The 1967 'Six-Day' war ended with Israel's decisive victory; conquering Jerusalem, Gaza, Sinai and the West Bank. It is a war portrayed, to this day, as a righteous undertaking - a radiant emblem of Jewish pride. One week after the war, a group of young kibbutzniks, led by renowned author Amos Oz, recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The recording revealed an honest look at the moment Israel turned from David to Goliath. The Israeli army censored the recordings, allowing the kibbutzniks to publish only a fragment of the conversations. 'Censored Voices' reveals the original recordings for the first time.
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★★★★ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd
Sometimes it takes just one tiny adjustment to refresh a terrible old cliche. In a standard war film, a soldier going into battle with photos of his family would cause mass eyerolls of a muscle-spraining intensity in the audience. Yet when one of the interviewees in Mor Loushy's fascinating, disturbing, expertly assembled documentary recalls finding children's photos next to the corpse of a man he's just shot, it gave me chills. We're not watching a sympathetic family man being killed by faceless, nameless snipers - the audience's viewpoint characters are those faceless, nameless snipers. And they're complex, and troubled, and human too.
Censored Voices is a documentary about recordings made of returning soldiers from the Six Day War by the novelist Amos Oz. The title tells you upfront what the Israeli media's response to these recordings were, and now that conflict is a founding legend of modern Israel the interviews are even more staggeringly incendiary. Several interviewees mock the sentimentality over the recapture of the Western Wall of Jerusalem - "it's just a wall", one shrugs. One even crosses the ultimate line and compares Israel's actions during the war to the Nazis.
I'm not sure how I feel about that sentiment, but there is a value to allowing someone - a Jewish war veteran, at that - to express it. I remember after 9/11 Salon ran a piece where readers were asked to anonymously submit thoughts they'd had about the attacks that they didn't feel comfortable sharing. (Yes, Virginia, Salon was once worth reading) One said they didn't think anyone would care about 9/11 if it had happened to predominantly black districts of New York, which struck me at the time as being absurdly paranoid. And then, four years later while I was watching Bush goof around with country singers while New Orleans drowned, it struck me; that anonymous Salon reader was right. Here was the black 9/11, and America's leaders didn't care.
So taboo thoughts can have a predictive value that consensus viewpoints would never reach, tied as they are to their own era. One interviewee says he felt confused after Israel declared victory, wondering how a people whose history had always been defined by exile and persecution would adjust to being the winners for once. You could argue that Israel is still wrestling with that one. All of the soldiers in Censored Voices reminded me of the Israelis in documentaries like Chris Marker's Description of a Struggle or Helmar Lerski's Soviet-influenced Avodah. They represent the roots of Israel as a secular, socialist nation, even as they lay the groundwork for its increasingly conservative, nationalistic, religious character in this pre-emptive military victory.
But even the thoughts that aren't obviously right, or are more inflammatory, have a value. When you read an article about free speech in the British press today, you know what you're getting; some dildo from Spiked Online ranting about how trigger warnings are literally Hitler for the benefit of an audience they already know agrees with them. Amos Oz had no such echo chamber to take comfort in. He just wanted to listen, and the nearest Loushy's film gets to uplift is when the soldiers talk about what it was like to have someone who wanted to listen to them. To simply give them the knowledge that they weren't alone in their turmoil was an act of supreme generosity.
Even in this strong season for BBC Four's Storyville, Censored Voices is a stand-out, and forms part of a perhaps accidental theme running through the season about the fraught concept of borders in an age of mass terrorism. One piece of archive footage even seems to mirror the poster for another Storyville film on the same theme, Cartel Land. I expected the old newsreel footage would be subverted or ironised by the anti-war voiceover, but interestingly it actually illustrates the recordings precisely. This story was right in front of our eyes, we just couldn't piece it together until Loushy came along.
