The First 54 Years
An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation

France 2021, 110 mins
Director: Avi Mograbi

+ Pre-recorded Q&A

‘Military occupation’ is an abstract term, open to mistaken interpretation. What does ‘occupation’ imply? What does it mean for people living under occupation? What means must be employed so that occupation can be implemented?

This film instils meaning in the term ‘occupation’ in the form of a ‘manual for military occupation’ derived from the testimonies of those people who implemented it in practice. Director Avi Mograbi hosts the viewers in his living room and provides insights to how a colonialist occupation works, the logic behind the practices that it produces and the different modes of thought needed to be applied at different situations in order to maintain it. In his presentation Mograbi is using the 54-year Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a case study.

The occupation as we see it is like a creature with an infinite number of heads. Each head is a good person, who served in the Israeli army and was stationed in the Occupied Territories, where he completed the missions imposed on him, and ultimately believed that he was taking part in fulfilling Israel’s conception of security. Almost every Jewish Israeli served in the army and played a part, whether directly or indirectly, in the day-to-day maintenance of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There have been many generations of labourers who did the dirty work, who learned the trade and passed it on to one another, from father to son, so that the next generation would know how to grease the cogs of military control. A miniscule group of them appears in this film and breaks down this service into daily activities. These are testimonies and not opinions. The witnesses in this film do not describe their thoughts or positions concerning what they did. They simply talk about what they did and about the actions that they were required to participate in, so that the occupation could exist then and continue to exist into the future. Not one of these activities is essential to the persistence of the occupation, but together, they constitute the occupation’s very essence.

Director’s Statement

My films tend to get complicated and even when my intention is to make a very simple film, many times things get tricky. The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation was supposed to be a very simple film: a collection of soldiers’ testimonies spanning 54 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The testimonies are taken from the archive of ‘Breaking the Silence’, an organisation of Israeli veteran soldiers who have taken upon themselves to expose the inner workings of the occupation machine to the Israeli public. The film was originally titled The First 54 Years and the subtitle was added later.

At first I was convinced that indexing the testimonies within a logic of internal connections would be enough to tell the story of what is probably the longest occupation in modern history. I thought that the compilation of one testimony after another would autonomously bring forth the meaning of occupation: what it means to be an occupier, what it involves to sustain an occupation, and what kind of system the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories find themselves living under. It was clear to me from the outset that I would concentrate on actions, deeds, commands and mechanisms as the soldiers describe them, rather than on their reflections about these deeds.

But as editing progressed, I realised that I had to develop a framework that would contain the deeper meaning of this huge enterprise, the largest the State of Israel has undertaken in its 73 years of existence. After all, I do not assume that Israel’s purpose is solely to cause suffering to the Palestinians. It was clear to me that in order for my project to be complete, I had to connect the very strong body of testimonies with some logic that would allow a deeper understanding of the reasons for the longevity of the occupation and the unlikelihood of its ending in the foreseeable future.

The vast majority of the testimonies deal with local events which in themselves do not reveal the general impetus that led to their formation. The single incident of imposing a curfew, erecting a checkpoint, detaining someone or restricting movement does not usually indicate the broader end which it serves.

Thus was born the Abbreviated manual for military occupation – a kind of instruction manual for operating a military occupation that deals not only with the ‘how’ but also with the ‘why’ of these provisions: what general purpose does this or that mechanism serve, and what is the occupier’s motivation when imposing a particular system of laws and rules on the inhabitants of the occupied territory?

It was clear to me that no one who had been part of the system that created and set the rules of the occupation would agree to collaborate with this project and honestly reveal the logic behind the huge machine of the occupation. I therefore had no choice but to take upon myself the role of representing the enormous system known as the Israeli occupation.
Avi Mograbi

Breaking the Silence is an organisation that has been collecting and publishing testimonies of IDF soldiers who served in the occupied territories since its establishment in 2004. We have taken upon ourselves to inform the public about the reality we were an integral part of in order to bring an end to the occupation.

The act of breaking one’s silence and going against the grain is never easy in any context. In Israel, criticising the occupation is seen as almost sacrilegious and Breaking the Silence testifiers have paid a heavy personal price for talking about what enforcing military rule over a civilian population looks like.

And yet, this is a small price to pay in order to bring an end to a reality of perpetually ruling over the lives of millions of people against their will through the use of military force.

The First 54 Years is a work that carries deep historical significance, but also serves as a reminder that, after over half a century of sending soldiers to occupy the territories, there is a potential silence breaker in almost every Israeli household today.

Mograbi’s film therefore sheds light not only on the historical events that have taken place over the years Israel has been an occupying power, but also on the character and nature of the occupier, giving a human face to the perpetrators and examining their actions as individuals working as part of a system of oppression.
Avner Gvaryahu, Executive Director of Breaking the Silence

Written and Directed by: Avi Mograbi
A production: Les Films d’Ici
In coproduction with: 24 Images, Arte France, Citizen, Jane Productions, MA.JA.DE Productions, Avi Mograbi
In association with: YLE
With the participation of: RTS, CNC
Supported by: AVEK, Finnish Film Foundation, Berlinale World, Cinema Fund, PROCIREP/ANGOA
Produced by: Serge Lalou, Camille Laemle, Annie Ohayon-Dekel
Co-produced by: Elina Pohjola, Leila Lyytikäinen, Heino Deckert, Avi Mograbi
In co-production with: Arte France, Fabrice Puchault, Anne Grolleron
Production Manager: Nicolas Lebecque
Cinematographers: Philippe Bellaïche, Tulik Galon
Editor: Avi Mograbi
Colourist: Ido Karilla
Sound: Joonas Jyrälä, Dominique Vieillard

France 2021
110 mins

Opening Night: European Premiere: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) + pre-recorded Q&A
Fri 4 Jun 20:15
UK Premiere: Lift like a Girl + pre-recorded Q&A
Sat 5 Jun 20:15
International Premiere: My Name Is Pauli Murray + pre-recorded Q&A
Sun 6 Jun 18:30
UK Premiere: The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation + pre-recorded Q&A
Fri 11 Jun 20:20
Closing Night: World Premiere: The Story of Looking + pre-recorded Q&A
Sat 12 Jun 20:50

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