France, Germany, Finland, Israel


“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 attempts to instill 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 laborers 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 have the tendency 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 testimonies of soldiers from 54 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The testimonies are derived from the archive of "Breaking the Silence" - an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers who took upon themselves the goal to expose the inner workings of the machine of occupation to the Israeli public.

Originally the film was called THE FIRST 54 YEARS and only at a later stage the ABBREVIATED MANUAL FOR MILITARY OCCUPATION was added.
At first I was convinced that to index the testimonies within a certain logic that would create internal connections between them would be enough to tell the story of the occupation which is probably the longest in modern history. I thought that a compilation of one testimony and yet another one and another and so forth would autonomously create the meaning of what is occupation, what it means to be an occupier, what it involves to sustain an occupation and under what kind of system those living under occupation find themselves, i.e. the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It was clear to me from the very first moment that I was going to concentrate only on actions, deeds, commands and mechanisms as the soldiers describe them and not on their reflections concerning the things they did. I wanted to expose to the viewer what an occupation means, how it works, what needs to be done for the occupation to sustain itself.
But as the editing of the film progressed, it became clear to me that I had to develop some kind of framework that would contain the deeper meaning for this huge enterprise, the largest that the State of Israel has created in its 73 years of existence. After all, I do not assume that the purpose Israel is maintaining this occupation 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 why this occupation lasts for so many years and why it is also unlikely to end and disintegrate in the foreseeable future.

The vast majority of the testimonies deal with local events which in themselves do not reveal the general incentive 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 general end for which it serves.

Thus was born the ABBREVIATED MANUAL FOR MILITARY OCCUPATION - a kind of handbook of instructions for operating a military occupation of a territory that deals not only with the "how to" but also with the aim of these provisions. What general purpose does this or that mechanism serve, what is the incentive of the occupier when imposing a certain system of laws and rules on the inhabitants of the occupied territory?

It was clear to me that none of the persons who were 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. Therefore I had no choice but to volunteer and take upon myself the role of representing this enormous system known as the Israeli occupation.

Director's Biography

Israeli filmmaker and video artist Avi Mograbi was born in 1956 in Tel Aviv, where he lives and works to this day. Having studied art and philosophy, he gained his first production experiences working as an assistant director on commercials and feature films, while his own filmmaking career began in 1989. Since 1999, he has taught documentary and experimental film at Tel Aviv University and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.

Mograbi, one of Israel’s most distinguished filmmakers, is known for his unwavering commitment to social, cultural and political justice in the Middle East, as well as his experimentalism and innovative contribution to cinematic language. As an engaged filmmaker, he is actively involved in "Breaking the Silence", an organization dedicated to collecting the testimonies of Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Mograbi also makes video exhibitions (The Details, in the Museo La Tertulia in Cali, Colombia and Maison des Metallos, Paris, France in 2015) and participates in many group exhibitions in the world. Le Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris held a retrospective of his films and videos in 2015.

Avi Mograbi’s documentary films have been programmed by festivals worldwide, including: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Rome, New York, FID Marseille, Vision du Reel and San Francisco, among others.

2008 - Z32
2002 - AUGUST

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Avi Mograbi

Written by: Avi Mograbi

Produced by: Serge Lalou, Camille Laemlé, Annie Ohayon-Deckel, Avi Mograbi, Leila Lyytikäinen, Elina Pohjola, Heino Deckert

Cinematography: Philippe Bellaiche, Tulik Galon

Editing: Avi Mograbi

Sound: Joonas Jyrälä, Dominique Vieillard

Nominations and Awards

  • Documentary Selection 2021