BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

The second part of an account of the Six Day War on the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was broadcast on June 8th (and repeated in the World Service programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th).

Titled “The Six Day War – A Jordanian View“, the programme’s synopsis reads as follows:

“In 1967 East Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan and Captain Nabih El Suhaimat was stationed there. In early June he and his soldiers fought in vain against Israeli paratroopers. But they lost control of the Old City and he was forced to flee Jerusalem in disguise. He has spoken to Zeinab Dabaa about the Six Day War.” [all emphasis in bold added]

That inadequate and evasive portrayal of course fails to inform listeners that the reason Jordan ‘controlled’ parts of Jerusalem on the eve of the Six Day War was because 19 years earlier it had invaded – and subsequently occupied and illegally annexed – territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920.

Zeinab Dabaa’s introduction to the programme was similarly uninformative:

“Today we are going back to June 1967 and the Six Day War in the Middle East. In the second of two programmes about the conflict, I’ve been speaking to a former Jordanian army officer who tried to defend East Jerusalem which at that time Jordan controlled.”

Likewise her subsequent reference to that topic:

“Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, East Jerusalem – including the Old City which contains some of Islam and Judaism’s most holy sites – had been under the control of Jordan.”

Dabaa’s presentation of the background to the Six Day War included a vague and unexplained reference to “escalating tension”.

“It was on the 5th of June 1967 after months of escalating tension that the Six Day War began. The Israelis effectively wiped out the Egyptian air force on the first day of fighting. It was the beginning of a series of bitter defeats for Egypt, Syria and Jordan.”

A rare reference to the actions of terror groups was presented in partial terminology and without any explanation of what those groups were supposedly ‘resisting’ at a time when ‘occupation’ did not exist:

“By the mid-60s Palestinian resistance groups supported by Egypt and Syria were carrying out regular attacks on the Israeli border. This was followed by Israeli reprisals and a gradual build-up of Arab military forces around the border. Then, on the 30th of May 1967, King Hussein of Jordan and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt signed a joint defence agreement. During the signing ceremony, Nasser said ‘our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel’.”

However, completely absent from this programme’s presentation of the factors that caused the Six Day War were Soviet disinformation, Nasser’s expulsion of UN peacekeepers from Sinai, the subsequent massing of Egyptian troops in the peninsula and Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran.  

Moreover, not only was the Israeli prime minister’s appeal to Jordan not to join the conflict erased from the picture given to World Service listeners but the fighting in Jerusalem was inaccurately portrayed as having been initiated by Israel.

Dabaa: “On the day the war started Captain Suhaimat and his company did their best to defend the Mandelbaum Gate into all Jerusalem.”

Suhaimat: “The fighting began at 11:25 am. The Israelis attacked us with light weapons.”

Dabaa: “But on Tuesday the Israelis started to intensify their attack.”

In fact, as Jordan’s King Hussein documented himself in his 1969 book, the Jordanians had been attacking Israel for several hours before any Israeli response came.

“It was now 9 A.M. on Monday, June 5, and we were at war.

Riad [the Egyptian general who commanded Jordanian forces] increased our fire power against the Israeli air bases by directing our heavy artillery – long-range 155’s – on the Israeli air force installations within our line of fire. Our field artillery also went into action, and our Hawker Hunters [British-supplied fighter jets] were ready to take part in the combined operation with the Iraqi and Syrians. […]

… we received a telephone call at Air Force Headquarters from U.N. General Odd Bull. It was a little after 11 A.M.

The Norwegian General informed me that the Israeli Prime Minister had addressed an appeal to Jordan. Mr. Eshkol had summarily announced that the Israeli offensive had started that morning, Monday June 5, with operations directed against the United Arab Republic, and then he added: “If you don’t intervene, you will suffer no consequences.”

By that time we were already fighting in Jerusalem and our planes had just taken off to bomb Israeli airbases. So I answered Odd Bull:

“They started the battle. Well they are receiving our reply by air.”

