No dark secrets, just a propaganda film
Op-ed: The creators of 'Censored Voices,' a documentary based on recordings of intimate conversations with IDF fighters after the Six-Day War, are trying to instill the myth of Israel's brutal censorship; the truth is that all the material has already been published.
Some 20,000 of the enemy's soldiers were killed in the Six-Day War, almost only soldiers. Thousands were captured. It wasn't a war without unusual incidents. There is not a single war in the past century which didn't include massacres and horrors.
Prof. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the most important researcher in this field, argued in his book "Worse Than War" that about 90 percent of the casualties in conflicts after World War II are innocent, victims of massacres. While there is a dispute over the percentage, even those who disagree with him assert that most victims are innocent.
So the question isn't: "Did it happen in the Six-Day War?" Of course it did. The question is: "Was it the norm, or were these exceptions?" Even today, almost five decades after the events, evidence about exceptions can and should be presented.
The fact that IDF fighters carried out such illegitimate acts, a lot less than any other army those years, before those years and after those years – doesn’t mean that these things should be presented today either. We have to know. We have to condemn. The IDF's soldiers must be educated against such acts. It should be obvious. But in the heat of the battle, it isn't always obvious.
This is the background before presenting the new hit movie, "Fighters Talk: The Hidden Reels" (Hebrew title), a documentary based on the original recordings of intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield after the Six-Day War. The film received a huge wave of PR in Israel. After all, it presents Israelis' crimes, and those are always sought-after goods.
It is also becoming a hit around the world, under the name "Censored Voices." It provides an aura of exposure. "The Israeli army censored the 1967 audiotapes, allowing only a fragment of the conversations to be published until now. This film shares those 'censored voices' for the first time," the film's English synopsis says.
And in their interviews, the filmmakers, led by director Mor Loushy, instilled the myth of the brutal censorship – "70 percent." And we, the exposures in the turret, the commando of the forces of progress, are now revealing the dark secrets. Leading newspapers like the New York Times and Economist rushed to buy the goods.
But it's a lie, says Dr. Martin Kramer, following a long investigation he conducted.
"Fighters Talk" was initiated by Avraham Shapira and Amos Oz. They interviewed kibbutz members, and very few members of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. The text was issued in two internal editions for kibbutz members only. The demand grew, and they decided to issue another edition for the entire public. That required them of course to present the material to the Military Censor.
There were two people there on behalf of the IDF: Chief Censor Avner Bar-On and Chief Education Officer Mordechai (Morale) Bar-On, who went on to become a Knesset member on behalf of Meretz. The former sought to censor as much as possible. The latter was inclined to censor as little as possible. The book's producers insisted. They refused to accept Morale's stance either.
And yet, as opposed to the arguments presented in the film's PR campaign, "when you compare the public edition to the censor's proposals and to Bar-On's proposals, you see that all the censor's proposals were rejected, as well as most of Mordechai Bar-On's proposals… The external censorship played a relatively small part, and the main censorship was done by the text's initiators" These comments were presented in doctoral thesis of Alon Gan, a kibbutz member himself.
In an interview published in July 1968, Yariv Ben-Aharon, one of the text's editors, said: "We conducted internal censorship… The official censorship left out very little." Shapira made opposite claims when the film debuted. His memory betrayed him. And perhaps it was a PR need. Morale himself still clarifies that there was 2-3 percent censorship, not 70 percent.
Oz shared only part of the process. Bar-On describes him in his memoirs as "an arrogant and insensitive young man." In any event, the original recordings did include testimonies about war crimes. The text's producers are the ones who decided to leave those testimonies somewhat vague. After all, they had asked for feelings rather than testimonies in the first place. The censorship was marginal and the testimonies about war crimes were essentially already published in Gan's doctoral thesis.
The censorship, on behalf of the initiators, was mainly applied to the recordings with the yeshiva students, some of whom went on to become the leaders of the settlement movement. Amram Haisraeli, one of the project's leaders, thought it was "the most important conversation." Oz rejected that. The testimonies were censored. They didn't match Oz's agenda.
The original publication of "Fighters Talk" already included clear motives of self-criticism: How we turned into shooting machines, how the enemy's soldiers looked like "dolls in an amusement park,' etc.
The personal testimonies were diverse. Any person could find what he wanted in them. "The book provides an accurate picture of the aggressive mentality characterizing the Zionist Movement," a Syrian publication wrote. And ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia actually found in it a return of Hashomer Hatzair members to Judaism.
The purpose of the interviews' initiators wasn't to expose testimonies of different acts in the first place. Oz defiantly asked for testimonies about feelings. "The key word," he clarified, "is what you felt."
Many researchers doubt the factual value of such testimonies/feelings. A study which looked into similar testimonies from the Vietnam War, for example, discovered that 40 percent of the soldiers who testified about tensions over fighting were not exposed to fighting at all, and they were the ones who testified more than others that they had committed horrors in the battlefield themselves. Another study determines that the soldiers match the testimonies to the interviewers' agenda. The agenda wasn't hidden in any way. Oz and Shapira's purpose was to go out against the feeling of euphoria in Israel.
There are two ways to deal with materials of this kind. The first way is a historical outlook. The testimonies should also be presented in the overall context of the events. In the years, months and weeks before the war there were specific threats of annihilation.
The Arab League decided in 1964 that "the completion of the military preparations will lead to the final destruction of Israel." In 1966, then-Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad, who later became president, declared: "We are determined to soak this land in your blood, to throw you in the sea." Nine days before the war broke out, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser said: "Our basic goal is the destruction of the State of Israel." A week before the war broke out, PLO founder and leader Ahmad al-Shukeiri said: "Whoever survives will remain in Palestine. But I don't think anyone will survive."
That's the historical background. That's what those who went out to fight heard. That doesn’t justify any war crimes. And in practice, there were only a few testimonies of war crimes.
But there is another approach – neither historical nor scientific, but propaganda-related. It's the approach who prefers to manipulatively emphasize testimonies over exceptions. It's the approach who joins, perhaps knowingly, the massive campaign aiming to present Israel as a monster. It's the approach of the PR campaign of "Censored Voices," which includes the distorted claim that "70 percent of the material was censored" in order to create the suitable atmosphere to convey the message.
The film will not only be screened around the world, but also in Israel. That's the way it should be. Israel is a democracy. But we should know that it's not an exposure, and there was no exposure there. Everything has already been published. The film's director didn't hesitate to present her political agenda. The result, we should all know, is a propaganda film.