Ten days after the conclusion of the Six-Day War wherein Israel stunned the world by simultaneously defeating the combined military strength of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, writer Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira gathered together newly forged veterans of the conflict for a series of interviews about their experiences. Almost immediately the interviews were censored by the Israeli Defense Force. But now, decades later, the interviews are available in their grim entirety. One need not watch Mor Loushy’s documentary Censored Voices for long for the rationale behind their being hushed up to become apparent. Standing in harsh opposition to official Israeli narratives concerning the war, the interviews deconstruct their “just struggle” almost point by point.
The fiction: Israeli youths eagerly flocked for mobilization against their Arab foes.
The truth: The Israeli youths were scared and nervous (“I admit, I didn’t want to take part in this war at all”).
The fiction: Israeli troops were overcome with pride and joy when they successfully captured the Suez Canal from the Egyptians.
The truth: Emotionally exhausted and traumatized by the carnage, they were further horrified by the condition of enemy soldiers and POWs (“the Egyptian soldiers had canteens full of urine—when we gave them water they vomited and kissed our feet”).
The fiction: Israeli soldiers were the “good guys” fighting for justice and peace.
The truth: Within just a few days of the opening of hostilities Israeli soldiers committed war crimes against civilians with unnerving gusto (“There were people on the roofs. They’re civilians, should I kill them or not? I didn’t even think about it. Just kill! Kill everyone you see!”).
But perhaps the most penetrating realization from the interviews—and the follow-ups Loushy orchestrated with the same elderly soldiers—was that Israel mimicked the very scourge of Nazism. More than once the soldiers confessed that they felt like they were perpetuating a new Holocaust upon the Arabs they encountered: summary executions of groups of civilians; orders to “show no mercy” upon defeated enemy soldiers; forced relocations of entire communities. One of the most illuminative moments of the film comes when one of the soldiers realizes that the Israeli state can only be a home for displaced Jews by displacing others.
Political overtones aside, Loushy proves herself a talented documentarian. Wisely mimicking a technique perfected by Werner Herzog, she frequently turns her camera on her elderly subjects in between questions as they sit in silence and listen to their past selves. These moments of stasis provide a powerful emotional punch. My one complaint concerns the sound editing: Loushy’s added sound effects to the archival footage of the Six-Day War sometimes intrude more than they enhance the audience’s experience. I can’t be the only one who noticed that she used the same stock sound effect of a baby crying in two different scenes.