Israel Defense Forces commanders received instructions several weeks ago not to screen the controversial movie "Bethlehem" to rank-and-file soldiers. Instructions were issued in a letter by senior Israel Defense Forces education officer, Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tsuk.
The Israeli film, directed by Yuval Adler, portrays a complicated relationship between Razi, a Shin Bet agent portrayed by Tzahi Halevy, and Sanfur, a Palestinian collaborator portrayed by Sahdi Marei. The film won the Ophir Award for Best Film of 2013 and received another five Israeli film awards including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
"Bethlehem" was not approved for screening to foot soldiers but may be shown to soldiers serving in special units, such as Military Intelligence, in order to spark discussions on morals and values. An officer ranked colonel or higher must sign off when screening the film to foot soldiers in special units that actively recruit agents.
Paz-Tsuk recommends in the letter that the movie be screened to officers ranked company commander or higher, but a colonel or higher may allow platoon commanders to watch the film. The approval of the senior officer will be given only after watching the film himself and reaching the conclusion that it is required viewing.
According to the senior education officer, the movie "Bethlehem" depicts both Israeli and Palestinian points of view, but does not address issues that preoccupy IDF soldiers and their commanders; it also does not portray the type of dilemmas IDF soldiers encounter nor help guide their conduct in these situations.
"The Education Corps," the IDF spokesman said in a statement, "which is responsible for the movies and plays that can be shown within the IDF, carefully examined the content of the movie. Among other things, representatives of the corps met with the movie's creators and producers. In light of its complexity, it was decided that the film would be approved for screening at the officer level. Similarly, officers have been issued with talking points that they can use to lead a discussion after watching the film."
No Oscar nods this year
In related news, it was reported last week that Israel would not be represented at the 2014 Academy Awards. "Bethlehem" was not among the nine movies nominated for Best Foreign Film by the American Motion Picture Association. "Omar," by Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad, was nominated.