These words that I’m writing, I hope they don’t reach anyone. Words that won’t reach a world that would only persecute them. Tomorrow I’ll learn to kill legally.

Birth is not an act of being. It is an act of becoming. When we’re born, we become someone. No one knows who we will become, what kind of person. Every child is, from that perspective, a mystery. They are almost like a blank page. Genes, of course, play a certain role. Genes are notes scribbled on that blank page. The actual process of writing, rather than scribbling, begins as soon as a child enters the world. The process of writing is the act of becoming. Who writes all those pages?

To a large extent, those pages are written by a child’s environment, especially in the first couple of years – family (close and extended), friends, teachers, society. Small children cannot write, they have to learn to write. Just as they have to learn how to read. But a narrative needs to be written, so others do it, until the child is old enough to pick up the pen herself. By then, however, the style of writing has become so rigid that the child feels as though she must follow this style. She doesn’t know any other style, she was never taught anything else.

A few years back, long before 7 October, I watched a documentary on Israel, about the country’s persistent wars and what this does to its society. It was interesting to me because there were quite a few people I know speaking about this, such as David Grossman, an author I truly enjoy reading. I remember that one thing in particular struck me. It was a woman who said: “It’s difficult being a mother in Israel. If you have a girl or a boy, you know that your children will go to war, and you have no idea whether or not they will come back home.”

It was a story told by adults, sometimes by people old enough to remember their persecution in Nazi Germany and their subsequent arrival in a country that would never be at peace with its neighbours. Those stories, we know already. Those stories have been written.

But what about all those blank pages that are there to be written?

Did you wonder, Mom, when I was born, if the world would be good to me? Like in that poem? Would people let me be who I want to be? Were you also afraid, Mom, like other moms, wondering if I’d be healthy and normal and what I’d do in the army when the time came? And now you know.

The absence of innocence doesn’t mean the presence of guilt. The absence of innocence means the absence of childhood, the absence of a space where innocence can exist. Guy Davidi chose Innocence as the title for his film, and I can feel and see an invisible question mark. Perhaps an exclamation mark. The film’s title isn’t a statement. It’s a jolt. What meaning can innocence have in a country where small children in kindergarten are repeatedly being asked to draw tanks, guns, soldiers, war scenes? In most other countries this would be a cause of concern. In Israel, it is part of the erasure of innocence. There is no childhood in Israel. There are no blank pages, there are not even vague scribbles. Lives are not written with erasable ink, but with a permanent marker.

Zohar is a little boy who struggles. He doesn’t want to draw tanks and soldiers. He’s out of place at kindergarten, he’s at odds with his surrounding. He doesn’t understand, he’s still a child. And yet, he can tell you what happens if he touches the fence that draws a line between (supposed) good and (alleged) evil. Zohar knows that it’s wrong to draw all those images, to be encouraged to identify with war and with killing. Zohar is a boy I won’t forget.

Nor will I forget Adam, who pierced through human evil at an early age. “Humans have an urge for destruction,” he says into the camera. We’re watching an old recording, Adam’s mother films and asks him questions about what he’d like to do in future. He wants to live with tribes in Africa or Australia because “they don’t have a miserable life”. I don’t know how old Adam is in this recording. 12, maybe? He doesn’t look like a happy child. He’s thoughtful, concerned, anxious. He is aware of what awaits him: enlistment, legal killing, perhaps being killed before his life really starts.

Adam also had to draw those images in kindergarten. He also had to see and touch guns when he was four or five years old. He also learned at a young age how a land mine looked like. The state indoctrination, which is supposed to turn children into the new generation of heroic soldiers, had the opposite effect on him.

You know, Mom and Dad, here, in the military, you realise you have two options: either to be a good combat soldier or a good person. You’ve deceived me. Is this what you wanted to prepare me for? You call that a life?

Sequences from home videos are intercut with modern-day images. There is some kind of fair where children can lay their hands on real guns, on real tanks, where they can play war games. The parents proudly take them there and support the erasure of their children’s innocence. They’re not the ones who create bubbles, they’re not the ones who try to make sure that their children can remain children for as long as possible. The parents help to erase, to void, to expose.

Maybe I lost that little girl on the way. Maybe I laid her down in the dark. So how did I lose all trace of myself? I can’t even say who I am, why I am. What have I come to?

Men need to serve three years in the Israeli army, women two. The country has been in a permanent state of emergency since its foundation in 1948. It is a country that we should not only consider as a modern colonial force, an apartheid state. We must see Israel as a heavily traumatised collective, a country that is built on trauma. Everything was built around the Holocaust, around the killing of Jews and there is the understandable fear of being attacked again. This is what happens to each traumatised individual, too: an irrational fear, the conviction that everything and everyone around you wants your skin. You build mental, emotional and physical walls to protect you, and attack at even the slightest (perceived) threat (supposedly) aimed at you. Eventually, you make life impossible, not only for yourself, but for everyone who lives around you. You become a danger to yourself and to others. Rather than having a heightened risk of dying at the hand of someone, you artificially and exponentially increase the risk of killing someone.

Nothing illustrates this better than the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

And to me, albeit not spoken of explicitly, Davidi’s Innocence is also about this: the self-destruction of a collective, of a country, of a society. The words we hear come from written letters, letters enlisted soldiers sent home to their loved ones, young people who struggled with their conscience, who were at odds with their environment. Young people who had a life to live, a life to look forward to.

And then, suddenly it comes. Everyone is foreign to me. Everyone is from a world that I’ve lost all connection with. Everyone has this look. Everyone holds something behind their eyes.

A group of teenagers enters a whole week of military training. They will soon be enlisted, the so-called Gadna military programme seeks to help teenagers get their first hands-on experience. There is a young woman, who doesn’t want to shoot her gun. She’s scared, she cries, with her finger on the trigger. Then there is Ori, another young woman, who is blind. In a later scene, the instructor gives her a machine gun and help her to load it and shoot. Davidi captures the sheer absurdity of what Israel does to its young people.

Those people, whose pages are forcibly written, sometimes cannot think of something new to write. They hold a complete book of pre-written pages in their hands, they flick through, and there is not a single blank page left for them to write on.

The only option they have is to rip the book into pieces.

Halil said that the moment he enlisted in the military, he became a part of the side that creates evil in the world.

None of the young people whose words accompanied Davidi’s film survived. They committed suicide during their military service.