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Former Israeli Soldiers "Flipping Out" in India

By Claus Mueller

A scene from Flipping OutFLIPPING OUT is the third political documentary produced by the noted Israeli film maker Yoav Shamir after his acclaimed CHECKPOINT and 5 DAYS. Though the film lacks the hard edge and fast pacing of his previous work, FLIPPING OUT is more persuasive and accessible to a larger audience.

After being discharged with a bonus of 15,000 shekels (about $4,300) after three years of compulsory military service, an estimated 20,000 former Israeli soldiers travel to India.  About 90 percent take drugs and 2000 of the Israeli ex-soldiers living in India ‘flip out’ each year.  This documentary’s introductory scenes of soldiers breaking into Palestinian homes land and non-directive interviews with these soldiers and professionals trying to help them suggest that the military service has damaged them resulting in post-traumatic stress disorders. Yet as distinct from the fate of U.S. soldiers coming back form Afghanistan and Iraqi with similar mental problems and cannot get adequate help from official agencies.  Israeli public and private organizations take responsibility for the problems the army service created.
 
In India the ex-soldiers live in small communal settings and hotels segregated from the Indian population, in locations, they identify as Kasol sin or crime city. The  winter months are spend in Himalayan mountain areas and  for the summer months the Israelis migrate to Goa to continue enjoying a lifestyle of large parties, use of virtually all drugs, including to marihuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and other hard drugs. Relations between Indians and Israelis are pragmatic but not friendly. As one Israeli points out, the Indians are like Arabs. Conversely Indians consider the Israelis to be noisy, drug addicted and out of control. Yet with an average income of $500 per year they depend on the funds provided by the Israeli expatriates.
 
From the perspective of one former soldiers who has been living in India for more than six years and served as a commander of an Israeli elite unit there is a fine line between sanity and madness, a borderline condition that can be discerned in the portraits of this documentary.  There is a frenzied look of people, incoherent statements suspending the reality context and rapid motion activities. Yet at the same time others seem to be in a state of drug induced bliss,  totally cooled out, and regressed to childlike states  The former commander suggests that, military  service  destroyed the identity and meaning of life, and that staying on drugs  rehabilitates  former soldiers  by getting ‘the crap’ out of their system. In the army he faced disgraceful things and his hand caused death and destruction.  Yoav Shamir presents none of the female ex-soldiers who live in Israeli communities in India and also take drugs and seems to imply that  females adapt better to the stress of military service.
 
The documentary shows the response of Israeli agencies to the growing problem of settlements in India with ex-soldiers involved in drug use. The Israeli government has funded through its anti-drug authority Warm House drop in centers, a sort of community place run by a former Israeli officer which welcomes all Israelis living there. An Israeli fundamentalist group has established Chabad Houses trying to recuperate drug using and addicted ex soldiers while also running a search and rescue mission for Israelis freaking out on drugs. This work is carried out by former army officer, Hilik Magnus whose task is to bring back to Israel those soldiers who have suffered from psychotic and other violent breakdowns. He suggests that many of the ex soldiers living there have no center, are dislocated, and alienated and that drugs provide only a temporary respite.
 
One telling encounter in FLIPPING OUT is the meeting between the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Ishay and former soldiers. One female soldier tells him that she is on her second trip to India and that “...here one can feel normal again .no bombings, no corruption, none of that pressure [faced] back in Israel…. one comes here and feels normal again”. Another soldier hopes not to return Israel soon; he does not belong to that country any more and considers having an Israeli passport to be a problem since he feels more at home in India.

Isahy considers these as sad stories but emphasizes that Israeli has to fund efforts such as the Warm House, since “...these former soldiers are our children, our boys and girls... thousands come here and come home mentally devastated” thus placing the onus on the experience in India rather than on the military service.

On the plane going back to Israel the deputy prime minister is in the company of Magus and one flipped out former soldier who belies that he can save humanity since he is a friend to the US president. While the plan disappears on the Horizon, images of a gigantic techno beach party with several hundred ex-soldiers high on drugs provide the coda to this disturbing yet superb documentary.

DVDs of FLIPPING OUT are not yet available. I suggest that readers get in touch with the production company cinephil by contacting Ori Bader email: ori@cinephil.co.il. This documentary may be shown at the next New York Jewish Film Festival.