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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2007, pages 28-29

Special Report

Israel’s Hush-Up Machine in Action: Denying Story Israel Executed Egyptian Prisoners

By Richard H. Curtiss and Donna B. Curtiss


Israel’s hush-up machine was in overdrive in March while this writer was in the Middle East. A story resurfaced that Egyptian prisoners had been executed in both the 1956 and 1967 Israeli-Egyptian wars, which is certainly true. Israel then changed its story to say that the prisoners were Palestinian fighters and not Egyptians. With each successive day the stories became so confusing that, except in Egypt itself, the allegation received less and less coverage. So it’s time for a refresher review of Israeli atrocities.

In the words of the late Israeli Gen. Moshe Dayan: “The declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 was at the expense of ethnically cleansing 513 Palestinian villages, creating over 700,000 Palestinian refugees and expropriating their lands, homes and businesses in 78 percent of Palestine…There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former population.”

Here are some events of the mid-20th century that should be emblazoned in the minds of Americans. An early atrocity is described on the Web site of Deir Yassin Remembered, <>: “Early in the morning of April 9, 1948, commandos of the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stern Gang [both Jewish extremist terrorist groups] attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. It was several weeks before the end of the British Mandate. The village lay outside the area that the United Nations recommended be included in a future Jewish state. Deir Yassin had a peaceful reputation and was even said by a Jewish newspaper to have driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem…

“By noon over 100 people, half of them women and children, had been systematically murdered. Four commandos died at the hands of resisting Palestinians using old Mausers and muskets. Twenty-five male villagers were loaded into trucks, paraded through the Zakhron Yosef quarter in Jerusalem, and then taken to a stone quarry along the road between Givat Shaul and Deir Yassin and shot to death. The remaining residents were driven to Arab East Jerusalem.”

That evening Irgunists and Sternists described the operation to foreign correspondents. “They said that 25 members of the Haganah militia had reinforced the attack and claimed that an Arabic-speaking Jew had warned the villagers over a loudspeaker from an armored car.” This was duly reported in The New York Times on April 10. A final body count of 254 was reported by The New York Times on April 13, a day after they were finally buried…

“There was an atmosphere that it was okay to do it.”

Leaders of Haganah, precursors of the Israel Defense Forces, tried to distance themselves from the attack, just as they had after the Irgun’s 1946 attack on the King David Hotel. Haganah leaders admitted that the massacre “disgraced the cause of Jewish fighters and dishonored Jewish arms and the Jewish flag.” They played down the fact that their own militia “had reinforced the terrorists’ attack, even though they did not participate in the barbarism and looting during the subsequent ‘mopping up’ operations.”

According to the Irgun’s leader Menachem Begin, who later became prime minister of Israel, “Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of ‘Irgun butchery,’ were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened, uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated…”

According to the Deir Yassin Remembered Web site, “The massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin is one of the most significant events in 20th century Palestinian and Israeli history. This is not because of its size or its brutality, but because it stands as the starkest early warning of a calculated depopulation of over 700,000 Palestinian inhabitants to make room for survivors of the Holocaust and other Jews from the rest of the world.”

Another major act of terrorism after Deir Yassin was the Qibya massacre, which is described in the Friends of al-Aqsa Web site <>: “The Qibya massacre occurred in 1953, when the special unit 101, founded and led by Ariel Sharon, who later became Israeli prime minister, attacked the village of Qibya, in Palestine. Sharon’s unit attacked in the middle of the night and killed more than 60 people, including women and children, and demolished over 50 homes. U.N observers stated that the villagers had been forced to stay indoors while their houses were blown up around them.”

Unnecessary Killings

In the Sinai campaign of 1956, England and France conspired with Israel to attack Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. It took Israel only a day and a half to conquer the Sinai peninsula. More than 2,000 Egyptians were killed and 4,000 captured. Israeli General Ayre Biro admitted in 1965 that unnecessary killings had taken place.

According to researchers and retired IDF soldiers, IDF soldiers executed hundreds of unarmed Egyptian soldiers in Sinai during both the 1956 Sinai campaign and, later, during the 1967 Six-Day War, the June 27, 2000 Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Of the 1967 war’s executions, Israeli historian Uri Milstein wrote: “It was not an official policy, but there was an atmosphere that it was okay to do it. Some commanders decided to do it; others refused. But everyone knew of it.”

In 1997, the BBC reported on a Sept. 7 news conference held by the Egyptian Human Rights Organization. EHRO Secretary-General Muhammad Munib described a report which “had taken 18 months to prepare and complete, during which certified testimonies were obtained from several Egyptian officers and soldiers who were eyewitnesses to the killing of Egyptian POWs at the hands of Israeli forces during the wars of 1956 and 1967.“

According to the BBC, Munib’s report confirmed that Israel had killed between 7,000 to 15,000 Egyptian prisoners of war during the wars of 1956 and 1967. Munib said that “the locations of 11 mass graves had been determined in Sinai and Israel, in which thousands of Egyptian prisoners were buried. He noted that the prisoners were military men and civilians, of whom several were killed by Israeli tanks that were used to go over them while they were tied up. He added that this was the first report on those crimes, which transcended what had taken place during other wars such as World War II and the war in Bosnia.”

