P. David Hornik

Would you make a film like Foxtrot?

I haven’t seen Samuel Maoz’s film Foxtrot, which has won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and will presumably go on to win more prizes and be shown around the world. It would probably be too painful for me to sit through it.

There is, first of all, the scene shown in the trailer for the film: an Israeli soldier dances with his gun in the midst of a desolate landscape. The soldier looks utterly ridiculous; at one point he fondles the gun and clutches it to him erotically. Behind him is some sort of vehicle—supposed to be an Israeli army vehicle?—with a picture of a blond woman holding an ice cream cone to her lips. The soldier comes off as absurd, depraved, and loving violence for its own sake.

I made aliyah (moved to Israel) when I was 30, did a shortened form of combat training in the IDF, then did 15 years of reserve duty, first in an artillery unit and later in a territorial-defense unit. If I were a filmmaker, it’s absolutely inconceivable that I would make a film portraying an Israeli soldier in that way.

As described in a Vanity Fair review, the film opens with a scene showing the IDF as ludicrously incompetent:

Foxtrot…begins with a ring at the front door, and young mother Dafna (Sarah Adler) fainting when she sees who it is. The two soldiers know exactly what to do, they’ve seen it all before. They’ve come to inform Dafna and Michael (Lior Ashkenazi, the hardest working man in the Israeli film industry right now) that their son has died in the line of duty.


The next thirty minutes are a terse and precise procedural. With Dafna doped-up in the next room, Michael tries to keep it together in his elegantly furnished home as handlers explain what will happen next. Then, a miracle. It’s all been a mistake. A solider was killed, but it isn’t their son, just someone with the same name.

One could say that, in rare cases, such things do happen, and this scene isn’t knocking the IDF. Perhaps—if it stood by itself. But the review goes on to describe more of Foxtrot:

…we cut to young Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) and his three comrades at the grungiest and least-busy outpost in the Middle East.


The four young men have more stray camels wandering through their checkpoint than suspicious vehicles. But stoically stopping cars and asking to see papers is the only task they’ve got. The rest of the time they stay in their bunk, a converted shipping container that is slowly sinking into the muck. They eat repulsive potted meat and occasionally tell one another stories.


The difference between when they are alone and when they are performing their duty is extraordinary. They change, essentially, from human beings to tight-lipped automatons. It’s easy to project a melancholy or even some fear as they ruin innocent people’s nights by having them stand out in the rain, but it’s hard to know what exactly they are thinking. No one says anything. (emphasis added)

That is not the IDF I served in. We were constantly admonished to uphold moral standards and treat people from a hostile population with respect. Sometimes, at roadblocks, we had to “stoically stop cars and ask to see papers”; the sole purpose was to apprehend possible terrorists and prevent terror attacks. Will the viewers—especially the foreign viewers—of Foxtrot get the feeling from this film that the IDF’s purpose is to protect the Israeli population from murderous groups, and their state sponsors, that want to destroy Israel? I think they’ll get a very different impression—a slanderous one.

And all this presumably pales in comparison to a scene that “shows Israeli soldiers killing and then burying an Arab family.” As Culture Minister Miri Regev put it, “In the IDF I served for over 25 years, there are no such scenes.”

Regev has raised the question of whether the Israeli state—that is, the taxpayers, most of whom serve or have served in the IDF—should be funding films like Foxtrot that defame the IDF to foreign audiences. Her complaint has sparked the usual knee-jerk responses that do not address the complaint itself.

Those responses can be summed up with the phrase “freedom of expression.” But freedom of expression is not the issue; Israelis are entirely free to create films (or plays, novels, etc.) that vilify Israel and to present them to whomever they want. The question is whether we have to pay to have ourselves vilified—which is a different matter, and quite a valid question to raise.


About the Author
P. David Hornik, a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor in Be'er Sheva, has published novels, a story collection, an essay collection, poetry, and numerous articles. His memoir, Israel Odyssey: Coming of Age and Finding Peace in the Middle East, is forthcoming this year from God of the Desert Books.
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