According to directoryaah, the history of Israeli cinema is inextricably linked to the troubled historical and political events which, from the official birth of the Zionist movement (1897) led, in 1948, to the creation of the State of Israel in the same territories already inhabited by the Arabs. It is a story that since its origins follows a parallel path to the ‘birth of the nation’, its establishment as a territory where to bring together, in the name of the complex Zionist ideology, the many peoples of the Jewish diaspora: therefore a multi-ethnic society par excellence, but a virtual nation ‘ ‘, born from the logic of international politics and diplomacy (to which the tragedy of the Shoah impressed a sudden acceleration after World War II). Therefore, Israeli cinema does nothing but reflect and represent the conflicts that have always marked the country: a cultural (but also social and economic) identity divided between the West and the East (that is, between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi lineage); the constant dichotomy between memory and future, between ‘heroic’ tension, awareness of a ‘unique’ destiny and the search for ‘normality’. To these internal lacerations in Israeli culture is added the bloody conflict with the Palestinian people dispossessed of their lands and resources, exiled to their own homeland, for one of the most dramatic paradoxes in contemporary history, by exiles and victims par excellence. and search for ‘normality’. To these internal lacerations in Israeli culture is added the bloody conflict with the Palestinian people dispossessed of their lands and resources, exiled to their own homeland, for one of the most dramatic paradoxes in contemporary history, by exiles and victims par excellence. and search for ‘normality’. To these internal lacerations in Israeli culture is added the bloody conflict with the Palestinian people dispossessed of their lands and resources, exiled to their own homeland, for one of the most dramatic paradoxes in contemporary history, by exiles and victims par excellence.
The cinema of the pioneers
If the land of Palestine was among the first to be photographed by the cinema and its inventors (the operators of the Lumière brothers arrived there as early as 1896, those of Thomas A. Edison in 1903), we must wait for the end of the First World War, with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the British mandate over Palestine, decided by the League of Nations in 1920, to see the birth of a cinema made directly by Jewish immigrants. The first of these was Ya’ackov Ben Dov, a Jew of Ukrainian origin who gave birth, with the Menorah, to the first film company by making documentaries directly financed and sponsored by Zionist institutions around the world, which soon realized the extraordinary potential that the new means of expression could offer to their cause. They were openly propaganda or educational films, illustrating the pioneers’ efforts in agricultural work, road construction and public works, spreading the language, or preserving Jewish rites. These films also circulated abroad, translated into the different languages of the diaspora.The first sound film, which with great technical and photographic skill mixed fiction and documentary, was Zot Hi Ha-᾽Arets (1935, This is the land) by the Baruch brothers and Yitzhak Agadati, who traced the history and concrete achievements of the early decades of the Zionist movement. In fact, the first fictional film in Hebrew, starring theatrical actors, ῾Oded Ha-Noded (Oded the Tramp), had been ‘shot’ in 1932 by Natan Axelrod and Haim Halachmi, but was released without a soundtrack. Axelrod,
Between the thirties and forties there were numerous films made with the aim of seeking funds to feed aliyah, or emigration to the land of Palestine, especially from Nazi Germany. Many of these were foreign productions of Jews residing in the United States.
The seventies and politicization
The euphoria for success in the 1967 ‘blitzkrieg’ vanished, the social and economic attrition imposed by the chronicity of the conflict (the ‘permanent war’ as General Moshe Dayan defined it) sowed unrest in the country, destined to explode after the first military defeat in the Yom Kippur War (1973).
This situation had a strong echo not only in the literary and theatrical production, but also in the cinematographic one. The ‘new sensibility’ movement thus took a more political direction. The film that more than any other became the interpreter of this new trend by mercilessly describing the country’s moral crisis and denouncing the prevailing militarism and police pressure – and the first, perhaps, to tackle the dark knots of the conflict with the Palestinians in no uncertain terms. – is Shalom, tefilat Ha-Derekh (1973, Shalom, the prayer in the street) debut work by Yaki Yosha, former assistant of Zohar, who was also screenwriter and producer of the film. Shalom (“peace” in Hebrew) is the name of the young protagonist, who wanders, on foot or by car,
Other significant films of this marked socio-political trend are Le’an Ne῾elam Daniel Wax? (1972, What Happened to Daniel Wax?) By A. Heffner, a sort of ‘big cold’ of the Seventies and ᾽Or min Ha-Hefqer (1973, Lights on Nothing) by N. Dayan, a director of Syrian origin, who describes the plight of some young people in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. But the first film explicitly critical of the institution of military service (in Israel the draft is absolutely compulsory and lasts three years) was Masa῾ ᾽Alunqot (1977, Paratroopers) by Yehuda Judd Ne’eman.