Within the framework of the streaming DOCAVIV festival, my husband, Ron, and I had the opportunity to view the documentary film Four Mothers, directed by Dana Keidar Levin and Rephael Levin. This is the second film about Lebanon that we have seen this week in this festival, which confirms the fact that twenty years later, the withdrawal from Lebanon—and the ongoing crisis with our neighbor to the North – are very much on our minds, and certainly on the minds of Israeli filmmakers.
As is well-known within Israeli society, the term Four Mothers refers to two things. The first thing that it relates to is a movement of women which was formed in 1997 to try to end the War in Lebanon and force a unilateral withdrawal from the so-called security zone. These women are generally credited with catalyzing the government to finally pullout all IDF soldiers from Lebanon, just over twenty years ago, in May 2000. The second reference is to the four matriarchs, as we sing in the popular Passover Seder song, Who Knows One? Four are the matriarchs, three are the patriarchs, two are the tablets, and one is God above the heaven and the earth!
These women, not surprisingly, are strong and articulate figures—like their Biblical forebears-- who come across as passionate about their subject, even two decades later. The film provides a fascinating look at what it meant for these remarkable women to create a mass movement from a small personal protest — while overcoming many major obstacles -- and to finally achieve their goal, which became the goal of Israeli society as well. Following the terrible tragedy of the crash of two IDF helicopters in February 1997, which killed more than 70 soldiers — the largest military accident in Israeli history -- Eran Shachar, a member of Kibbutz Palmachim, wrote a stirring op-ed in the kibbutz newspaper, demanding to understand why Israeli mothers sanctify the ritual of army sacrifice. He asked “why don’t they stand up and shout: don’t take my son!” After this article appeared, Rachel Ben Dor, who became the best-known of the four women, contacted Shachar to tell him that she agreed with him. He proposed a meeting with a small group of women who were like-minded. It was just before the holiday of Passover, (hence the reference to the matriarchs), and thus a protest group was formed to try to get our soldiers out of the mud of Lebanon, in which they had been stuck since the beginning of the Lebanon War in 1982!
The original four, Rachel Ben Dor, Miri Sela, Ronit Nahmias and Zahara Antebi, organized demonstrations on the highways and at intersections every Friday, but there was a terrible price to pay in public opinion. People yelled at them, accusing them of not understanding anything, condemning them for being women who shouldn’t enter the arena of security and the military, and for harming the morale of our soldiers serving in Lebanon. People shouted, “Go back to the kitchen,” which was meant to be the ultimate put-down. However, slowly but surely people from all over Israel joined them, people with deeper backgrounds and wider perspectives, and they began to publish educational materials for the Israeli public and for Israeli “leaders”. In these materials, they explained the rise of Hizbollah and the Shi’ites which was a result of Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Previously, Lebanon had been ruled by Maronite Christians, as an inheritance from French colonization. Also, the PLO, who are Sunni Muslims had taken root in Lebanon after they were expelled from Jordan in September 1970, were a major player in the civil war which raged for 15 years, causing much chaos in Lebanon. In one of their meetings with the head of the IDF at the time, Rafael Eitan, they had to correct him after he told them that the Hizbollah fighters were Palestinians! In fact, they are Shi’ites. These women revealed how shocked they were to discover how ill-informed some of our leaders were (and are?!) about who we are really fighting against and why in Lebanon.
In 1998 and 1999, after more than 16-17 years of our soldiers getting slaughtered almost daily in the mud of Lebanon, their movement gained momentum and became more and more relevant to Israeli society. The Four Mothers became a large grassroots movement and when Ehud Barak ran for the post of prime minister on behalf of the Labor Party, in May 1999, he was elected on a platform to withdraw our soldiers from Lebanon within a year, a promise he made good, to the overwhelming satisfaction of the citizens of Israel, who had experienced daily traumas from this war of attrition for so many years.
Four Mothers is a superb documentary film that lets the women speak for themselves. It moved us to want to learn more about this movement -- and especially about these “ordinary” women who expressed themselves so poignantly and forthrightly throughout the film, and who became unbelievably committed to their cause. These women actually succeeded in taking on the military establishment while organizing and implementing the most successful anti-war movement in Israeli history! This film also has some fabulous home footage shot by IDF soldiers themselves, and wonderful archival material.
This is an inspirational story about women standing up for what they believe in our society and, as a result, causing a major change. Indeed, other grassroots organizations today, such as the ones who are trying to topple Bibi, have a lot to learn from the inspirational and effective voluntary movement of these women and all their colleagues. The film (78 minutes) is available from Go2Films.