Censorship always adds the allure of the forbidden to material, and that notoriety seems to be the case with Censored Voices. With rare archival footage, director Mor Loushy illustrates this collection of audio interviews with Israeli veterans of the 1967 Six Day War that were taped almost immediately after Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Western Wall, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Though the audio was partially censored by the military, the transcripts were edited by Avraham Shapira in 1970 into The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk About the Six-Day War that is not readily available in English.
The importance of these interviews with kibbutzniks, conducted when the fighters were still fresh from the fight on various fronts, garnered additional importance over the years because one of the interviewers was Amos Oz. He had already started getting short stories and a novel published before fighting in the war (he had earlier served in paramilitary defense of kibbutzim near Syria). Soon after his return, his novel My Michael immediately earned Israeli and international acclaim (and a film adaptation). At the same time, he started becoming just as well known for his leftist political essays, and he has since published 38 books of fiction and commentary. He will get renewed attention in the United States when Natalie Portman’s adaptation of his memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, comes to theaters next year.
For an American audience, Loushy aims for but doesn’t achieve the emotional and factual impact of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. That 2008 film used animation to illustrate the accounts by Israeli army veterans of the 1982 war in Lebanon, and their haunting memories that contradicted The Official Story. Evidently young Israelis such as Loushy have been raised with a propagandistic view of 1967 as a war of heroes (anthems and nationalistic parades of flags are shows), such that these interviews are apparently the equivalent of “The Pentagon Papers” for their frankness, particularly about the treatment of Arab soldiers and civilians.
The mostly black-and-white footage Loushy painstakingly located, from a time when Israeli television was in its infancy, and photographs are so uncannily spot-on of what each interviewee is describing that several viewers at the screening I attended were convinced the visuals were specifically connected. (There are a few “official” color shots, such as when Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan surveys the troops, events which the interviewees mock.) The director also films the older men listening to their young anguished voices with mixed emotions reflected on their faces towards their own disillusionment. As a result, this film comes across as the cynical counterversion to Richard Trank’s adulatory The Prime Ministers, made for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But the tropes of young men who were shocked to find that even a short war is a bloody confused hell are not new at all, not from this war or others. They learned strutting commanding officers can be fools, the mistreated enemy is also human, and that the public relations version of a battle differs from eyewitness experience. These revelations are familiar from other documentaries about conflicts elsewhere. Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam last year was a more insightful treatment and 2009’s Loot, with World War II veterans, more intimately poignant regarding the release of hidden memories.