By Vacy Vlazna
“What unites all types of evil, which are created in the different worlds of national and social interest groups, is that the “decent citizens” of all the worlds always require a semblance of self-evidence, normality, ideologies, ethos, the legitimization of a majority of some kind, laws of nature and man-made laws, and above all a sense of morality and mission to validate the evil.” — Ada Ushpiz
Censored Voices, a volatile documentary laying bare young zionist soldiers’ consuming qualms about the Six Day War, was released in 2015. Now, at the 50-year anniversary of the Palestinian Naksa, it offers explosive information about Israeli atrocities, profound anti-war insights and glimmers of hope for a future one state wherein Palestinians and Israelis live side by side as equals.
The documentary, by director Mor Loushy, was gleaned from 200 hours of taped testimonies collected from a number of kibbutzes only10 days after the war’s end by Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira. Loushy adeptly blends the tapes, listened to by eight surviving participants, with rare archival footage.
Oz explains the rationale for the recordings,
“Generally speaking to try to explain the fact that we’ve all encountered, that people did not come back happy from this war. There’s a sense of sadness that newspapers don’t address…. If we can tell ourselves, and perhaps others too, exactly what is painful for us now in these great times, we may not be doing service to what’s called ‘national morale’ but we’ll do a small service to the truth.”
“Wow! How is it possible that I didn’t know of these anti-militaristic voices? They were in stark contrast to everything I had learned in school about the 1967 war. I was amazed to discover how these soldiers, through their experience on the battlefield, foresaw the future in 1967 and how they understood that Israel’s control over the Occupied Territories would end in tragedy.”
In 1967, Shapira was permitted to use only 30% of the material in the tapes, as the remaining 70% was censored by the IDF. Loushy’s film draws on the censored 70% where Israeli war crimes committed against prisoners of war and civilians lurks unpunished.
The testimonies describe,
– the cold-blooded willful killings of terrified surrendered combatants during cease fire by soldiers following the official order of ‘Show no mercy, kill as many as possible’ and repeated summary executions of Palestinian civilians,
“The women, children, donkeys and herd we all sent ahead and we saw them walk 100 meters eastward and they simply shot the 15 men…. After that, the men kept dwelling on: ‘How is that possible?” They asked the commander, ‘How could that be?” And he just said, ‘When you chop wood, chips fly.”
– unlawful deportations with vivid déjà vu of the 1948 Nakba,
“We were told to evict civilians. It was like, you are this Arab uproot him from his village and turn him into a refugee. You just banish him. It’s not one, two or three people. It’s an eviction. You see the entire village sitting there just like photos you’ve seen 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 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’s no sign of resistance, you realize what ‘Holocaust’ means.”
– unlawful wanton destruction or appropriation of property: “You saw soldiers in Nablus acting with such violence, breaking down doors, breaking into houses without even taking anything, well hardly anything. Just wreaking havoc for no reason.”
Listening to the tapes you understand the inevitability and universality of the ‘sense of sadness’ i.e. PTSD, when war tears familiar worlds and morality to pieces,
“My friends, my friends, I know well, friends I went to school with, who I know as good people, these same people, one of them sees a wounded enemy so he does go to help him but draws his Uzi and finishes him off. And an Arab runs in the desert so he lifts his Uzi and fires for no reason. Out of murder.”
“And we found a group of 15 armed Arabs. They were hiding and didn’t even try to defend themselves. All of us, Avinoam, Zvika, Yitzhaki, we’re not murderers. In the war we all became murders.”
“I had an abysmal feeling that I was evil, a despicable person and nothing can make that feeling go away.”
The speakers run the whole gamut of intense feelings; paralytic fear, rage, disorientation, confusion, despair, disdain, fatigue, guilt, grief and the superiority of a conqueror followed closely by shame and disgust – “they’d become animals. So, it’s all filthy. Our men too, it’s all filthy.”
