Reviewing original BBC reporting on the Six Day War

As the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War approaches, it is interesting to take a look at how the BBC reported that event at the time – not least in order to be able to compare those reports with content produced years after the event.

A section of the BBC News website titled “On This Day” includes archived reports mostly from the years 1950-2005.

Among the entries for May 30th is an article titled “1967: Egypt and Jordan unite against Israel“.

“The King of Jordan and President Abdel Nasser of Egypt have signed a joint defence agreement.

The news came as a surprise to Egyptians and foreigners alike since King Hussein has often been criticised for cosying up to the West. […]

Today, King Hussein was met at Almaza military airport by the president on an unannounced visit to the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Five hours later, Cairo Radio announced the two leaders had signed the deal stating that “the two countries consider any attack on either of them is an attack on both and will take measures including the use of armed forces to repulse such an attack”.

The five-year deal paves the way for the creation of a defence council and joint command. General Mohammed Fawzy, Egypt’s Chief of Staff, would command military operations in case of war. […]

Israel says the pact has greatly increased the danger of an all out-war between Israel and the Arab states.”

The article also includes background information relating to the war that broke out days later:

“Tensions in the region have been building for the last three weeks since Egypt increased its military presence in the Sinai Peninsular [sic] and ordered the United Nations Emergency Force off Egyptian territory.

On 22 May President Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.

Five days later he declared: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.””

Another report from June 5th 1967 – titled “Israel launches attack on Egypt” – records the start of the fighting. 

“Israeli forces have launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt and destroyed nearly 400 Egypt-based military aircraft.

Fighting broke out on the Israel-Egypt border but then quickly spread to involve other neighbouring Arab states with ground and air troops becoming embroiled in battle. […]

Israel took decisive action today claiming the element of surprise was the only way it could stand any chance of defending itself against the increasing threat from neighbouring states.”

The article provides the following context:

“The Arab states had been preparing to go to war against Israel with Egypt, Jordan and Syria being aided by Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Algeria.

On 27 May the President of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, declared: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”

Egypt signed a pact with Jordan at the end of May declaring an attack on one was an attack on both. This was seen by Israel as a clear sign of preparation for all-out war. […]

The path for war was cleared on 16 May when President Nasser ordered the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Forces from the Egyptian-Israeli border.”

On the final day of the war – June 10th 1967 – the BBC produced a report titled “Israel ends six-day war“.

“Fighting in the Middle East has ended after Israel finally observed the UN ceasefire and halted her advance into Syria.

Within the last six days Israeli troops have taken territory many times larger than Israel itself and united the holy city of Jerusalem for the first time since 1948.”

The report goes on:

“Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol justified the pre-emptive strike on Egypt, and battles with Jordanian and Syrian forces by saying his country was acting in self-defence.

He told the Sunday Times newspaper: “The threat of destruction that hung over Israel since its establishment and which was about to be implemented has been removed.”

He added: “For the first time in 19 years, Jews are again free to pray at the Wailing Wall and at other shrines sacred to Judaism in Jerusalem and Hebron.””

All three articles include a side box titled “In Context” which was added much later on. Two of those inserts include the following claim:

“It [the war] also displaced some 500,000 Palestinians who fled to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

No reference is provided to support that claim of half a million displaced people. Other sources, however, cite lower figures: the Palestinian American Council says some 360,000 people were displaced in 1967, the PLO says 200,000 and the ADL cites an estimate of 250,000.

The anti-Israel Palestinian interest group ‘Badil‘ published a document in 2004 referring to 400,000 displaced people, half of whom had previously been displaced during the 1948 war. However, in later years ‘Badil’ apparently tweaked that figure by 100,000 and material sourced from that NGO which appeared on the UN website in 2013 claims 500,000 displaced persons in 1967.

While the source of the figure promoted by the BBC is unclear, what is obvious is that the unsupported claim has been promoted to visitors to the BBC News website for well over a decade.

Related Articles:

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

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5 comments on “Reviewing original BBC reporting on the Six Day War

  1. You may have seen my comments about the Six Day War when I was interviewed by the BBC after the event, I believe they are still to be found somewhere on the internet. I do not recall the BBC being so heavily biased against Israel at the time, in any case it would have been totally out of synch with the rest of the world which was heavily on Israel’s side, seeing it as the underdog being attacked on all sides by hostile Arab forces, egged on by U Thant, the U.N. secretary-general who kicked off the whole war by removing UN troops from the Straits of Tiran.

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