Instead of preparing to return home, the six day war prompted a second exodus, displacing at least 300,000 Palestinians and 100,000 Syrians from their homes.
A year before his death, Ahmad Saeed said that following the 1967 defeat, he stopped reading military statements on Sawt al-Arab radio, because they were essentially lies.
He admitted to and criticised the media-related “mistakes” made under Nasser.
The misinformation campaign he helped spread was indeed a disaster – a scar of deep grief on the shadows of our grandparents, who still live in exile, still telling their stories.
Ahmad Saeed’s war-time radio broadcast deceived the ears and battered the spirits of the first Nakba generation:
“Their planes are falling like flies, be hungry O’ fish of the sea.”
He reported the downing of 76 Israeli warplanes. He reported that Egyptian troops were on the verge of entering ‘Tel Aviv.’ He reported a myth of long-awaited liberation.
My grandmother – a teacher of philosophy, who was three months pregnant with my mother – listened to these misleading words with her colleagues at a local girls’ public school in Qatar on the morning of 5 June, and on subsequent days of the war.
She tells me how she was filled with joy – overcome with euphoria and relief. How they celebrated, dancing to the sound of Ahmad Said’s howls on the radio, oblivious to his lies.
“We’re returning home!” My mother was going to be born in Palestine, the stateless exile was over; her family could leave the refugee camps, she could teach in her homeland. Nasser had kept his promise.
My grandmother idolised Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was her hero; he gave her hope. I reckon that this fascination was imprinted when she met him as a young refugee in Syria, during the short-lived union between Egypt and Syria: the United Arab Republic.
“People do not want words – they want the sound of battle”
She thought that Abdel Nasser was liberating Palestine, and Ahmad Saeed was playing victory drums – concealing the sounds of terror that Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian families were living through.
Everyone listened to the radio, a staple in every household. People gathered around it, waiting for the static to clear the way for victory, unity and return.
Listening to Sawt al-Arab was a moment shared by everyone, of every age and class, in the Arab world. They were perhaps the only moments when Pan-Arabism truly thrived, when the people were united. Today, such moments exist only as painful memories.
That there was such blind trust in the state is not surprising. Whilst Western media was indeed reporting the advance of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of the Arab armies, there was no faith in the words of the Western spokespeople. After all, they were the colonisers: the crimes of the British and the French were fresh, and Nasser’s cult of personality was domineering. He was the truth, and they were the fog.
Six days of war and 55 years of displacement
In six days in June 1967, Israeli forces defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, as well as Palestinian militia groups. They occupied the Egyptian Sinai, Syrian Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
This defeat, this setback – the Naksa – has haunted us for more than half a century, in the form of occupation. Instead of preparing to return home, as the broadcasts indicated, the war prompted a second exodus, displacing at least another 300,000 Palestinians from their homes, as well as 100,000 Syrians.
Today, the propagandists are the Israelis. They have influenced mainstream media outlets and governments across the world.
Major broadcasters take the word of the Israeli occupation forces as fact – presidents, prime ministers and kings stand up for the apartheid state of Israel during their press conferences. Unlike the words heard on Sawt al-Arab, there is no joy to be found in these lies.
The scars that Israel has left on the region run deep – and are still being etched.
From the invasions of Lebanon to the bombing of children in Gaza, from the execution of journalists to the partnerships with tyrants, Israel is far more than a setback – it is a daily affliction on the dignity of the Arab people.
But all lies, all crimes, eventually, will be scattered in the wind of the desert. Because our children still gather to listen. Our teachers still tell stories. And, whilst the old may die, the young will never forget.