Professor Meron Medzini served as the Director of Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. In this fascinating memoir, first published in Fathom, he recalls the atmosphere of the time and the GPO strategy for briefing foreign journalists. He recounts how Defence Minister Moshe Dayan successfully concealed Israel’s opening strike from most of the world press and Arab world, how one American journalist creatively bypassed the military censor to report that war was imminent, how the mayor of Jerusalem drove journalists around in his personal car as the city was being shelled, and how a spontaneous trip to the Old City allowed the foreign press to record what subsequently became a historic iconic moment. He also relates the journalistic origins of those policy questions regarding the future of the West Bank that continue to challenge Israeli society today.
Foreign media in Israel before the war
In the early 1960s, Israel had a permanent press core of 50 foreign correspondents and a number of bureaus were maintained by foreign outlets, such as the Washington Post, New York Times and Newsweek. Many of these bureaus had Israeli assistants, and they were also aided by the Government Press Office (GPO) which translated material. Each member of the foreign correspondents had a cubby hole in the GPO offices and we saw them virtually every day.
The only major events in Israel covered by the international press in the years before 1967 were the 1961 Eichmann trial and execution, and the visit of the Pope in January 1964. In the mid-1960s Israel was suffering from a major economic recession with unemployment at 10 per cent, and morale so low that people joked that the last person to leave the airport should please turn out the lights. The ruling party Mapai was taking a beating in opinion polls, especially from a new breakaway part called Rafi, which was headed by Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan. In general, though, Israel simply did not feature in the international news.
Early in 1967, there was little sense that something was about to erupt. In April, the IDF intelligence branch assessed that the earliest war was possible was in 1970-71. Clifton Daniels, who was one of the editors of the New York Times and who came to Israel to cover the 1967 Independence Day celebrations on 15 May, didn’t think there was any reason to extend his stay and returned to America.
Read the full article in Fathom.