Listeners to the June 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ were told by presenter Max Pearson that the next broadcast would include “the Israeli view” of the Six Day War.
“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”
However, by the time “next week” came around, “the Israeli view” had been side-lined and Pearson introduced the June 21st item (from 13:33 here) as follows:
“Next, as promised last week, we’re going to get a second personal view of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in June 1967. We’ve already heard a graphic account of the Palestinian experience of the conflict which pitted the Jewish state against the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it’s only right and proper that we hear now from the other side and that other side doesn’t just mean those living in Israel. There was at the time a Jewish population scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to someone from the Jewish community in Tripoli who was forced to flee when anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya.”
Of course with the previous programme having been devoted to the stories told by two Palestinian interviewees, a truly balanced presentation of the Six Day War would have included accounts from Israelis equally affected by the war at the time. Such accounts could have included an explanation of the sense of impending disaster which gripped Israelis in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war and the feeling of fighting for their very existence. It could also, for example, have recounted the experiences of those who had been expelled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem or Gush Etzion nineteen years previously by Jordan and told stories of the first visits by Israelis to the holy sites from which they were barred throughout the years of Jordanian occupation.
But curiously, the BBC chose to tick its impartiality box by comparing apples to oranges. Whilst the story of the Libyan Jewish community is obviously important and interesting – and its airing a very rare event in BBC broadcasting – this is not “the other side” of the narrative heard the previous week by BBC audiences.
The same item by Louise Hidalgo broadcast on ‘The History Hour’ also appeared in the June 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ – available here – where it was described as “…the second of two programmes about the effect of the Six Day War between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan”. Hidalgo’s presentation of the background to the outbreak of conflict is as follows:
“The war started in early June. Tensions had been rising for months, as had anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel made the first strike – in self-defence, it said – and in six days had defeated the Arab armies. They were six days that would change the shape of the Middle East and have repercussions far beyond the borders of the countries actually involved in the fighting.”
Hidalgo’s very superficial and brief reference to “tensions” of course does nothing to inform listeners of the real background to the conflict and the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai – but notably it was deemed necessary to inform them that “Israel made the first strike”.
Hidalgo presents a brief history of the Libyan Jewish community but fails to mention that some Libyan Jews were also sent to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and that pogroms against Jews in Libya actually took place three years before the establishment of the State of Israel.
“Jews had lived in Libya since before the time of the Romans. At its height the community had numbered about forty thousand but during the Second World War thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa by Libya’s colonial ruler Italy and after the creation of Israel in 1948 many left after riots in which more than a hundred Libyan Jews were killed. By June 1967 there were only about four thousand Jews left in Libya. By the end of that month almost all of those too had gone.”
Hidalgo also makes the following claim, ignoring the already existing context of years of persecution and anti-Jewish violence long before the Six Day War broke out.
“Demonstrations in Arab capitals that started as shows of support for the Palestinians quickly turned in Tripoli and elsewhere into attacks on Jews.”
Towards the end of the item listeners are told that:
“By the end of June 1967 there were only around 200 Jews left in Libya and across the Arab world tens of thousands more left countries that many had lived in for generations.”
Unfortunately, the story of those tens of thousands – and the hundreds of thousands more who had to leave Arab lands before them – is rarely told by the BBC and whilst this account from a Libyan Jew is undoubtedly worthy of broadcast in its own right, it is however not a true representation of “the other side” of the story promoted in the previous week’s programme.