Tomorrow, June 5th is the 48th anniversary of the Six Day War, in which the Israeli army captured all of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Gaza strip. Since it followed the famous three week “waiting period”, in which mass graves were dug in Israel and there was genuine fear of annihilation by the Arab armies surrounding the state of Israel, there was not only a great sense of relief which accompanied this military victory but there was also a great sense of the miraculous which led to enormous celebrations and feelings of greatness among the people of Israel.
Following the euphoria, ecstasy and excitement of this military victory, a group of kibbutzniks recorded conversations with soldiers back from the battlefield. The book that came out of the project was called The Seventh Day (in Hebrew Siach Lochamim). I remember reading the book way back then and I can recall that the humanity of these Israeli soldiers that was portrayed in this famous book left a very strong impression on me. I was impressed by their morality, sensitivity and humanity during this difficult war.
But now, I have learned that seventy per cent of the original recorded material was censored by the official censor of the Israel Defense Forces, and only now the uncensored materials are being made public, in an important new documentary film, entitled “Censored Voices”. Filmmaker Mor Loushy uses the original sound recordings (we actually see people sitting and listening to a reel-to-reel tape recorder!) along with remarkable archival footage, to produce a hard-hitting documentary about living in the shadow of this war and so many more wars which have followed it.
The original project was led by Amos Oz and editor Avraham (Patchi) Schapira. I was friendly with Avraham Schapira in those years. He was part of a group of young kibbutzniks whom I admired who were questioning their Israeli identity and reconnecting with their Jewish identity, and the Six Day War was one of the catalysts for this search.
I found the film to be very sad and depressing, especially when you see many of the people who were interviewed 48 years ago, sitting silently, often with blank stares, and listening to what they said back then, and realizing that most of the feelings and questions that they raised right after that war are still very much with us today. The fact that they sit silently now says a lot. What can they say after so much more blood has been shed on both sides, and all efforts to create a lasting peace during the past 48 years have failed?!
The most disturbing part of this documentary is that these young soldiers witnessed so many atrocities by our troops—including wanton massacres and direct expulsions– during the war and were apparently unable to raise their voices about it in June 1967, after the great and miraculous military victory. It has taken a long time for people to recall their feelings and express their views of what happened during this war (and other wars). About their speaking up and recording these conversations, author Amos Oz says, “We didn’t do it for national morale but rather to find the truth.”
Seeing this film was a bit like reading Benny Morris (the original version, not the revisionist version), Ari Shavit (especially his chapter on “Lydda”) and Gidon Levy, or attending a meeting of the group “Breaking the Silence”, which reveals behaviors of some of our soldiers in recent wars. We don’t like to hear about this, so it is easier to deny or repress this information (as our current Deputy Foreign Minister is seeking to do!)
Yet, in this disturbing film, we discover through these poignant interviews of young Israeli Jewish boys (who were in their late teens or early twenties and are now mostly in their late sixties and early seventies) that war brings with it many unpleasant and even unethical behaviors. Some soldiers and their commanders get caught up in the battle and apparently commit some horrible acts in the heat of the battle, when fear of annihilation leads soldiers to do things that they probably know in their hearts that they should not have done.
Not only that, but they were taught many lessons about Tohar Heneshek, “the Purity of Arms”—a major moral doctrine of the Israeli Defense Forces which emphasizes the obligation to wage war morally. Nevertheless, they were clearly disturbed when they saw some soldiers violating this code of ethics which is observed by the overwhelming majority of Israeli soldiers to this very day, despite the challenges and obstacles which our enemies put in our way.
For me this film leaves us with more questions than answers: Are we doomed to live continually to live in the pauses between wars? In our inability –or lack of sincerity—to try to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with our neighbors, are we betraying the Zionist vision, as my friend, Avraham Schapira says quite bluntly in the film? Was not part of the Zionist vision, as enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the outreach to our Arab neighbors to actually find a way to live in peace?
These questions—which were all raised by young Israeli Jews 48 years ago who were clearly shaken to the core by their experiences in this war—continue to haunt us to this very day. Indeed, many people in Israel are still deeply affected by last summer’s war and the two previous “operations” in Gaza, by the Second Lebanon War a few years ago, by the first and second intifada, and on and on it goes.
When will our leaders recognized that we have tried the “War Process” over and over again, and it has not worked. When will they realize that only a genuine Peace Process will bring us true security and serenity in this land?