Field Diary – a group of IDF soldiers patrolling Ramallah

Amos Gitai
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In the early eighties, Gitai set off on a journey into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip where he documented the Israeli military’s presence in the Occupied Territories before and during the First Lebanon War, whilst meeting with both Israeli settlers and indignant Palestinian protestors. This is one of the most rattling and powerful pieces ever made about Israeli occupation to date. The scene in which a group of soldiers is seen patrolling the streets of Ramallah, on the hunt for the boy who had thrown rocks at them and who they’re now looking to question is but one example of the daily, impossible scenarios which the reality of the occupation has given rise to.

Three IDF soldiers are seen sat in a shaded bus stop, their rifles on their laps. The film crew’s vehicle pulls up in front of them. “Look at all the fun these guys are having,” one soldier observes, referring to the film crew. “They’re nearly done. Sorry, I’m not being rude you guys, but what you’re doing – it’s not cool. Why you gotta be on our tails like that, huh? Can’t you see you’re interrupting our work?”

A deeper, lower, and quieter voice is then heard coming from inside the car: “exactly what is it that I’m interrupting?” The soldier then continues to shout abuse at the camera whilst telling the director he refuses to be in the film. The third soldier then gets up and mutters something inaudible in his ear. The soldiers promptly leave the scene with the car following behind. The head of the troop is heard speaking into his radio: “so there’s this guy here who’s been following us the last half hour, filming us. What do I do?” The soldiers walk on in silence and the car stays on their trail, in equal silence. Meanwhile, the city of Ramallah is gradually revealed. This is Field Diary’s closing shot (1982).
“This scene is possibly one of those rarest instances where film is not only preoccupied with documenting a situation but also crosses over into intervention territory – that is, the camera itself is actively involved in the scene and in that, changes the way it plays out,’ Gittai remarks. “The act of documenting may very well have stopped a violent act that might otherwise have taken place, had the camera not been present. Then, on the other hand the camera ends up chasing the soldiers away from wherever they’re sat down because they don’t want to appear in the film. My incessant presence as the director is felt at all times. The soldiers [ultimately] don’t opt for violence to stop the filming which itself, has accomplished a rare feat – chasing away the military.”

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