★★★½ review by saoirse on Letterboxd
“During the war, during the battles, I felt such rigidity, I knew that I had to follow the orders. And I was so caught up in it, that I didn’t have the… It didn’t occur to me that I should be thinking”
“Something strange happened to me in Old Jerusalem, just after it was captured. I experienced a breakdown. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, so I experienced the siege on Jerusalem, and the fear, because Jerusalem was under siege when I was a child and I was bombarded. Suddenly, all these dimensions are destroyed and I’m the winner, the conquerer, with the Uzi, people looking at me. Then I made an astonishing discovery. There were people in Old Jerusalem. It didn’t even exist for me. It wasn’t a place for people, but for alienation and fear and powers I had no control over. Suddenly, there are people there. And they’re afraid of me. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this. So, I was at the Wall and I was moved. ... But along with all the excitement and the historical associations, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. That’s why the expression ‘liberated territories’ terrifies me. Because who liberated what? I don’t want to believe that the land can speak and cry and demand. I believe in people, not in land. In people, not places.”
“It was like, you take this Arab, uproot him from his village, and turn him into a refugee. You just banish him. It’s not just one, two or three people. It’s an eviction. You see the entire village sitting there, just like photos that you saw with your own eyes. You have to tell them something in order to drive them away. You say it’s going to get bombed and that they’d better leave. So they tell you, not one, but several of them: ‘All right, let us die here.’ And you have nothing to say. When you see a whole village go, like sheep, wherever they’re taken, and there is no sign of resistance, you realise what ‘Holocaust’ means.”
“Are we doomed to live in the pauses between wars?”
“I don’t believe this is the last time we’ll have to wear uniforms. I always have the feeling that the next round will be much crueller because we’ve become a conquering army. This is actual occupation. You can say ‘administered territory,’ these definitions are all correct but we’re settling on lands where there’s a deeply-rooted Arab population. I think that in the next round the Arabs’ hatred towards us will be much more serious and profound. That’s why the next war will be crueller and deadlier. When I open the morning paper I keep expecting to read the next round is here. That we all have to go back there and some won’t ever return.”
“I no longer dream of peace.”
★★★★ review by Juan Carlos Ojano on Letterboxd
Steady hand guides exploration of historical nuances. Nervy and sensitive. As an archival piece, it's vital.
★★★½ review by Jon_Kissel on Letterboxd
When the Cubs won the World Series, my roommate danced around his home and called his tearful brother to relish an event they had spent their whole lives waiting for. After things calmed down a bit, I asked my roommate if, having now shucked the Lovable Losers tradition, if cheering for the Cubs would be different, like they were now just another baseball team out of how many baseball teams are in the Major League. He didn't think they would, but then it only took a few years before people were sick of the Red Sox winning all the time, so who knows. A similar dynamic, though one with much higher stakes, is playing in Censored Voices, an Israeli documentary by Mor Loushy about recently-released first-hand accounts of returning soldiers from the Six Day War.
While the war was a titanic, all-encompassing rout in Israel's favor against much larger Arab armies, there's a sense amongst the more sanguine accounts that something about the Jewish character has been lost, like they've gone from being resilient survivors to bullying oppressors in a single generation, like they've collectively lost their ability to see themselves in their fellow men. In what must have been hundreds of hours of recordings, Loushy finds prescient nuggets of wisdom that perfectly describe the state of Israel as it exists today, gradually being taken over by religious zealots who care more for territory than basic empathy and doomed to live in the time between wars. The dirty business of physically removing people from their homes is described, far removed from the tidy patriotism with which the government painted this affair, to say nothing of the summary executions and reprisal killings that followed. At 84 minutes, Censored Voices is a brisk social history and an excellent companion piece to the Gatekeepers, another documentary about Israelis wondering 'where their country gone.' B
★★★★ review by jerry hudson on Letterboxd
brave. is bigger than its story, about isreal's six day war. this about all wars. seen by the victors, filled with self righteousness. but all the while knowing much evil they did. life....
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