Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Having its world premiere at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and then preceding to win the festival's Best International Feature Documentary Film Prize, the feature documentary Objector chronicles the hardships and challenges of Atalya Ben-Abba, a member of the Israeli Youth. Our very own Samyukta Iyer had the opportunity to sit down with the documentary’s director Molly Stuart and the subjects of the film (Atalya Ben-Abba and Amitai Ben-Abba), discussing everything about Objector and its star-studded world premiere.
Interviewer: Firstly, what inspired you to create Objector? How did you come to know about this story?
Molly: I met Amitai at college in Vermont, and he told me all about it. Atalya is an incredible, humble and brave woman. Very few others were doing what she did because of the backlash to the growing movement of conscientious objectors. I wanted to bring this story to the big screen for other Israelis who are also facing the same decision as well as informing youth and family members around the world whom are trying to make a change.
Interviewer: What challenges did you have, and how did you deal with such a sensitive subject that has sparked so much debate?
Amitai: Many documentaries about this topic have been made, and they've all done exception work of educating large masses. Although films like Roadmap to Apartheid and Occupation 101 were fundamental for research, we decided that we wanted to tell the story differently; to focus on the coming of age of Atalya as an activist, and the transformation of our family as a result. The challenge was to show this narrative of our personal lives while discussing and giving insight into the complexity of the political situation. Creating a call to action and telling a human story was and is a really powerful way to show the larger political situation and invite people to join Atalya.
Interviewer: How did you research and prepare for the filming process in terms of finding all these different organizations and families?
Amitai: I have been doing this kind of work my entire life, and documentary films have always been a tool for my understanding as an activist and to raise awareness in the larger community. So in a way, this was a lifetime research in creating connections that came into play when creating the film and characters.
Molly: We watched a lot of films by Palestinians and Israelis and organizations such as Just Vision, but we did notice a need for more media from the perspective of Jewish Israelis fighting for Palestinian human rights, the people who have come to an understanding very different from the dominant narrative passed down in the government.
Interviewer: What was it like growing up surrounded by propaganda and widespread encouragement for joining the military? The scene with Atalya’s nephew was extremely impactful to see how young they begin to form these beliefs.
Atalya: I grew up in a more open school that tried to break down those walls between Israeli and Palestinian children. They had many projects to bring children together, but the rest of the education system in Israel just creates fear and hate against Palestinian through the environment of militarism. The military has an education corps that sends teachers to schools. The army is such an integral part of our lives that whenever they see something that is against the consensus they have a very violent reaction to it.
Amitai: In the primary school we went to, there were and are still memorials for soldiers who died in the army, and we would look and think about these people and whether you recognize their surnames. We grew up knowing that you might die for your country. I specifically learned Arabic in junior high, but the military would just tell you all these heroic stories of Israelis who used Arabic in a military sense. This kind of education starts in kindergarten.
Interviewer: What is one thing you want people to walk away with after watching Objector?
Atalya: I want people to walk away with a sense of hopefulness. I think each audience differs in their reaction, depending on how aware they are. Some audiences are aware, and they can feel hopeless about their ability to change things, so that's why Objector isn't just for the activist. I hope people will come out thinking that there’s no other choice than creating changes. I hope that people who are unaware of what’s happening and what they should do will view things differently. I hope it inspires young people who are planning on enlisting to make an informed choice about what they’re going to do and not just do it without understanding the whole picture.
Molly: I was interested in having a film that affects and is widely received in American communities because we currently don’t have many. If we as Americans can pressure our government to pressure Israel, and leverage what power and support we already give to rightwing policies in Israel, we can affect change there. We’re [Molly, Atalya, Amitai] very aligned with social movements in the US and with communities that are rooted in peace and human and civil rights to promote lasting change.
Amitai: This film shows the power of young people and how a person’s choice can make a difference and transform into a larger impact. As youth lead older generations in political struggle, our hope is that Objector can help inspire youth everywhere.
Interviewer: Are there any organizations or individuals you would like to mention?
Atalya: I don’t do my activism alone, and I would not have gotten this far without my community. I am part of an organization of conscientious objectors called Mesarvot that has many young people that bring awareness to this particular political issue.
Molly: People can also find many resources about our film on the website. There’s also information about our impact project and our connections with partner organizations.
Atalya Ben-Abba, a 19-year-old Israeli, is obligated to enlist in the armed forces. But the more she learns about occupied Palestinian territories the more she is tempted to refuse conscription. In Molly Stuart’s debut feature, we are offered a rare window into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the perspective of an indomitable Jewish woman making an uncommon sacrifice. As Atalya searches for alternatives to government service and is frequently imprisoned, her actions affect the outlook of both her family and her community.