Speaking their Minds
The 1967 ‘Six-Day’ war ended with a victory for Israel—she conquered and won Jerusalem, Gaza, Sinai and the West Bank. It is a war that is still seen as a righteous undertaking and a great show of Jewish pride. What we have just learned is that a week after the war was over, a group of young kibbutzniks, led by famed and respected author Amos Oz, recorded intimate conversations with soldiers who had come home from the battlefield. What the recording revealed was an honest look at the moment Israel turned “from David to Goliath”. The Israeli army censored these recordings, allowing the kibbutzniks to publish only a fragment of the conversations. The new film ‘Censored Voices’ reveals the original recordings for the first time.
What we see from these interviews is the damaging effects of war and armed conflict. We have learned time and again that serving in the armed forces can be both physically and psychologically damaging especially when we consider whether or not troops that are involved in atrocities that are barbaric and sanctioned by the state feel remorse at the time evil is committed or whether it takes time for it to sink in (days, months, years or even decades).
Director Mor Loushy focuses on the “Six Day War” which was a very quick ad hoc conflict in 1967 between Israel and neighboring Arab states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Just one week after the bloodshed had ended, the “kibbutzniks” interviewed told of what they did during the fight, and the answers they gave the Israeli army reason to censor the recordings as a way to save face. Now these tapes are played, backed with archive footage and English language news reports from the time as a way to present something of a chronology of hostilities and thereby give the voices context. The cover-up, it has been claimed was a way of preserving national morale and it is nothing new. However, it is fascinating to hear doubt and regret in the voices of these fighters who apparently did not feel victorious. In the film, the voices on the tape are matched with the actual soldiers who now are in front of the camera and filmed listening to their testimonies. Few have very much to add to the tapes, and the director poignantly captures their quiet shame.
There is a theme that recurs of the anger at having to be forced to commit barbarous acts by officers above them. The men were swept up into the euphoria war that often takes a person outside of himself and we see here what that experience does.
The recordings were originally made by Amos Oz and as we watch this film, we get the true feelings of the men that we see and hear. There are no feelings or proclamations of national pride about the country of Israel or Zionism but we certainly hear about the horrors and hypocrisy of war.
We see the speakers listening to themselves and what they said some many years ago and we see the pain in their faces that is still there after all of these years. From the moment the war began through the cease-fire, the soldiers admitted to having fear. They talk about their military strength and the national persona as well as also the surprise at the reversal of those archetypes for them upon their crushing victory. Some compare the likeness of their actions in militarily claiming Sinai and the whole of Jerusalem to the Holocaust as they brutalize Arab inhabitants. “Censored Voices” looks at how these soldiers consider what their Arab enemies would do to them had the tables been turned, but they also identify with their supposed foes as fathers and families. This forces them to question the ideals of Zionism and patriotism, as they become heroes. As viewers, we become incredibly close to their disillusionment with war and occupying territory that they are unsure belongs to them. This is quite as education about the emotional character of one of the world’s most crucial ongoing war zones.
Israel learned that at the end of May, 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were amassing military forces along their borders with Israel. Israel felt that she was being set up for total destruction and annihilation, so she began a series of preemptive air strikes against Egyptian airfields on June 5, 1967. During the course of the next six days, the Israeli military not only eliminated what it perceived as an imminent existential threat, but also managed to triple Israel’s acreage. Euphoria was everywhere that Jews lives and the soldiers were regarded as heroes. The country’s confidence reached all-time high
. In the Arab countries as well as in other places, the word Zionism was replaced by the term Zionist propaganda. Israel presumably became a military superpower that many hoped would discourage any future antagonisms on her borders.
After the war was over was when the interviews tool place. They spoke openly and frankly about the ugly underbelly of the war that led to their resulting pain, guilt and misery. They were given uniforms and weaponry and turned into killer-monsters. They were instructed to “show no mercy” and “kill as many as possible,” and they did as their commanders said.
“Censored Voices” destroys the Zionist propaganda that has existed during the last fifty years. Loushy’s approach, aside from occasionally interjecting newsreel footage from the war, is to allow the 1967 recordings to speak for themselves, as she films the facial expressions and incites of those same soldiers in the present day. The film totally disregards the positivity of the version of the war held by Zionists and instead it repeats recent war crimes allegations against the Israel military during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict as Amnesty International maintains. Perhaps the most important thing we see here is that many of the soldiers accurately prognosticate, Israel’s militaristic bravado during the Six-Day War that has come to put their country in a perpetual state of war.