Director: Michal Zilberman, Michele Mitchell

Produced by Michal Zilberman and Michele Mitchell

Hosted by David Brancaccio
NOW on PBS  
Inside Israel’s Army, which aired on July 17, 2009, profiles the views and experiences of three Israeli reservists who served in the war in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. Correspondent Michele Mitchell and producer Michal Zilberman produced an excellent piece of journalism by handling their interviews in a non-judgmental manner while ensuring adherence to factual accuracy.

A key element of the segment’s success lies in the selection of interview subjects. In recent years, American television audiences have been exposed to a number of documentaries touching upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. CNN correspondent Christianne Amanpour’s God’s Religious Warriors is an example of an agenda driven program that promoted a partisan political viewpoint by apportioning undue attention to the views of fringe figures and leaving erroneous assertions uncorrected. In contrast, Now on PBSselected three soldiers whose opinions reflected mainstream Israeli views. All three accept the need to defend their country, but express different attitudes concerning Israel’s future.

The producers and writers of the segment are careful with the facts. The narrator correctly establishes that the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 opened with Hezbollah’s bombardment of northern Israel. This is important because much of the news coverage of the conflict failed to report the sequence of events correctly by omitting Hezbollah’s initial barrage. Instead the conflict was portrayed as instigated by a single Hezbollah’s border incursion to which Israel’s subsequent bombardment and invasion of southern Lebanon seemed disproportionate.

All three reservists come across positively. But of the three soldiers profiled, Ronan Herskowitz, a drama instructor in his regular life, receives the most attention. Herskowitz is the embodiment of the model Israeli citizen-soldier. “We protect life on both sides,” he asserts. His words are reinforced by his acts: his understated bravery under fire in Lebanon and later his decision to leave an IOU containing his phone number with a Lebanese family from whom he took food when his unit outran their supplies.

Herskowitz questions and criticizes decisions made by Israel’s leaders, but firmly believes in service to his country and feels a personal responsibility to not let his fellow soldiers down. His courage, decency and humility contradict the image of the IDF promoted by disaffected Israelis, like those behind the group Breaking the Silence, who are lauded by anti-Israel groups in Europe and America for their portrayal of Israelis soldiers as callous towards Palestinian civilians. 

Journalist Idan Motola represents a strand of mainstream Israeli thought who no longer can abide the state’s warrior ethic that demands completion of the mission no matter what the cost. Unlike Herskowitz, Motola is uneasy about his role as a soldier, yet when called to service, he responds and recognizes there are times when the military option is the right decision.

Actor Ohad Knoller comes from the opposite end of the mainstream spectrum from Motola. He sees each battle as a piece of the larger war for Israel’s existence. Knoller is pessimistic about prospects for lasting peace, acknowledging that “even states that are at peace [with Israel] didn’t recognize Israel has its right to be a Jewish state.” Because he sees no likelihood of true acceptance by the Arabs, Knoller favors the continual bolstering of Israel’s borders. He says, “why not build settlements, keep on doing what we are good at doing, developing our state.”

All three are critical of the handling of the war with Hezbollah in 2006, yet they continue to accept the need for an aggressive military response. Their criticisms of the war do not arise from their politics, but rather from a personal loss of confidence in their leaders’ decision to go to war without adequate preparation. They see Israel’s leadership during the war as having failed at a basic level of competence.

The men were called up again during the Gaza operation in late December 2008. Despite a common desire to avoid war, all three agreed that this was “the right war for the right reasons.” As Herskowitz argues, no one can abide the relentless missile barrages from Gaza into Israeli towns.

Herskowitz describes a compact between the Israeli state and its citizen-soldiers. He says that the leadership has a responsibility to do all it can to avoid war. But once these efforts are exhausted and a military response is decided upon, the leadership needs to answer three questions:

How is it done? Why are we doing it? Who needs to do it?

Herskowitz implies that these questions were not properly answered in 2006 against Hezbollah, but were in 2009 against Hamas in Gaza.

by Steven Stotsky

Review can also be found here:


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