At about 3.30pm Tel Aviv time on Sunday 4 June 1967, a young British television reporter handed the Israeli military censor the text of a story he had written and, if it was cleared, was going to record for broadcasting by ITN in its main evening news bulletin.
ITN’s Sunday evening bulletins were less than eight minutes in total length so the story had to be very short. In Londonforeign editor Hans Verhoven had agreed that the reporter could have 40 seconds. At three words per second that was a total of 120 words including the sign-off.
The reporter’s intro was the following: “For some reasons I can report, for others I cannot, I think the war is going to start tomorrow morning.” And he signed off: “Alan Hart, ITN, Tel Aviv, on the eve of war.”
I didn’t think the military censor would allow me to say “Israel is going to war tomorrow morning,” so I didn’t put it quite like that; but since I was in Israel that was obviously my meaning.
I was going out on a long limb with my (actually well informed) speculation because all of the several hundred other foreign correspondents who had hurried to Israel for the fighting had filed stories saying “No war”. Many had, in fact, paid their bills and checked out of their hotels. No bombs and bullets, no story.
One of the reasons why ITN often beat the BBC was that ITN editors trusted their reporters. Even so I still had to be very persuasive on the telephone with foreign editor Hans. At a point in our conversation before he said they would make space for my story, he told me that Peter Snow, then ITN’s Diplomatic Correspondent, had just returned from a Foreign Office briefing and that it had been emphatic, “No war.” Not yet, anyway. And that was what the U.S. state department and foreign offices throughout the Western world were telling reporters. “You’d better be right,” Hans said.
The duty military censor was a full colonel. He was sitting behind a post office-like counter checking the Hebrew copy for Monday morning’s Israeli newspapers. He didn’t acknowledge my arrival or my greeting. He merely raised a hand to take my copy. He read it, stamped it, signed it and handed it back to me. Approved. No deletions. No comment. I was amazed. I said, “You’re sure I can broadcast this without getting in trouble with your superiors?”
For the first time the colonel looked up. There was arrogance in his eyes and contempt in his voice. “You ought to know that Israel is a democracy”, he said. “We don’t censor opinion. Your story is opinion. You are free to express it. We censor only matters of a military nature that could be of use to our enemies.”
Within minutes of ITN bulletins ending, the foreign editor sent usage cables to the crews in the field telling them how much of their stories had been used and whether they had bettered and beaten the BBC or not. The usage cable to me that evening said: “REGRET YOUR GOOD SPECULATIVE STORY UNUSED STOP SEQUEEZED OUT BY EVENTS STOP.”
The events which had denied me what would have the scoop of any foreign correpondent’s lifetime were two civilian plane crashes. One had gone down in the English Midlands and one in France. Like all television news organisations, ITN received miles and miles of footage of the wreckages. In a bulletin of less than eight minutes there was not space for my speculation about Israel’s intention to go to war the following morning.
The story of why I was so certain that Israel would go to war on Monday 5 June is part and parcel
of Chapter 24 of Volume Two of my book,Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews. That chapter is headed America Takes Sides, War with Nasser Act II; and the Creation of Greater Israel.
Forty years on I still find myself wondering if the history of the last 40 years might have been very different if ITN had broadcast my story.
It would have been picked up by Arab intelligence services and Eygpt’s President Nasser and his generals might not then have been taken by surprise. In that event Israel might have had more than a “turkey shoot” on its hands, and might not have had the time ? before the Security Council insisted on a ceasefire – to grab Arab East Jerusalem, all of the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights.