“As long as we occupy other people we are not free.”
Director Mor Loushy Producers Daniel Sivan, Hilla Medalia, Neta Zwebner Screenwriters Mor Loushy, Daniel Sivan, Ran Tal Language Israel-Germany 2015 Running Time 87 mins UK distribution Dogwoof
Category Documentary Competition
This piecing together of black and white buried archive footage of Arab refugees and Israeli soldiers – both of whom were pawns in 1967’s Six-Day War game which saw Israel successfully conquer its neighbouring states and take back the ‘Homeland’ – tells an archaic story of conflict from the insider’s perspective. It is a perspective that has been purposely ignored – or hushed up – for decades.
Withheld almost in its entirety by the Israeli army until now, the interviews that a group of kibbutzniks organised in the immediate wake of the war captured the experiences of returning Israeli soldiers who had displaced Arab people in Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank and Golan Heights in a hugely successful mission proclaimed to be holy and just. Mor Loushy’s film sees a group of those soldiers individually sitting down in front of cassette players to listen back to their recordings from five decades ago, spliced together with reels of news footage from the time which flesh out the ghosts they speak of.
CENSORED VOICES is all about truth, and not only finding the truth, but reinforcing it, proving it and shouting it to audiences worldwide as a form of atonement. The ‘message’, or simply the logical conclusion of these events, is reiterated and reiterated again until the format is almost painfully repetitive: veteran listens to old interview of himself and we watch as he relives the memories. We see archive footage of the atrocities he’s speaking of, using his memoirs as an audio guide. We have what he didn’t have at the time: perspective.
By the time we arrive at the peak of emotive documentary storytelling in the last third of the film, where the word ‘refugees’ gets used for the first time and in a flash illuminates everything we’ve already seen with a shockingly relevant glow, we realise the repetitive format of CENSORED VOICES has built a strong case. The spinning cassette player – captured moodily like a prop in a 1970’s conspiracy thriller – crackles out increasingly heart-wrenching stories of not only civilian devastation but a soiled National consciousness and warped historical memory (to this day the war is publicly remembered in Israel as a triumph and something to be proud of).
What this documentary loses to indistinguishable projections of misery in the middle chunk that will have you clutching your face in horror and moaning “make it stop”, it gains back in the indescribably articulate feelings of the men towards the end. Rising in striking peaks out of the general descriptions of old Arab men who would rather die in their city than leave it, women wearing facial expressions epitomising the hurt of whole cities, finding pictures of children in the pockets of men they’d just killed, are proclamations of haunting guilt. “I felt evil”, recalls one. The whole situation was “filthy” explains another. Above all, the veterans are in agreement that the Israeli army had its priorities backwards: the focus should have been on the living human, not the dead land. And it’s this dehumanization that has caused lasting damage, they warn.
It is what wasn’t said, and evidently wasn’t learned, that worries these men. A legacy doomed to trip up future generations by holding on to the past and perpetuating a possessiveness that isn’t worth losing lives over. Loushy’s brusque take on the material leads us to a scary place, and although it’s a struggle to get there, it is worth it.
I think David Cameron would do well to watch this film before he even thinks about whispering the words “air strikes” again, preferably wearing this helpful viewing aid in case his piggy eyes start wandering:
The Final Word: A painfully convincing attempt to eradicate a lie embedded in Israel’s historical memory.
CENSORED VOICES is showing at the BFI London Film Festival on the 8th and 9th of October.