A former IDF soldier's hopes for peace
Hailing from the land of Israel, SMC student Elinor Nahmani is a creative and passionate patriot. A former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and an aspiring filmmaker, Nahmani is dedicated to preserving the memory of her homeland and highlighting the tragedies on both sides of the Middle East conflict. She sat down with us to share her views on Israeli politics and culture, as well as her own life story. Nahmani was born in Beersheba, Israel in 1981 to a large Moroccan-Jewish family. Though she looks back fondly on the time she spent with her family and friends, Nahmani said her childhood in Israel was "scary." The violence of the Second Intifada, a mass Palestinian uprising, hit Israel hard when Nahmani was still a teenager, leaving a lasting impression on her and her family. "I grew up when busses would explode every fucking day," she said.
Nahmani recounted that daily life became a strategic ordeal as tension between Israelis and Arabs grew. "People can say 'Israel is being unfair to the Palestinians, but also living in that fear, all you know is that you have to defend yourself... but if you're smart enough you would educate yourself and say 'no one is born a murderer.' Once you realize that, I feel there is a way for us and the Palestinians to come to an agreement." Nahmani would often find solace in her school's theatre program, which gave her an escape from the fear and violence surrounding her. With all the turmoil both the Jews and the Arabs have faced over the decades, Nahmani believes they can still "find a way to make it right, and find a to live together," due to the pain both sides have shared.
Nahmani was conscripted into the Israel Defense Force (IDF) at the age of 18. She became an Officer and worked in the IDF's human resources department. "It makes you grow up very fast, it makes you take responsibility, it made me learn about things in the bigger picture," she said. "When I got my officer's rank, I had to go through something, there's a sense of accomplishment once you do all that."
As a young IDF commander fresh out of high school, Nahmani said her position was like that of "a manager in a company when you're just 18." She also had to deal with a "macho man attitude" as one of her commanders did not want a woman in his unit. "I had to work even harder to prove I might be a woman but I can do what guys can do." Despite the challenges, Nahmani recounts her service as "a great experience." As proud as she is of her past service, Nahmani still wishes that we could live in a world where armies are not needed.
Nahmani came to the United States nearly ten years ago to pursue a career as a filmmaker. While she has adjusted well to American society, Nahmani still has fond memories of her homeland. “It’s a great society. I think Israelis are very warm people, very passionate," she said. America, on the other hand, was not that much different for Nahmani. "I felt right at home. The minute I landed, I thought 'oh, it's not that much different,'" she said.
While Israel is rich with culture, Nahmani suggested that the country still lacks a national identity. "It’s still a very young country, it’s only 67 years old, so it still needs to come to terms with exactly who we are.” She also clarified that Israel is "more [closely] integrated than people would know,” and that citizens in its diverse population are much more accepting of one another. "It's a lot of stuff people don't know about Israel, and maybe people don't want to know," she said on the topic of Israeli diversity. "There's a lot of people that really want peace, they might not report it, they might not show it, but a lot of people really want peace." Nahmani is one of those people. “My thought is just can we have peace? Can we come to a place where everybody loves everybody, not just in Israel, but around the world? That’s my wish, it’s the only thing I think about — can we have peace?”
Like many other war-weary Israelis, Nahmani was "not happy" with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent reelection. “I would like to see someone like Rabin,” she said, referring to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a leader in the Israel-Palestine peace process who has assassinated in office. “I do understand how Netanyahu was reelected because right now, unfortunately, it doesn’t look there’s any good leader in Israel, but I don’t think there’s any good leader in the States either. I think people in Israel, because they don’t see anyone else, chose him out of habit.” Despite the disappointing news, Nahmani said she was "also really excited about the past election because it really shows how democratic and independent Israel is.” In Netanyahu's case, Nahmani believes his actions and behavior toward the international community are misguided, but genine. “I see how he’s being protective, but he’s also being very intimidating and I don’t think people need to live their [lives] out of fear, they need to live out of love,” she said. “For him it comes from a very real place. He thinks he’s defending the country and, to be honest, I would love to never have any wars ever again and to say ‘yeah I was right and he was wrong,’ but as a matter of fact, only time will tell what’s true — if they [enemies of Israel] attack he can say ‘I was right!’ We don’t know what’s gonna happen, and it’s not like its not likely to have Iran attack Israel, it’s not like he’s making it up completely. It’s not like he’s not making things up, I think he really is trying to protect the Jewish people in Israel… but he’s trying to scare people even more, and I think that the only way, eventually, to get peace is by talking… even with Iran. But I’m less concerned about Iran as much as I am with the Palestinians and why we’re not getting into peace talks, why this is not progressing.”
Currently, Nahmani studies at SMC and plans to transfer to UC Berkley to pursue a film major, with the goal of making documentary films in the future. Her goals as a film student are to "explore the tools of filmmaking, learn how to communicate stories," and to produce documentaries that are "true, honest, and touching." She is also involved in activism with a small Israeli peace organization. "I want to call for peace and encourage people to try to understand both sides," she said. "Why wait? Let's make it sooner than later." On the critical importance of peace, Nahmani said: "The bible says that 'from Zion there will come a savior.' I don't feel that in the literal, biblical sense. I feel that from 'Zion,' the fact that Palestinian and Israelis would learn to love each other and live together like the children of Abraham, that would give the world model to look for. That's what we need to go for."