Two thoughts on the Israel TV series ‘Valley of Tears’

A couple of final thoughts on the Kan series  שעת נעילה  or ‘Valley of Tears,’ which concluded this week.  Firstly, I will admit to a certain parochial pride at seeing the bit of the army that is ‘my’ bit portrayed at the center of a moment of supreme national importance.  IDF Northern Command, Division 36, the Armored Corps, the 188 Brigade, and the Golan Heights is exactly the part of the IDF that I know well and in the framework of which I served as a regular and then a reserve soldier for 18 years.  In the asymmetrical and irregular conflicts which have been the main business of the IDF for the last 30 years, the armored forces are not the ‘stars of the show’ and the corps has suffered a corresponding loss in budgets, prestige and centrality.  As a result, it has often seemed that the particular combat history depicted in this series had become the concern or property of a small number of citizens, among whom I include myself.  Since I have always felt that the stand of the 7th and 188 brigades on the Golan in October 1973 has something of Thermopylae (and something, frankly, of Masada, at least in the 188’s case) about it, it has been great to see it rising to this level of a kind of nationally acknowledged story, with certain even epic qualities. 

A more important point, however, concerns certain absences in the story, which I find regrettable.  I would not want to see a schmaltzy, syrupy type treatment of these events a la Spielberg, and it is indeed quite impossible that the Israeli culture or mentality would produce something of that kind. At the same time, it is frustrating once more to see the Israeli society and the military culture portrayed very clearly through a kind of post-Zionist and leftist lens. Not because I want to see nationalist propaganda on screen (I very much don’t), but simply because this lens deliberately omits a salient element of the Israeli-Jewish experience that is very visible to anyone who speaks Hebrew and lives here – and that is the Jewish-traditional, and mobilized element based on a sense of Jewish national rights, Jewish tradition and the rightness of Israel’s cause vis a vis the Arab-Muslim effort to destroy it.  This, as everyone knows, is the belief-complex which stands at the center of Israeli Jewish society, which is reflected in its voting patterns, much of its cultural product and consumption, its levels of religious and traditional observance etc.  This is the side of Israeli society  which despite the renaissance of Israeli cinema and TV drama in recent years, rarely makes it to the screen, and even more rarely makes it to international audiences, but understanding of which is crucial to understanding the country and its decisions and directions.  

Its permissible and fine to make ‘pure action’ movies, of course, for people who are looking for that. But שעת נעילה wasn’t a piece of that type.  A considerable part of it was concerned with social and political discussion. In this area, we had a very large helping of the far leftist, anti-Zionist critique of Israel, and even a scene where an articulate and serious character enunciates the Arab nationalist case against Zionism and Israel. There was not one sentence, however, in which the case for Jewish national rights and sovereignty in Israel was made.  This is a rather odd, and disappointing state of affairs. Its main deleterious effect, I think, is that it results in a lurid, very partial and distorted picture of Israeli society being presented, both to the domestic audience and no less importantly, to international viewers. 

About jonathanspyer

Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is a the director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and analysis (MECRA), a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for strategy and Security (JISS) and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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