‘NYT’ perpetuates myth Israel was ‘fighting for its very survival’ during 1967 war

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tags: Israel



Stephen R. Shalom is a co-editor of New Politics and a member of New Jersey Peace Action. He teaches at William Paterson University in NJ, where is director of the Gandhian Forum for Peace & Justice.

On January 25, the New York Times posted an article by their Israel correspondent, Jodi Rudoren, about a new Israeli film, Censored Voices, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend. Directed by Mor Loushy, Censored Voices is “the latest in a series of movies by leftist Israeli filmmakers who have won awards abroad by presenting harsh looks at their own society.” The film deals with Israeli war crimes committed during the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. But while Rudoren’s article performs a valuable service in drawing attention to the film, it also perpetuates one of the main myths about that war.

Based largely on interviews with Israeli soldiers—conducted in 1967, and heavily censored at the time—Censored Voices documents Israeli soldiers “summarily executing prisoners and evacuating Arab villages in a manner that one fighter likened to the Nazis’ treatment of European Jews.” Israeli atrocities in that war have been known for quite a while, but film is certainly a more powerful medium than newsprint.

The film (which I haven’t yet seen) seems important, and especially useful at a time when the Israeli military is under investigation for atrocities committed in its recent Gaza assaults. It is increasingly hard for anyone to believe that Israeli soldiers are “blessed with special moral values,” in the words of a 1995 statement from the office of then-Prime Minister (and 1967 Chief of Staff) Yitzhak Rabin. Rudoren’s article also provides the significant information that even Censored Voices was censored and hence doesn’t tell the full story of the war crimes that occurred: “Israel forbids the filmmakers to reveal how much they were forced to change, and the military censor’s office refused to discuss it.”

But Rudoren and apparently Loushy give an extremely inaccurate context for the atrocities committed in 1967. Rudoren describes that war as one in which Israel “started out fighting … for its very survival.” The film, says Rudoren, could lead to fodder for Israel’s critics if “viewed without consideration for the existential threat Israel faced at the time.” The movie, she writes, “does make clear the imminent threat to Israel —and then the stunning turnabout that military historians have long considered a marvel.” And Loushy is quoted as saying that “This is the story of men who went out to war feeling like they had to defend their life, and they were right, of course….”

But they were not right, and nor are Rudoren or Loushy....




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