Culture, Israel

Quotidian Violence: A Review of "Censored Voices"

The Other Israel Film FestivalJewschool is proud to co-sponsor the Other Israel Film Festival on Nov 5-12, 2015, and this film “Censored Voices.” Learn more about our sponsored films, read reviews, and submit your own review.
As a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn, the Six Day War of June 1967, is seared in my memory. I remember the anxiety before the war—the fear of the destruction of Israel.  Every night at the dinner table we watched with bated breath as Eric Severeid using a map of the Middle East, and those plastic tanks and soldiers, narrated on the evening news Israel’s surprising, amazing victory. The day after the Israeli army captured the Old City of Jerusalem, my fourth grade rabbi, a Holocaust survivor, wept with joy as he told us of the importance of this victory. It was a miracle. The Six Day War immediately attained mythic status in the eyes of the American Jewish community. Many scholars have written about the boost to the self esteem of the community, a boost that empowered the community to be more political active and culturally present. I and my friends gradually stopped wearing baseball caps and began wearing our kippot everywhere. .
Just about everything that was written about the war for popular consumption was fawning and quasi-mystical. The story of the Chief Rabbi who blew a shofar on the Temple Mount. The one-eyed charismatic Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan who together with his sabra kibbutz-born Commander in Chief Yitzhak Rabin, who took on the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and won in a lightning fast combat operation. The holy places that had been out of bounds for two decades were now under Israeli control again. The State of Israel had, in a matter of months, traversed the spectrum of emotions, from the fear and anxiety of another Holocaust (1967 is closer to 1942 than to 2015), to the euphoria of a victorious nation, confident, secure and self-assured.
[pullquote align=left] The discussants were almost all kibbutzniks and the project was initiated by the author Amoz Oz.
[/pullquote]Part of the myth that grew up around the Six Day War had to do with imagining the Israeli soldier as a more elevated and moral fighter. This stance of the morally troubled soldier who was forced to fight against his will was in large part based on a collection of conversations that were recorded soon after the June war. The discussants were almost all kibbutzniks and the project was initiated by the author Amoz Oz and the legendary editor Avram Shapira—both of whom were associated with many of the cultural projects of the kibbutz movement. The edited conversations were published in a volume called Siah Lohamim (Combatants Conversations) and in an abridged English version called The Seventh Day. These conversations led to the characterization of Israeli fighters as those who were yorim u-bochim/shooting while crying. (At first this was a sympathetic characterization of those who fought only because they had to, but were crying inside at the necessity of fighting. Later this phrase was used critically to describe the cynical propaganda around the “most moral army in the world.”) Together with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s statement that “we will have peace when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate us,” this more or less comprised the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish narrative of the wars of the Jews for a long time.
[pullquote align=right] Unbeknownst to most the conversations that appeared in the book underwent scrutiny and censorship by the Israeli Army.
[/pullquote]Unbeknownst to most the conversations that appeared in the book underwent scrutiny and censorship by the Israeli Army. Luckily the original conversations were preserved on tape. According to the filmmakers of the important new Israeli film Censored Voices, 70% of the conversations were censored. Those censored conversations are the focus of this film, played while the original speakers sit in silent witness to what they said almost fifty years ago with a treasure trove of archival footage illustrating a facsimile of their stories and recreating the ambience of the time, including maps and clips from nightly news reports. In a short series of comments which close the movie, most of the speakers agree with their youthful sentiments, questioning the excesses of the war and the subsequent Occupation.
These monologues (there is very little give and take, only a question or a framing remark by one of the conveners and then the recording of the speakers) are not mythic. They are not lyrical. They are spoken in the matter of fact language of battle weary soldiers who are coming to terms with the fact that they had witnessed or committed brutal acts of war. There should be nothing surprising about any of this. War is brutal. It is the deployment of uncontrolled violence. The only surprise is that this war, the mythical and miraculous war which liberated the Land of Israel, was just a war. As more than one of the soldiers says: It began as a just war. A war for our existence. But it ended up as something else. (My translation/paraphrase.)
[pullquote align=left] It began as a just war. A war for our existence. But it ended up as something else.
[/pullquote]Amos Oz begins by describing the disconnect between the wild celebration of victory, the  pulhan, the cult of generals, and holy places on the one hand; and the hard feelings that the soldiers were experiencing and which they could not share with anyone else, even their wives and families. This led to the group conversations during which the warriors revealed their feelings of guilt over evacuating and destroying Palestinian villages, over shooting Egyptian soldiers who had already surrendered, over the commands to kill more, over being “killers.”
The soldiers, who were the crème de la crème of Israeli youth, also revealed the (not very surprising) fact that they were not thinking of “homeland” or “Jerusalem” while they were fighting. “Not even for a minute,” says one. “I had totally forgotten about the old city,” says another.
[pullquote align=right] Few were able to foresee the tragedy that the dream of empire would bring.
[/pullquote]The film’s power is that it returns this war to the catalogue of all wars. There is a good argument that the war was justified, but, of course, it got out of control. Euphoric with victory, Israelis streamed to the Old City, to the Western Wall (to the plaza that days before was a Palestinian neighborhood), to the West Bank. The euphoria quickly turned into a dream of empire. This was when the war for survival went off the rails. Few (such as Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz) were able to foresee the tragedy that the dream of empire would bring. However, these conversations reveal the hard ground of violence, displacement, killing into which the seeds of that dream were planted—and we are now reaping the fruits of that nightmare.
thanks to Aliza Becker for her help. 

9th annual Other Israel Film Festival Nov. 5-12, 2015
Co-sponsored by Jewschool
CENSORED VOICES (opening night)
Dir. Mor Lushi
(84 min, Documentary, Israel, Hebrew & English w/ English subtitles)
Schedule here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.