Three times our Hawker Hunters attacked the bases at Natanya in Israel without a loss. And our pilots reported that they destroyed four enemy planes on the ground, the only ones they had seen. […]

At 12:30 on that 5th of June came the first Israeli response to the combined bombing by the Jordanians, Iraqis and Syrians.”

Listeners also heard of displaced Palestinians – but not of the fact that the Arabs living in the areas occupied by Jordan in 1948 and illegally annexed in 1950 had been given Jordanian citizenship.

“On the 10th of June 1967 the war ended. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either displaced from their homes or found themselves living under Israeli control. Israel now controlled much more territory including the Golan Heights, the Sinai desert, the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Both these BBC World Service history programmes supposedly provide audiences with information intended to enhance their understanding of historic events. Clearly the many omissions of important background in both these episodes, together with the second programme’s presentation of an inaccurate account of the timeline of fighting in Jerusalem, severely hinder listener understanding of the Six Day War.

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BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

 

 

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

The edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ that was broadcast on June 7th 2017 (and repeated in the same station’s programme ‘The History Hour’ on June 12th) is titled “The Six Day War – An Israeli View” and is described as follows in its synopsis:

“On 7 June 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, including its most holy site, the Temple Mount that is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to Arik Achmon, one of the first Israeli paratroopers to enter the old city that day and reach the Western Wall.”

In among her conversation with Arik Achmon, presenter Louise Hidalgo provided listeners with background to the story, some of which – to the programme’s credit – BBC audiences rarely hear. However, other parts of that background information were incomplete and unhelpful.

Hidalgo opened the programme thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

“Today we go back to the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours: a war that reshaped the Middle East. During those six days, Jordan, Egypt and Syria lost control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. But perhaps the Israelis’ most symbolic victory came in Jerusalem: the city revered equally by Jews, Muslims and Christians. “

While one can question the use of the word ‘equally’ in that portrayal, Hidalgo’s subsequent presentation of the significance of Temple Mount was accurate.

“The old walled city contains one of the world’s most holy sites, the Temple Mount. Haram al Sharif in Arabic, Har Habayit in Hebrew.”

“…this [the Old City of Jerusalem] was home to this hugely revered site the Temple Mount; the Jews’ holiest site – the site of the first and second temples – and the Western Wall where, until then, Jews hadn’t been able to pray. And also so important to Muslims: the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.”

Hidalgo’s presentation of the causes of the Six Day War included an important – yet rare – reference to the underlying Arab refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

“By 1967 Israel had existed for almost 20 years but its Arab neighbours refused to accept it. The rhetoric was becoming more and more bellicose.”

While the Egyptian-Jordanian defence pact was mentioned by Hidalgo and Arik Achmon spoke of the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai, no mention was made of Nasser’s expulsion of UN forces from Sinai or of the casus belli – Egypt’s closure of the Straits of Tiran. Also absent from Hidalgo’s portrayal was Levi Eshkol’s appeal to Jordan not to join the hostilities which, had it not been rejected, would have meant that Jerusalem would not have been included in the fighting.

“On the 30th of May President [sic] Hussein of Jordan and the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser signed a defence agreement.”

“Early on Monday the 5th of June Israeli jets attacked the Egyptian airforce.”

Commendably, Hidalgo made a rare reference to Israel’s actions after the war ended:

“Those six days gave Israel not just control of the whole of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for the first time, they also gave it control of territory many times larger than its own size. After the war the Israelis gave administrative control of the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Islamic Trust – or Waqf. Years later they’d also give back Sinai to the Egyptians.”

However, presentation of the relevant background information concerning the 1948 Jordanian invasion of territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920 and the subsequent 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem was – as is usually the case in BBC content – decidedly evasive and unhelpful to audiences.

“Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 it [the Old City of Jerusalem] had been controlled by Jordan but on Wednesday the 7th of June 1967, Israel captured it.”

