Thought-provoking documentary Censored Voices delivers a shocking alternative view on Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War. Francine Wolfisz speaks to the film’s director….
The end of the Six Day War, 1967: soldiers proudly march through the streets and the crowd roars with excitement and euphoria. Israel, the David of the military world, had against all logical odds, extinguished the threat of annihilation by Goliath, the Arab nations amassed on all sides near her borders – and beaten them to a bloody pulp. In just short of a week, Israel had destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian air forces and seized control of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and all of Jerusalem.
But not all were in the mood to celebrate. One week after the war ended, a young group of kibbutzniks sat down with soldiers returning from the battlefield and discovered feelings of dread and disillusionment. They spoke of brutal war crimes committed by troops, their guilt over the forced eviction of Palestinian families and their unease for Israel’s future over conquered territories.
Led by renowned author Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira, their intimate conversations were recorded for posterity and collected into a book, The Seventh Day. But the Israeli government censored the majority of the tapes and Shapira filed them away into a cupboard, where they lay hidden for decades… until now.
Having stumbled across The Seventh Day while studying for a history degree, director Mor Loushy decided the story needed to be heard by the wider public and, after some persuasion, Shapira and Oz agreed.
Censored Voices, the result of their labour – which saw Loushy plough through around 200 hours of recordings – will be released in cinemas across the UK tomorrow.
Thought-provoking and at times uncomfortable to watch, the 84-minute documentary has already received high critical acclaim and last week won the Best Documentary category at the 2015 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars.
Loushy, who lives in Tel Aviv with her partner and young son, agrees the film may not make for easy viewing among the Jewish community, but it does add “an important discourse that has been missing”.
She explains: “I don’t think the film argues that the war itself was unjust. The film stands completely behind the fact that Israel didn’t have a choice but to go to war. However, this testimony exposes the price of war and it’s important that we deal with that.
“There’s this circle of hatred that will not lead us anywhere. If people want to live in Israel and raise a family – and I choose to live in Israel – we have to break this circle somehow. By looking at this specific moment we can really understand what’s happened here.”
At the film’s opening, a young Oz introduces us to the swirls of dissent already in the air just days after Israel had announced victory. “There’s a sense of sadness the newspapers don’t address,” he tells us. “We’ve no interest in making another victory album. We may not do the best service to national morale, but we’ll do a small service to the truth.”
Using footage sourced from foreign news reels and amateur film taken on 8mm cameras, some of which has never been seen before, Loushy cleverly marries up images of the battlefield taken in 1967 with the audio recordings made by the mostly anonymous veterans. “
After Suez, I felt quite sick. I felt reluctant to fight. I was fighting only out of a sense of duty, I didn’t want to do it anymore,” laments one about the days following victory in Egypt.
“We saw who we were fighting and we saw human shadows. People humiliated to the ground. They looked like dust and ashes,” says another. Disillusionment turns to something more sinister, when some of the veterans talk of unauthorised, indiscriminate killings, or as one puts it, “murder”.
One paratrooper company commander in Jordan claims that in the days after the ceasefire was already in effect, “we were told to kill the soldiers wandering around”. He adds: “We found a group of 15 armed Arabs. They were hiding. They didn’t even try to defend themselves. In the war, we all became murderers.”
Another simply states: “We were told to show no mercy, kill as many as possible.” I ask Loushy if she was shocked by these candid confessions. “Of course, the war crimes are shocking and terrible to hear, but war crimes happen everywhere. That’s why it was so important for me to put it in the film, because I don’t want to hide any more the price we are paying on wars, especially with Israel’s situation today.”
The revelations continue, with some soldiers expressing regret over the capture of Jerusalem. “For me, it wasn’t a freed city, it was an occupied city”, states one solemnly. Another is even harsher in his indictment of Israel’s newly occupied territories. “We’re heading towards a terrible place,” he says. “A society that won’t tell itself the truth and won’t look reality in the eyes is in trouble, big trouble.”
For the young director, these were the most shocking revelations of all. “I knew there were voices against the occupation, but not from a week after the war. I think it is very revealing, very powerful, to hear how it was when it all started. We can learn so much from that.”
Loushy, whose partner Daniel Sivan worked on the film as editor, producer and co-writer, stands by her film for helping reveal an honest viewpoint about the events of 1967 and believes Censored Voices “carries a message of peace, not war”.
She adds: “I think it’s time to face the truth and right now with Israel’s situation, it’s obligatory for the Jewish community to really say no more for war. Let’s fight for another solution. More damage is being done by not facing the truth.
“We don’t have to be afraid of this film. On the contrary, today the Israeli government is doing much worse PR than this film. The film is calling for courage and facing our future bravely.”
Censored Voices is released in UK cinemas 16 October