Recordings made by Israeli soldiers just after the 1967 Six-Day War form the crux of “Censored Voices,” a documentary built around purportedly unheard audio tapes censored by the Israeli military. Politically charged and intermittently cutting, if slightly dry and repetitive, the doc may be more specialized than the Oscar-nominated “The Gatekeepers,” a similar look at Israel’s Shin Bet service, but that film’s track record indicates that a U.S. audience exists for this material. At the very least, helmer Mor Loushy’s film will be discussed in Israel and get ample play at Israeli- and Jewish-themed fests.
The Six-Day War resulted in substantial territorial gains for Israel, which took the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, Gaza and some of the Golan Heights. “Censored Voices” positions itself as something of a corrective. In a director’s statement, Loushy notes that many of the contemporaneous reflections from Israeli soldiers who fought in the war don’t comport with the nationalist sentiment with which Israelis often regard the campaign today.
The interview project was spearheaded by authors Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira, kibbutzniks at the time. Shapira’s book is credited as the basis for the film, according to which the Israeli military allowed only 30% of the recordings to be published.
The documentary’s strategy is to show these former soldiers sitting stoically in the present day, listening to the thoughts they recorded nearly five decades earlier. For the most part, they show little emotion, which may or may not be a stylistic choice. As the tapes play, the film provides context by occasionally cutting to news reports from the period, in which, for instance, ABC News visits a refugee camp in Amman.
The sentiment that the former soldiers overwhelmingly express is ambivalence. Although the film gives a rundown of IDs at the end, for the most part the men are treated as interchangeable. Cards indicate the kibbutz where each testimony was taken and the number of days it had been since the end of the war. The voices speak of regrets about civilian casualties and about uprooting Arabs from villages; one recalls stumbling across a photo of a dead man’s children and realizing he had killed a father.
Because these tapes are from 1967, much of what is said feels prescient. “Are we doomed to bomb villages every decade for defense purposes?” one man asks. Some of the soldiers question their connection to Israel’s historic sites. “If they bombed the Wall today, and it brought Mishi back to life,” says a soldier, referring to a fallen comrade, “I’d say: Bomb it!” The soldiers also anticipate future conflicts. “I don’t believe that this is the last time we’ll have to wear uniforms,” one says.
Loushy skillfully and briskly excerpts the material, although the film falls somewhere on the line between formal documentary and assemblage. (Essentially, the movie is just a delivery mechanism for the recordings.) Tech credits — glossily lensed present-day interviews, anxious scoring and well preserved clips — are in keeping with the genre.