“We may not do the best service to what’s called ‘national morale,’ but we’ll do a small service to the truth.”
In 1967 Egypt, Jordan, and Syria made plans to annihilate Israel. When the dust cleared, Israel not only successfully defended itself, it captured the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and what are now the occupied territories of the West Bank. The Six Day War continues to have impact on Israel and the Middle East. But what did it mean for the soldiers who fought the war? Censored Voices lets us hear the stories and voices of some of those soldiers.
Just a week after the war ended, Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira began interviewing some of those soldiers. They wanted to know, “not what they did, but what they felt.” They traveled to various kibbutzim with a tape recorder. The soldiers were very open with their memories and their emotions. The Israeli Defense Forces censored most of the tapes for many years, but this film allows us to hear them and reflect ourselves on what happens in wars and to the people who must fight them. The words of the soldiers play while various bits of archival footage serve as background. At times we see the now much older men who related their stories listening to the tapes and hearing them tell their stories again.
While the film is focused on the Six Day War, this is film is universal. Many of the things the soldiers talk about are not specific to that war or that nation. These are the kinds of issues that are intrinsic to war in all its violence and ugliness. It is important to note how soon after the fighting these tapes were made. Memories soften and change over time. Here we hear the voices of those whose emotional and spiritual wounds have not yet healed.
While there are many issues that come up in these interviews, a few I found especially interesting. The first is how, for one soldier, a shift took place. He had always viewed Israel as a David or like the Maccabees, small and overwhelmed, but righteous. By the end of the war, he understood that Israel was the true power in the region. That brings a whole new worldview.
The moral disconnect the soldiers experienced is one of the universal aspects for soldiers in war. Even when a war is justified, soldiers must do terrible things—and often do them even when it is not needed. One of the soldiers tells us, “All of us . . ., we’re not murderers. In the war we became murderers.” He is referring not just to killing in battle, but to killings involving prisoners and civilians. Even those who faced no physical injuries suffered important moral injuries.
As one soldier recounts emptying out Palestinian villages and forcing people into refugee camps, he equated what was happening with the Shoah. For a Jewish soldier to view what he is doing in light of the Holocaust is a very powerful concept that must be heard.
This is a much different history than many of us have heard of the Six Day War and Israel’s place in the region. They continue to hold the West Bank and have expanded into it. They continue to be an occupying army (that is the term the soldiers used even right after the war). The legacy of that war lives in the geopolitics of the 21st Century. These voices of soldiers from decades ago also serve as an important legacy to their nation and to the world. Censored Voices reminds us of the moral and spiritual costs of war—especially on those who must take part in them.
Photos courtesy Music Box Films