Review: Valley of Tears
In November of 2020, HBO Max aired the Israeli miniseries Valley of Tears, which had premiered in Israel the month before. The series is trailblazing in a few ways. The first is its subject matter. The series depicts Israel right on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and ends with the subsequent tank battle in the eponymously named Valley of the Tears. In addition, it’s the largest budget of an Israeli series to date, with an estimated $1 million per episode; features some of the best-known Israeli actors; and, behind the scenes, many of Israel’s best writers.
For context, the Yom Kippur War is to many Israelis what Vietnam is to Americans. Not only was a large number of Israeli men of that generation lost in combat (2,500), but the war was largely viewed as an avoidable catastrophe and utter hubris on the part of Israeli intelligence and the political establishment. Though officially acquitted by a commission, Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned as a direct consequence of the war and was haunted by it until her dying day. That being said, the three-week war was a remarkable military victory against slim odds that resulted in Israel retaining more territory than before the war. It ultimately led to a historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1977, negotiated by their heads of state, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, respectively.
Valley of Tears tells the story of regular soldiers in the IDF, caught up in a surprise war against the backdrop of their personal struggles. There is plenty of much-needed comic relief, which makes the stories more relatable.The show opens with an awkward and clever intelligence soldier, stationed at the northern Hermon outpost, who repeatedly warns his superiors of an impending war. The soldier is constantly ridiculed until his suspicions are verified and the Syrians close in on the outpost. This frames the general mindset in Israel at the outset of the war.
By far, the most compelling and innovative storyline is that of three tank brigade soldiers who are activists in “Pantherim Shchorim” (the Israeli Black Panther movement, created by Mizrachi immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries). In this aspect, Valley of Tears breaks fresh ground in addressing the social and economic inequality faced by Mizrahi immigrants in the State of Israel. The artistic choice to frame the chaos and struggles of the Yom Kippur war against the backdrop of social injustice and unrest mirrors the change that Israel went through in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. The long-powerful Labor Party’s demise following Meir’s resignation after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 paved the way for change. The ascendancy of the Likud party in 1977 was largely due to the vote of Mizrachi Jews, who had felt so marginalized by Labor governments. Valley of Tears manages to capture a sense of Israel on the brink of meaningful change. It is also an engaging and thought-provoking look at Israel at war – with itself and its enemies.