“This city line since 1948 had divided Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem – which included the Old City with its maze of narrow alleyways and its holiest site Temple Mount – from the west of Jerusalem which the Israelis controlled.”

“No Israeli soldier had set foot in the Old City, had they? Israel had lost its only foothold there, the Jewish Quarter, in the 1948 war…”

The following day’s edition of ‘Witness’ – which also told the story of the fighting in Jerusalem during the Six Day War but from the point of view of a Jordanian soldier – will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Today Israel celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem on the 28th of Iyyar 5727 (June 7th 1967) after nineteen years of Jordanian occupation.

Among the buildings in the Old City of Jerusalem that were destroyed during the Jordanian occupation was the Hurva Synagogue.

“On May 27, 1948, Jordanian soldiers forced entry into the side of the 84-year old Hurva synagogue by detonating a 200-liter barrel of explosives. They came back and blew up the entire synagogue two days later. […]

Destroyed as described in the 1948 War of Independence, various reconstruction plans were shelved until the new millennium. Finally, followed the ruling of leading Halachist rabbi Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012), it was rebuilt to its former design and magnificence.

Indeed, the keen observer should be able to trace where the original masonry is lovingly incorporated into the synagogue’s eastern wall.”

The Synagogue was rededicated in 2010.

Happy Jerusalem Day!

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Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

Fifty years ago today, the build-up of events that led to the Six Day War had already begun.

After fourteen Palestinian terror attacks had been carried out with Syrian support since April 7th, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol warned Syria of retaliation on May 13th 1967.    

Also on May 13th, the USSR promoted disinformation about a fictitious planned Israeli attack on Syria to the Egyptians and Syrians.

On May 14th Egyptian troops were mobilised around the Suez Canal and two days later Nasser demanded the removal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula: an ultimatum that was met by the UN Secretary General on May 18th.

On May 17th two Egyptian warplanes flew a reconnaissance mission over Israeli territory and on May 19th tens of thousands of Egyptian troops and hundreds of tanks massed in the Sinai.

Three days later, on May 22nd 1967, Egypt created a casus belli by blockading the Straits of Tiran.

So how are those events portrayed to the BBC’s audiences? In the past we have looked at some of the BBC produced material concerning the Six Day War that remains accessible online (see ‘related articles’ below). Another item still available is a backgrounder titled “1967 Middle East War” which is undated but appears to have been compiled about a decade ago.

The first page of that backgrounder ostensibly provides an introduction to the topic and the events that led to the conflict. Subsequent pages give day-by-day accounts of the fighting which are notable for their significant omissions, perhaps the most glaring of which is the absence of any mention of the message conveyed by the Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol via a UN official to the king of Jordan on the morning of June 5th informing him that:

“We are engaged in defensive fighting on the Egyptian sector, and we shall not engage ourselves in any action against Jordan, unless Jordan attacks us. Should Jordan attack Israel, we shall go against her with all our might.”

In other words, the BBC erases the fact that Jordan’s decision to attack despite that communication was the precursor to its defeat in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

The introduction is noteworthy for the fact that it promotes a theme seen in additional BBC material: a passively worded portrayal of the 1948 invasion of territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920, without any clarification of the fact that the conquered areas were subsequently occupied (and in the case of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, subjected to unrecognised annexation) by the belligerents.  

Rather, BBC audiences are told that:

“The 1967 Middle East War, also known as the Six Day War, was the third conflict between Israel and neighbouring Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

The first, in 1948, left East Jerusalem and the River Jordan’s West Bank under Jordanian control and the coastal Gaza Strip under Egyptian control.”

The build up to the Six Day War as described by the BBC includes a portrayal of Arab League backed terror organisations established three years earlier as “newly-formed Palestinian militant groups”:

“Tensions continued to rise and newly-formed Palestinian militant groups began cross-border raids with Arab support. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was keen to unite the Arab world and spoke of “the destruction of Israel”, while Israel feared it could be wiped out.

