Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Foxtel’s ‘Valley of Tears’ reveals the trauma of a nation

Eetta Prince-Gibson
Print this

Published: 23 March 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

EETTA PRINCE-GIBSON: Valley of Tears is an anti-war statement, and the plots of arrogant, oblivious leadership and social discrimination clearly and deliberately relate to current events in Israel

RELENTLESSLY INTENSE AND painfully realistic, Valley of Tears is a fictional account of the first three days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a combined, coordinated attack that nearly destroyed the State of Israel and left nearly 3000 soldiers dead and close to 8000 wounded or captured.

The action takes place in Emek Habacha ("Valley of Tears" in Hebrew), the area in the Golan Heights where one of the fiercest and most crucial battles in that 19-day war was fought.

Revolving around the interconnected plots of a bohemian father who searches for his estranged soldier son, a nearly-decimated tank platoon, tragic young lovers, and a socially awkward intelligence officer who tries but fails to warn the army command of the impending disaster,


Valley of Tears is also the story of Israel's conceptzia (conception, in Hebrew), a well-known phrase that refers to the Israeli hubris according to which, following its stunning success in the 1967 Six-Day War, the country had become so strong that the surrounding Arab enemies would never make war against it again.

Newsreels and other contemporary footage interspersed into the 10-part miniseries reveal just how euphoric Israeli society was until Yom Kippur 1973, and how traumatic the collapse of the conceptzia was and still is.

This is the first full-length, convincing, albeit fictionalised, cinematic accounting of that war. Directed by Yaron Zilberman and based on a script by Ron Leshem and Amit Cohen, it was in production for over 10 years Zilberman spoke to and gleaned insights from some of Israel's top novelists and with veterans in an effort to get everything – from the uniforms and the army slang to the actual tanks that he refurbished back to that time.

The production is reported to have had the biggest budget of any Israeli series to date; it is estimated to have cost about $US1 million per episode.
Approximately 11 percent of Israel's population watched Valley of Tears during its first 10 days, and it quickly became a national event. Entire families blocked off Monday nights, and watched together.

Most of the scenes are detailed and shot at close range; there is little of the grand landscapes we are accustomed to in war movies.  Instead, we see empty-eyed, shell shocked soldiers staring at the camera, while others scream in pain and fear.  We see burned Israeli bodies spilling out of burning tanks.

And by concentrating on individual stories, we feel the chaos and dread as everyone, from the military and political leadership to the frantic foot soldier, realises that conceptzia, along with Israeli's lines of military defence, have collapsed.

In a second, parallel plot, the show examines the tensions between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews through the experiences of three tank soldiers who are members of the Israeli Black Panthers, a radical movement that sought to disrupt the discrimination against Mizrahim  in Israel.

“In 1973, finally, the wave of the ‘60s arrived in Israel,” Leshem told American news media organisation The Forward. “The Black Panthers were supposed to be a game-changer that was going to change the society, finally. And then when the war broke out and we were practically a moment before losing everything, Israel became again a country that votes only on that one issue. Social justice was forgotten for a few years.”

The name of the series refers to that three-day battle in which heavily out-numbered Israeli tanks fought against better-equipped Syrian tanks and artillery at impossibly close range, and held the Syrians back from over-running the Golan Heights and continuing  into  Israel. In Hebrew, it is called Sha'at Neilah ("Hour of Closing").

That name is even more emotionally laden, carrying a reference to the prayer marking the end of Yom Kippur, the most sanctified moment in the Jewish calendar, when, according to Jewish tradition, the gates of Heaven are closing and fate and future of each and every individual are written and sealed. For those who lived through that war, it recalls the desperation and despair, as Israelis on the front and at home  feared that the fate and future of the state were sealed, too.

Approximately 11 percent of Israel's population watched Valley of Tears online or on  television during its first 10 days, and it quickly became a national event. Entire families blocked off Monday nights, and watched together.

For some, it was the first time that fathers talked about their combat experiences and those who were civilians at the time talked about friends and lovers who had been killed. Leshem said in another interview that a wave of 14-year-olds posted on social media that an airing of Valley of Tears marked the first time they’d seen their grandfathers cry.

Kan, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation that co-produced the series with private investors, opened  a Facebook page that has nearly 50,000 members and is still active, even though the last episodes were screened in Israel in mid-December.

Aware of the series' import, Kan also aired a post-show, entitled Aharei Neilah ("After Closing"), which featured interviews with actors, some of whom spoke about the great responsibility they felt and others who revealed their own traumatic experiences in later wars, such as the Second Lebanon War; soldiers who saw combat; and wives and children who waited at home.

Aharei Neilah was moderated by Kobi Meidan, a well-known TV host. Viewers sent in their own pictures diaries from the time, and they, too, were presented to the audiences.

[gallery columns="1" size="full" ids="41795"]

Throughout, Kan posted hotline numbers for Natal, an Israeli organisation treating victims of trauma from wars and terrorist attacks.  According to Natal, there was a sharp increase in calls to their hotlines during and immediately after each of the screenings.

Valley of Tears reveals the trauma of a nation. Zilberman said the series was also intended to heighten awareness of and sensitivity to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among Israeli combat veterans.  Speaking at a special Knesset session after politicians realised the effect the series was having on the country, Zilberman stated, "We are presenting the humanity, the complexity of the soldiers as human beings, and they are just as heroic.

"Those who fought in 1973, as well as those who fought in 2006, felt shame and guilt, and we need to ask ourselves why. We have a responsibility and duty to correct it and give them the power to cope."

Valley of Tears is an anti-war statement, and the plots of arrogant, oblivious leadership and social discrimination clearly and deliberately relate to current events in Israel.

The opening scenes show archival footage of the time, focusing on long hair, bikinis, guitars, drugs and music, and young love. Counter-posed with the pictures of the soldiers, Valley of Tears is about who Israelis once were and why they are who they are today..

Valley of Tears can be seen on Fox Showcase and Binge


About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site