Viewers get whitewashed version of history
Jun 8, 2007
There are moments – when U.S. president John F. Kennedy was shot or when the World Trade Center fell – you
The end of the 1967 Six-Day War, which resulted in Israel's lightning strike takeover of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip,
West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, was one for me.
There was little Israel, the land of milk, honey and orange-picking kibbutzim, whose very existence was threatened
by her bigger Arab neighbours. Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, boasted of having the country for lunch. In my predominantly
Jewish neighbourhood in Montreal, where Holocaust survivors and their children still live, the fear was palpable.
So it is with crystal clarity that I can recall when, 40 years ago this Sunday, just as the lunch rush began, my father
held a portable radio up to the intercom in his restaurant and blasted the news of victory all the way from the deli counter
to the grill to the soda fountain to the waitresses' station.
People tossed rye bread in the air.
Now, depending on your politics, and how you get your news and history, that was either a very good moment ... or a very
No question that it changed the Middle East, and the world.
It also changed journalism, as anybody who covers that tinderbox painfully learns.
The perfect illustration is a stunning $1.2 million Canada-Israel-France co-production, Six Days in June. Fast-paced
and rich with archival footage, its stories are told not by "experts," nor pundits, nor academics. The people who we see are
witnesses – as fighters, journalists, politicians, diplomats, refugees or survivors.
Two not-so-subtly different versions have already aired this week. Both about two hours in length, one ran in French, on
CBC's sister networks Radio-Canada and the all-news RDI, the other in English on PBS. (A three-hour edition also aired to
rave reviews in Israel.)
The PBS version repeats Sunday at 3 a.m.on WNED.
The French edition is what Montreal-based producer Ina Fichman calls the "international version," which was sold to Italy's
RAI, Australia's SBS and elsewhere.
It depicts, among other historical facts, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians by the Israeli army, a move the narrator
delicately describes as "the first change to the demographics of the West Bank." It shows, through the eyes of a former Arab
resident and an Israeli who photographed the event, that, where large villages stood, now are forests (many planted with Canadian
There is also a sequence, as related by the American-born Abdullah Schleifer, editor of Palestine News, as well
as an Arab whose home was destroyed, about the overnight razing of a 700-year-old Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem by
the triumphant Israeli defence minister, General Moshe Dayan.
"When I saw this destruction, there was a part of me that felt tremendous dread, that a whole new problem was going to
be created,'' says Schleifer. He says this in the PBS version as well, but the horrifying context is stripped away for American
"PBS is really not a liberal left-wing broadcaster," says Fichman. "It's subscription and sponsor-based, with members of
the Jewish community among its supporters."
Fichman said that PBS demanded entire scenes and sequences come out, and others be softened.
The sad part is that, unless the feature-length "director's cut" by Israeli-born filmmaker Ilan Ziv gets distribution,
Canadians will not get to view what the rest of the world, including Israel, has.
CBC-TV, for example, did not buy it because PBS already had North American rights. The film also did not fit with its focus
on "contemporary political and social issues."
And so, we get the whitewashed version of history. Not surprising.
As the narrator says, "The Six-Day War will prove to be an unfinished war, just one battle in a conflict that has never