In May 1967, President Nasser demanded the removal of Unef troops from the Sinai, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and signed a defence pact with Jordan. Some historians question whether Nasser planned to go to war, but all three factors, and Egyptian troop deployment in the Sinai, led to a pre-emptive strike by Israel.” [emphasis added]

The BBC refrains from informing its audiences of the fact that Nasser had been warned in advance that blockade of the Straits of Tiran would bring about war.

“In a desperate attempt at de-escalation, on May 19, Israeli diplomats frantically dispatched cables to capitals around the world, declaring that as long as Egypt did not close the Straits of Tiran – its artery to the East, including access to oil from Iran – it would not initiate any hostilities. Through Paris, Washington and Moscow, Jerusalem was sending an explicit message to Cairo: A naval blockade would be considered a casus belli. At that point, tens of thousands of Egyptian troops and hundreds of tanks had already deployed in the previously demilitarized Sinai – a buffer zone filled with UN peacekeepers designed to prevent a surprise attack. Three days later, despite the Israeli warning, Egypt nonetheless announced it was closing the Tiran Straits. “The Israeli flag shall not go through the Gulf of Aqaba,” Nasser said in a speech.”

A noteworthy omission from the BBC’s account is any information concerning the part played by the USSR in stoking tensions.

“In mid-May, Soviet meddling severely escalated the brewing conflict. On May 15, Israel Independence Day, plans for a parade involving large numbers of Israeli troops in western Jerusalem drew outrage in Arab countries. Wishing to defuse the situation, Eshkol forbade bringing heavy weapons into the capital. This decision was used by the Soviets to stoke tensions; on May 15, Anwar al-Sadat, then speaker of the National Assembly, visited Moscow, where he was warned (falsely) by the Soviets that Israel was planning to invade Syria sometime between the dates of May 16 and May 22. The Soviets cited the absence of weapons in the Jerusalem parade as proof that the Israelis were preparing for war and falsely claimed that Israel was massing brigades along its norther border with Syria. Syria also quickly passed the disinformation to Egypt’s President Nasser, who on May 14 declared a state of emergency and made a show of parading his troops through Cairo on their way to Sinai. During this period, Arab leaders and the media spoke daily of eliminating Israel.”

Also noteworthy is the fact that readers are not informed of the terror attacks against Israeli civilian communities launched from Syria in the Spring of 1967 or the Arab League’s Jordan River Headwater Diversion Plan.

Like other BBC produced material on the topic of the Six Day War which is still available online, this backgrounder is deficient in providing audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the build up to the conflict.

In particular, the failure to properly explain the status of the Gaza Strip, Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem before they were belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt 19 years prior to the Six Day War hinders full audience comprehension and lays the foundations for misunderstanding of events throughout the subsequent fifty years and until this day – particularly given the BBC’s penchant for presenting history in the Middle East as having begun on June 10th 1967.  

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More BBC whitewashing of the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 6th under the headline “Jesus’s tomb in Jerusalem undergoes restoration work” concludes as follows:Holy Sepulchre restoration

“Work is expected to take between eight and 12 months and during that time pilgrims will be able to continue visiting the site, church officials said.

Each denomination is contributing funds for the $3.3m (£2.3m) project. In addition, King Abdullah of Jordan has made a personal donation.

Jordan controlled Jerusalem’s Old City, where the church is located, until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and continues to play a role in safeguarding Muslim and Christian holy sites there.” [emphasis added]

Notably, no effort is made to clarify to readers how Jordan came to acquire ‘control’ over the Old City and they are not informed when that began or how long it lasted, meaning that uninformed audiences might well go away with the mistaken impression that Jerusalem was always in Jordanian territory until the Six Day War.  As ever, the accurate terminology for the Jordanian presence in parts of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 – occupation – is excluded from the BBC’s portrayal.

Despite being obliged under the terms of its remit to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”, the BBC continues to distort the all important historical context of the dispute over Jerusalem one throwaway line at a time.

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