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An Epic Israeli TV Drama Exposes War Wounds Old and New

JERUSALEM — A new Israeli television series based on true events from the 1973 war, when the country was caught off guard on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and feared total destruction, has prompted an intense public reckoning with the scope of war trauma and the treatment of survivors.

The high-impact series pried open a collective national wound and led to a cathartic outpouring of emotion. It also exposed a younger generation to the battlefield sacrifices and the shocking failures of leadership that led to the surprise concerted Arab attack on Yom Kippur, led by the Egyptian and Syrian armies. The period is so painful that Israeli culture has rarely dared to grapple with it.

“This was our worst trauma and our worst disaster as a country,” said Ron Leshem, who cocreated the series together with Amit Cohen, both veterans of the Israeli military’s elite 8200 intelligence unit. “For 47 years, people had the feeling this was a forgotten war and that they would end their lives without anyone knowing their stories,” Mr. Leshem added. “We knew we had an awful responsibility.”

The series, aired by the Israeli public broadcaster Kan, was 10 years in the making with a multimillion-dollar budget far exceeding those of typical Israeli productions. It featured heart-stopping recreations of epic tank battles in their original locations in the Golan Heights, which Israel had seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In 1973, the Syrians attacked from the north and the Egyptians from the south.

“Valley of Tears” harks back to a nostalgic moment when crisis forged a sense of social solidarity, a theme that seemed to resonate all the more amid the current leadership in crisis in Israel and the ever-present fear of a confrontation with Iran or its proxies in the region. Filming for the series had to stop for a few weeks because of rocket fire from across the Syrian frontier.

For Imri Biton, 35, an actor and himself a former combat soldier, the fictional drama mirrored his own reality. During his conversations with Israeli veterans of the 1973 war as he prepared for his role in “Valley of Tears,” the veterans spoke of flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety attacks. It dawned on him that he, too, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read entire article at New York Times