Atalya Ben Abba

Refusing to occupy 

 

At 19 years old, Atalya Ben-Abba followed her conscience – and was prepared to pay the price. After refusing to serve in the Israeli army, Ben-Abba spent 110 days in prison. She became one of the faces of the Israeli objectors’ movement. 

 

It was her brother Amitai who opened Atalya Ben-Abba’s eyes to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. ‘He brought home the concept that the occupation exists,’ she said in an interview. ‘He came home and said “I was in the territories and saw the occupation and oppression”. It was the first time I found out about it.’ 

 

In Israeli society, the army is omnipresent and very dominant. Citizens over the age of 18, except Arab citizens, have to serve, both men and women. Those who refuse can end up in military prison, where Atalya Ben-Abba ultimately spent 110 days in 2017. In the impressive documentary Objector we see how she wrestles with the pressures that her choice puts on her and her family.  

 

She doesn’t want to be complicit in the occupation, of which she witnessed the consequences during multiple visits to the occupied territories. But at the same time she’s afraid to turn her back on society and her family. ‘I did not come from a very leftist background,’ she explains. ‘Both my parents were in the army. I think they would prefer if I enlisted.’ In Objector we see her engaging in discussions with her parents, who worry about their daughter going to prison. And with her grandfather, who warns her: ‘You’re too optimistic.’ 

 

It’s beautiful to see how Ben-Abba’s family remains a very loving environment, despite opposite positions on fundamental issues. It may be just that ability – to always communicate respectfully – that lies at the heart of Atalya Ben-Abba’s activism. Like she says in Objector on one of her frequent visits to the occupied territories : ‘I believe that in order to create peace, we need to have communication.’  

Objector is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2020, where Atalya Ben-Abba will be present as a special guest.