Justifications for Blind Complicity
Justifications for the shape-shift from decency to evil abounds. The enemy is ‘not human beings’, ‘animals,’ ‘shooting – gallery dummies’, ‘human shadows’, ‘Realistically speaking, in war, every civilian, every person is your enemy’ (a standard that applies only to Israeli oppression not to Palestinian resistance). Of course, there is the cliché of obedience,
“I knew that I had to follow orders and I was so caught up in it …, It didn’t occur to me that I should be thinking, I knew that I just had to do it. There were people of the roofs, they’re civilians, should I kill them or not? I didn’t even think about it. Just kill! Kill everyone you see!”
Echoing Eichmann’s justification for his complicity in the genocide of Jews at his trial in Jerusalem, “And just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody “Thou shalt not kill,” even though man’s natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill,” — Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt.
And then there is the justification of necessity. According to Ushpiz, “Above all, there is no evil that does not occur in the name of some “necessity.” The tapes reveal the soldiers believe they were fighting a just war of self-defense. The government propaganda was so effective that none thought to challenge the fiction of the cause of the Six Day War; the old lie of Israel as David-the-victim versus the Goliath-Arab-threat when in fact the real agenda of the preemptive attacks was the restoration of Israel’s deterrence capacity and a land grab that reaped the Sinai, Golan, Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem.
Land grab is the impetus of Zionism and the tapes show that deeply reflective morality has the power to undo Zionism;
“In Kibbutz Hulda one of the boys died in the war. When I came back I visited his parents. The mother cried, the father bit his lip. Someone tried to console them. He said, ‘Look we liberated Jerusalem, Mishi didn’t die in vain.” The mother burst into tears and said, The Western Wall isn’t worth his fingernail.”
“So, if you say we fought for our existence, it’s worth Mishi’s fingernail. If you say we fought for the Western Wall, it’s not worth Mishi’s fingernail”.
Nor, I add, was the war worth the fingernails of 15,000 slaughtered Arabs or of the cruelly displaced 400,000 Palestinians.
The 1967 testimonies contain the prototype of contemporary soldiers’ efforts to end the occupation such as Breaking the Silence and Combatants for Peace. Most significantly, they express essential prerequisites to bring about reconciliation as a basis of a harmonious state shared between Palestinians and Israelis: truths about Israeli violent colonization of Palestine, the end of Zionism, ending the occupation and empathy,
- Zionism is a tragedy from the start. Our return to this land involves some form of banishment. Banishment. Found our kibbutz were Arab villages: Nuris, Mazar, Kumi. They’re gone! The existence of the Jewish people and their return to this land involves expelling those who lived here.
- If there was a moment of recognition of the war years and the Holocaust, it was when I was driving into Jericho and saw the refugees leaving. I could identify with them completely. I could see myself in those children who were carried in their parents’ arms, when my father carried me. It was in those moments feeling the pain of your fellow man, of the Arabs who we were fighting. The Arabs were having experiences similar to those we had in World War II. Perhaps that’s the tragedy. That I identified with the other side. With our enemies.
- I no longer have the will to steal other people’s land. Really, we’ve done enough. All we need is to make sure there will be peace in this land. All this talk about how it belongs to us historically. All the world belongs to the Jews because there were Jews everywhere, and not every place we conquer will belong to the Jews. I no longer have the will to take the land and the property of others. None whatsoever.
- The last line in our anthem is, ‘To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem’ As long as we occupy another people, we are not a free people. We’ve lost the ‘free people’ part.
Loushy should rightfully have the last word on the tapes’ value of redeemed humanness; the personal responsibility, conscience, empathy, political vigilance and truth that can take a stand against national evil and choose peace:
“These voices are more relevant now than ever before. I considered it my mission to make this film, to make it possible for my children to have a better future. I was a soldier myself and I want the conflict with the Palestinians to end, I want us to live peacefully side by side and I want my son to serve in an army of peace.”
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convener of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.