Israeli TV series peers into the Yom Kippur War's ‘Valley of Tears’

Amsel, a veteran writer in the Israeli television industry, has been working for a decade as co-creator and co-writer on Valley of Tears, a heralded series about the Yom Kippur War.

A SCENE from ‘Valley of Tears.’ Right, co-creator and co-writer Daniel Amsel.  (photo credit: VERED ADIR/KAN 11)
A SCENE from ‘Valley of Tears.’ Right, co-creator and co-writer Daniel Amsel.
(photo credit: VERED ADIR/KAN 11)
Daniel Amsel isn’t quite ready for his close-up, but that’s OK.
Amsel, a veteran writer in the Israeli television industry, has been working for a decade as co-creator and co-writer on Valley of Tears, a heralded series about the Yom Kippur War. Doing the first interview of his career, he sounds a bit stunned that the series is finally seeing the light of day, and that it was just sold to HBO in a grand announcement earlier this week.
“What can I say? We’re walking on air,” said the 33-year-old television writer, who isn’t used to doing publicity, but will likely have to get used to it very quickly.
“It’s been a journey of 10 years since we started working on Valley of Tears,” he said. “We” are his co-creators, Ron Leshem, with whom he worked on the series Euphoria, which was eventually remade by HBO, and Amit Cohen (False Flag, The Gordin Cell).
The 10-part Valley of Tears, which reportedly cost more than $1 million per episode – a fortune in Israeli terms – is being released during the month that marks the 47th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. It begins on October 19 on KAN 11, after the news.
Asked why television has never made a dramatic series about the Yom Kippur War, and why relatively few films have dealt with it in almost half a century since it took place, Amsel said, “I think television never touched the scar and the trauma of this war because we still live it. We still feel the influences.”
The war started a controversy over the government and army top brass ignoring warnings that an attack was imminent and not being prepared, leaving Israeli soldiers, particularly on the northern border, vulnerable and outnumbered. Golda Meir resigned as prime minister following the war. Public trust in the government was shaken and has never truly recovered. For many Israelis, history can be divided into before and after this war.
Amsel’s father fought in the war, but he emphasized that this was not why he was drawn to dramatize stories from the conflict, and that the series does not tell his father’s story. In any case, the series is not the story of any one person but features several parallel stories. The centerpiece is the battle in the so-called Valley of Tears, in which a handful of Israelis fought against thousands of Syrian troops.
Amsel and his co-creators spent years researching the war.
“It’s not a documentary. These are fictional characters. But we researched widely, we wanted above all for it to be accurate and grounded in reality,” he said. “We are loyal to reality. We based everything on real incidents. It’s a journey into the war.”
THE CREATORS reached out to many Yom Kippur War veterans and were moved and grateful to those who shared their painful memories of the conflict.
“We got emails from many veterans, and someone sent a journal. The war gave birth to many stories and we were able to use many of them.”
Based on the first two episodes of the show that were released to the press, Valley of Tears is a gripping series, emotionally charged and full of suspense. Given that it is a war drama, it is filled with violent scenes and may be difficult for some viewers to watch.
It attracted many of Israel’s highest profile actors, along with several newcomers. The cast includes Lior Ashkenazi (Walk on Water, Our Boys) as a left-wing radio reporter searching for his son (Lee Biran), Aviv Alush (Beauty and the Baker) as a Golani officer and commander of the security force at the Mount Hermon outpost, and Joy Rieger (The Other Story, Virgins) as a soldier who stays behind to help her unit even though all the other female soldiers were evacuated.
In another plot line that showcases a very different side of Israeli society in the ‘70s, activists from the Black Panthers group of radical Mizrachim from the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem (Maor Schwitzer, Ofer Hayoun and Imri Biton) head into battle with mixed emotions about the government they are fighting for.
An interesting story is that of Avinoam (Shahar Taboch), a nerdy soldier in the 8200 Intelligence Unit that is now famous for its hi-tech methods.
“Most of the people who were in surveillance on the border were soldiers who had grown up speaking Arabic at home,” Amsel said. The Avinoam character is based on a “rare Ashkenazi soldier” who had learned Arabic well enough to serve in that unit. It is Avinoam who goes by the book and picks up on all the clues that war is about to break out. Much of the suspense in the first episodes involves Avinoam’s struggle to get anyone to take him seriously.
Valley of Tears was directed by Yaron Zilberman, who made the acclaimed 2019 film Incitement, about Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. The series was co-produced by KAN 11, United King Films, WestEnd Films and Endemol Shine Israel.
Although Amsel, Cohen and Leshem struggled for years to get the series made, things really got moving when London-based WestEnd Films became involved. WestEnd’s chairman Sharon Harel and managing director Maya Amsellem decided to take on the project knowing that it was going to be the most expensive television production ever done in Israel. Just the cost of finding and refurbishing enough tanks to make the battle scenes realistic was astronomical compared to the usual Israeli television budget.
Producer Moshe Edery from United King team Films came on board and shooting started a little over a year ago. Harel and Amsellem decided they would sell Valley of Tears to HBO and Amsellem negotiated with the network and closed the deal.
One question that was important to the writers was how this story would be relevant to 2020.
“We realized we had to tell human stories that reflected the richness and diversity of everyone involved in the war.... If we didn’t tell these human stories that you can connect to, it would be a series for military history enthusiasts.”
Front and center for Amsel is that, “We wanted to tell stories that are accurate and believable, and we wanted to honor the people who fought this war.” He hopes that this intention will resonate with audiences who see the series, both in Israel and around the world.