You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.
by Ralph Seliger
Discussed in this essay: Censored Voices, a film by Mor Loushy. Dogwoof Global, 2015, 84 minutes. Released January, 2015 in Israel; opening November 20th in the U.S.
FOR ANYONE who cares about Israel, this is a very hard film to watch. About a week after the Six-Day War in June 1967, Avraham Shapira started recording interviews with kibbutzniks who had just returned from serving in the Israel Defense Forces. The English-language version of the book that result was titled, The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War. But 70 percent of his recordings were censored by the IDF.
Except for some onscreen notes, mostly at the start and end of the film, there is no narration. The action, such as it is, consists of these war veterans as old men, listening to their voices as recorded forty-eight years earlier. The most prominent is the writer and peace activist Amos Oz, who appears in the opening scene (pictured above) and reappears periodically as one of more than a half-dozen filmed individually, and repeatedly, listening to the tapes. The content of what they say is matched by vintage newsreel footage, including the on-scene reporting of an ABC television news correspondent.
The film’s view of the war’s origin is not anti-Israel. It depicts the encircling alliance of Arab armies — Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi — and the blood-chilling scenes of government-incited Egyptian mobs crying out for war, alongside masses of Arab soldiers marching through the streets. But very soon after the war begins, the Arab armies are in disarray and utterly defeated.
What becomes hard to absorb is the veterans’ post-war recollections that they killed or witnessed unnecessary killings of unarmed prisoners, or were ordered to kill young people dressed as civilians but assumed to be soldiers, or to kill enemy stragglers caught with their weapons. The accompanying footage depicted masses of helpless Arab soldiers and cowed civilians under Israeli control. Some Palestinians in the West Bank were shown being forcibly removed from their homes.
THE ISRAELI VETERANS REACT to the scenes, depending on who they are, with a mix of dismay, disgust, acquiescence, and nonchalance. This contrasts with the newsreel scenes of triumph, soldiers celebrating their victory, and overjoyed civilians greeting their returning troops.
I recall experiencing a similar sense of jubilation as a teenager at the time, along with most Jews around the world, as I witnessed these events on television from New York. The sense of deliverance was palpable, but less so for these kibbutzniks. However, one has to consider that this was an unrepresentative sample of Israelis: Kibbutzniks were Israel’s elite, conditioned to serve their country, but also educated to consider higher ethical and social ideals.
One may legitimately ask: Why is this being disclosed now, after so many years, and at a time when Israel seemingly faces an avalanche of harsh moral scrutiny? Actually, it’s precisely the passage of time that matters here. It’s because we are now past the 48th anniversary of these events, which not only constituted a huge and justified Israeli victory over a hostile coalition that sought to end that country’s existence, but also began nearly a half century of the Jewish state’s dominance and occupation over another people, which threatens Israel in other ways. If not for the fact that the 1967 war was an important milestone for a conflict that continues, this film would be merely of historical interest and probably would never have been made.
At the end of the interview included in the press notes, filmmaker Mor Loushy (not yet born when the Six-Day War occurred) is asked, “How do you plan on handling people who are upset by what they hear?” She concludes:
I believe that my son, who is two-and-a-half-years-old, needs another future in Israel. I’m fighting for a different future. I’m fighting for a better future — for a future of peace and for a future of two states side by side or any other solution. I don’t want to keep being in this bloody circle. I do believe that democratic states should be transparent in our history. If this film is a part of that, then I’m proud to be a part of that. Truly, I’m not afraid.
Most Jews have placed Israel and its armed forces on a higher moral plane than others. It’s not that Israelis have been worse than most in treating vanquished enemy forces and conquered populations, but it’s not clear that they’ve been much better either. Realizing this can be disillusioning. Yet is it fair to expect much better of an embattled people, or of any nation’s soldiers in the midst, or aftermath, of battle? How often does war bring out the best in humanity?
Despite its heartrending nature, I would argue that this is not an anti-Israel film. But it is profoundly anti-war.
Ralph Seliger is a veteran editor, freelance writer, and blogger. He edited Israel Horizons from 2003 until 2011, and currently blogs for Ameinu, The Third Narrative, and Partners for Progressive Israel.