday. Ne'eman's "academic writings are subversive and full of vision," the judges wrote. "As an artist, researcher, teacher and leader of artists, he has left his mark on crucial junctures in the history of Israeli film since the 1960s."

Two and a half years ago, at the Haifa Festival where he won an award for his contribution to Israeli film, Ne'eman noted his difficulty in accepting a prize from the establishment.

"As a filmmaker, I never shook hands with the government. So upon receiving this prize as well, my hand is trembling slightly," he said. He added that his films are meant to open viewers' eyes to Israel's political reality, because the military here trains young men to abandon their bodies for the sake of the state.

But Ne'eman made clear to Haaretz that he would not refuse the prize, awarded by the judges Prof. Ram Levi, director Orna Ben Dor and Dr. Aner Preminger.

"I feel like I belong and I don't belong; the part that belongs very much wants to be a part of things and receive recognition, while the part that doesn't belong is kicking and telling me all the things a person has to say to himself and not to anyone else," he said.

"With all the horrible things Israel does, I know that from the perspective of history, on the scale of evil, we are not at the top of the chart."

Ne'eman was born in Tel Aviv in 1936 and studied medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, he served as a doctor with the paratroopers.

He never studied film, and his first film as a director, "The Dress," was shown in 1969 at the Cannes Film Festival's directors' forum. His first full-length drama, "Stretcher Drill" ("Masa Alunkot") (1977) focused on a new inductee in the paratroopers who experiences extreme hazing that leads to his suicide.

The Israel Defense Forces asked Ne'eman to make some changes in the screenplay in return for some of the military gear needed for the movie, but he refused and threatened to take his case to the High Court of Justice. Later on the film was used to teach cadets how to prevent suicides among new inductees, and was the subject of film studies.

Ne'eman took part in the fight that led to the creation of the Israel Film Fund, and served twice as the head of Tel Aviv University's department of film and television. But he has continued making films including "Fellow Travellers" ("Magash Hakesef") (1984) and "Streets of Yesterday" ("Rehovot Ha'Etmol") (1989), which featured a political assassination a few years before the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

Due to his frustration with the way his films have been received here, he took a break from filmmaking and only returned in 2006.