To See If I Am Smiling

In the documentary, To See If I Am Smiling (released in 2007), six young Israeli women recount their experiences of military service in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The title comes from a story told by Meytal, a medic and medical officer. Having described how cleaning the corpses of Palestinians after they had been brutalized by Israeli soldiers had become a routine part of her job, she goes on to recount a particular moment that still haunts her: when she posed for a photograph next to a corpse.

I’m not sure when it was, but at some point I became very ashamed of that picture. And I didn’t tell anyone about it, that it existed. I forgot about it a little. But I would like to see it. To see if I look different. I want to see if I’m still smiling.

The photograph is not shown in the documentary, but in the mind’s eye of most Americans it probably evokes memories of Abu Ghraib.

Such images are iconic because they capture the moment in which a soldier discovers that he or she has become the very thing they fear. The dehumanized other is a vortex from which there is no escape.

If a nation can have such a thing as a soul, To See If I Am Smiling, reveals how profoundly Israel’s soul has been scarred by 43 years of occupation. A fully militarized society has shackled itself to a conviction — we have no choice — whereby each individual can then bury their own awareness of complicity and moral responsibility under a collective weight of irresistible necessity.

But even among Israelis who are comfortably indifferent to the plight of Palestinians, one has to wonder: how do they account for what they have done to their own sons and daughters?

As a nation struggles to avoid looking at itself, no wonder the fury and passion with which it attacks those who hold up a mirror.

Watch this 60-minute documentary.

Tamar Yarom, the film’s director, gave the following interview in 2008 at the ZagrebDox international documentary film festival:

(H/t to Marsha Cohen.)

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2 thoughts on “To See If I Am Smiling

  1. Astraea

    When a country uses women to fight in the army it is already morally defunct, hopeless demorallized.

    Furthermore, the Jews have no right to be in Palestine. Invading and taking the land and homes of other people is simply wrong, immoral.

    It is nauseating to hear them pretending that the Bible gives them the right to be in Palestine at all.

    There is a country called Birobidjan in South East Russia. It is the same size as Switzerland and has everything one could hope for in a country including a modern city. Stalin, a Georgian Jew, established this country in 1921 and called it the Jewish Autonomous Region.

    Since almost all Jews now living on the land of the People of Palestine are not middle eastern at all, but actually came from Eastern Europe and before that from a place situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, what are they doing in Palestine or the Middle East at all???

    Furthermore, the Bible is almost all just the mythology of OTHER cultures. There was no Moses (unless it Akhenaton who they meant) no Solomon, David was just a robber and part of a band of “plunderers” known as Apiru, or Habiru or Shasu. And, there was no temple weither except for a description of an Egyptian temple in the Bible!

    Anyway, they certainly should be ashamed. Deeply ashamed – and all these women who feel they have done wrong – which they certainly have – should just get out of Palestine and return the houses and gardens and olive groves and farms to the women whom the Jews drove out in 1948.

    Then I might take the stories seriously.

  2. DE Teodoru

    We are really supporting an ever morphing mini-Soviet Union depending on an “internationalism” of its own that is about to be tempted into its own Afghanistan-like bear trap. Then see how Americans cuff off such “dear friends” once these cross that invisible line….And American Jews will then come face to face with obvious fact that they are Americans, not Israelis, the Jewish part besides the point. It will amaze you how quiet and indifferent they– like all other Americans– will be as the spigot through which America’s dwindling wealth exsanguinates closes!

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