He Walked Through the Fields הוא הלך בשדות

26 May

by Ilan Bloch

The film He Walked Through the Fields lionizes the heroic figure of the tzabar (native-born Israeli), in the person of the protagonist, Uri Kahana. Based on the eponymous novel by Moshe Shamir, it forms part of the literature of the Dor Ha’Palmach (Palmach members had a defining influence over the development of the tzabar culture), and serves as a classic example of how Israeli culture can serve as an heuristic tool designed to persuade readers/viewers to adopt particular ideological positions and attitudes. The tzabar – presented as the quintessential “new Israeli” – possesses the following qualities:

  • He is a strong warrior – Uri serves as a platoon commander;
  • He is an agricultural laborer – Uri’s work ethic serves as a shining example to others;
  • He is communitarian – Uri expresses the idea that the collective as represented by the Palmach is more important than the individual as represented by himself and Mika, both as individuals and as a couple;
  • He is secular, but with beliefs that are deeply rooted in traditional Jewish religious terminology – “The world stands on three things,” Uri’s company commander explains, paraphrasing The Ethics of Our Fathers, “the kibbutz/settlement, the gun and will-power;”
  • He is more “authentically Israeli” than the immigrants he assists;
  • Although committed to the kibbutz movement, he stands above and beyond it – “I say: Palmach, Palmach and more Palmach,” says one of Uri’s classmates, in response to the principal of the Kadoorie Agricultural School’s statement that the only way for his students is “Agriculture, Agriculture, and once more Agriculture!” Another classmate exclaims, “What planet are you living on? If there’s no Palmach, then there’s no kibbutz!”
  • He is sexually muscular – Uri impregnates Mika, and is also unfaithful to her.

One should explore the question to what extent – if at all – cultural figures should be co-opted by the establishment to pursue ideological goals, and whether culture and politics can be separated. During the first decades of the State, the answer seemed relatively clear; today, some might consider such overt political-nationalistic content in cultural creations to be unacceptable, and even bordering on the fascistic. However, others might argue that Israeli culture is still colored by overt political values, but that today these values are post-Zionist in tone.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.


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