Izkor: Slaves of Memory

Izkor: Slaves of Memory

“Izkor,” means "remember" in Hebrew and this film looks in depth at this imperative that is imposed on the children of Israel. In Israel during the month of April feast days and celebrations take place one after another. School children of all ages prepare to pay tribute to their country's past. The collective memory becomes a terribly efficient tool for the training of young minds.


Though Israel has been under the media spotlight since its creation, it is still a mystery to many observers. Its survival raises moral problems for some, and malicious speculation in others. But it is precisely on account this survival issue that the identity and determination of the population were forgotten.

Izkor is a portrait of the Israeli society that has never been shown, thirty days in the life of a state that lives to the rhythms of its memory.

Thirty days in springtime : celebrations, rituals, tributes, ceremonies… During this period, the whole country seems to be devoted to worshipping the past.

First, there's Passover : the celebration of freedom gained by Hebrews after being slaves for the Pharaohs . Then festivities make place for mourning. Yom Ha’shoa and Yom Ha’zikaron : In towns and cities all over the country, Israelis pay respects to the martyrs and heroes of the Holocaust, and a week later, to Israeli soldiers who died for their country. Independence Day is the peak of this violent succession of emotions, during this long period of coming together of the memories, followed and orchestrated vigorously by all official institutions.

celebrations, rituals, tributes, ceremonies, discourses... Every year, a powerful machine for the perpetuation of memory goes over Israeli society like a steamroller.

Gathered from all around the world, Israelis are united today around an “official” collective memory that goes beyond the different feelings that are represented. This “collective memory” led to a national formation in Israel, to a territorial destiny, capable of gaining unanimous support.

How has this collective memory developed? What are the symbols that contribute to its strength and to what purpose is it being used? The movie offers visual, human and pragmatic answers to these questions. From kindergarten to the army, we follow Israelis as they grow up, in order to better understand how every citizen is imbued with this “official memory”.

Izkor is a documentary, a visual representation of this psychological phenomenon taken across the entire country. A succession of real time events, of places and of people, that together reveal the intricacies of what can be called “dictatorship of the memory”.

In Israel, “Never again” is not just a slogan, it's a “mantra”. It is an atmosphere, an ever present cloud, a widespread fear, touching every aspect of daily life, reason, opinions, creativity and choices people make for the future.

The author of the film is an Israeli. By going to rediscover the myths and symbols that have contributed to the making of his own identity, as well as that of every Israeli, he is bringing into play his own personal experience. Through a meticulous observation of the educational system, from kindergarten to the army, we discover how history is transformed into memory, how it sets an atmosphere et influences Israelis' behavior and lifestyles.

Can a people keep walking forward with the rest of the world, all the while repeating endlessly: "Our Future is past us”?

Eyal Sivan 


“When Izkor: Slaves of Memory came out in 1990, speaking about the instrumentalisation of memory, it highlighted the fact that Israel uses memory both to blame the world on the one hand, and to create this image of the good perpetrator – who always sees himself as a victim – on the other. This was also a kind of provocation, I would say, or let’s rather use the word avant-garde. I think that somebody has to go to the front, and when you go to the front, you have one risk, to get wounded. I was wounded.”

Eyal Sivan in an interview with Neja Tomšič1


“Among the Jewish Israeli members of the audience the film invoked mixed reactions. We ourselves went through this process in school year after year, and it left its impressions upon us.

One of the participants remarked that the film spoke to him as a teacher in the educational framework of NSWAS who has to deal with these holidays and remembrance days each year together with the rest of the Jewish and Palestinian teachers at the school.

Another teacher in the audience remarked that despite the program dictated by the Education Ministry, the NSWAS School brings the narratives of both peoples when relating to the events commemorated in the Israeli national days and the ‘Nakba’ (the Palestinian Disaster).

Eyal (the director) said that he wished to convey in the film that ‘the ceremonies are tools to create a feeling of being victims. The victim is always good and his deeds are justified. When we speak of memory I always ask myself what has been forgotten and why we build a narrative constructed only upon tragedy and choose events that emphasize the feeling of being the victim.’

In Eyal’s opinion, it is necessary to break the framework of Zionist thinking which justifies the oppression of the Palestinian people and negates their right to return here, while justifying right of return for Jews. He said that in this way Zionism both denies Palestinian narrative, while refuses to admit to this denial.

One of the participants said that although he agreed with most of what Eyal said, he did not see why he denied the right of Jews to be here.

Eyal remarked that in making the film he only wished to raise a discussion of these subjects in Israeli society.

‘We are at the end of the era of ideologies, and only Zionism still embraces collective thinking. All kinds of collective thinking are totalitarian.’

Another Jewish participant said that the attempt to negate Zionism automatically closes a door for the majority of Jews, ‘since it meets them in the place of their paranoia. Just as in South Africa, the impressions left by apartheid affect the society today, and an abused child so often becomes an abusive father, a cycle is constructed. Zionism builds the necessity to continue to be the victim in order to justify the existence of Zionism, and we therefore destroy the ability to change.‎’

A Palestinian participant claimed that it isn’t collective thinking that is to blame, but the uses to which it is put. She said that her people now needs collective thinking in order to build their own narrative and in order to build a nation.

Eyal concluded with the statement, ‘Eventually we will need to build together a common narrative.’”


Summary of a discussion at the occasion of a screening of the film in Israel in 2002.2

Cinema Nova, Brussels