An Oct. 8, 1995 Toronto Star article by Martin Cohn focused on revelations from an unrepentant retired Israeli general, Arieh Biro, who admitted executing 49 captured Egyptian soldiers in 1956. “It is an irony that has not escaped Egyptian commentators,” Cohn wrote. “Israelis and Jews abroad have relentlessly pursued Nazi war criminals for decades for war crimes committed during World War II. ‘They chase Nazi war criminals for the rest of their lives, 60 to 70 years—down the road,’ Egyptian political scientist Walid Kazziha observed in an interview. ‘But for Israeli crimes of mass murder, they’re letting them go—even when they admit it.’”

More than a decade ago USS Liberty survivor James Ennes, speculated in these pages that Israeli forces shot and killed 150 or more Egyptian Prisoners of war at the town of El-Arish while the USS Liberty passed just 12 miles offshore (see p. 28 of the May/June 1996 Washington Report and p. 27 of this issue).

The story of the massacre originally came from Israeli eyewitnesses, and was reported in Israel’s Yediot Ahronot and again, recently, by Israeli journalist Ran Adelist on Israeli television. Then and now, however, it has largely been ignored by the American press and government, despite the fact that this massacre was a serious war crime and could well have been the reason for the attack on the Liberty.

One may wonder how the Egyptians treated Israeli POWs. Maj. Gen. Hassan Al-Gandali, a former chief of operations of the Egyptian army, said there were a number of Israeli POWs in Egyptian camps in 1973. “We were very much concerned about their welfare, though we were aware of the way the Israelis had dealt with our POWs under their custody,” Hassan said.

“As I was the chief of operations, I accompanied Egyptian Defense Minister Musheer Ahmad Ismail to the camp in which Col. Esaf Yagouri and 150 prisoners were kept. On seeing us the prisoners looked so terrified as they seemed to think that we were going to send them to the firing squad in return for what Israel had done to the Egyptian POWs in the past. On the other hand, Musheer told them that he did not blame them for obeying the orders of their superiors though it was to occupy a territory belonging to another country. ‘However, you will be treated in line with the Geneva Conventions. So you have nothing to worry about,’ Musheer said.

“Then he asked the commander of the camp about the sick POWs and took special care of them. He also ordered the camp commander to take the POWs for sightseeing in Cairo, including a trip to the pyramids and a boat ride on the Nile. After a few moments of disbelief the prisoners broke into a deafening applause. This is how the Egyptians treat their prisoners of war.”

For Israelis, who stress their “purity of arms” code—which has been the core of Israel’s self-image through five wars—the information about Israel’s murder of prisoners of war may jar their sense of Jewish morality. Israel’s actions throughout its history, including the violent acts which preceded its establishment, should puncture Israel’s historical myths once and for all.

Richard H. Curtiss is executive editor of the
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.


A Four-Decade History of Violence

In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel invaded and occupied the Gaza Strip, Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights, home to an Arab population of about 1.5 million. Between 13,000 and 18,000 Arabs were killed, and 6,000 were taken prisoner.

Many Americans accept as truth the myth that Israel was defending itself against the Arabs. According to an account by then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, however, reported in The New York Times of Aug. 21, 1982: “In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Then, on Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel in an attempt to recover the land captured in 1967. That war, known as the Yom Kipper War by the Israelis and the October war by the Arabs, cost more than 15,000 Arab and 2,000 Israeli lives. The United States came to the rescue of Israel with aircraft and arms and, as a result, the territorial gains were minor on either side.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon on the pretext of wiping out the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanese camps. Israel occupied Lebanese territory and, according to some accounts, killed between 30,000 and 50,000 Palestinians. The Israelis enabled Lebanese Christian militias to carry out the killing of 2,750 Palestinian refugees in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila camps.

Between 1987 and 1991 the first Palestinian intifada, or “shaking off” of Israel’s occupation, was waged. The Israeli government’s response to the largely nonviolent intifada was disproportionately harsh and criticized around the world. Some estimate that 1,500 Palestinians were killed and more than 15,000 injured.

During the Oslo peace process which began in 1993, Israel killed over 687 Palestinians, erected roadblocks throughout the West Bank and Gaza which restricted movement by Palestinians, and built 30 new settlements on Palestinian-owned land, confiscating more than 250,000 acres. The number of settlers increased from 80,000 in 1991 to 210,000 in 2001.

According to the BBC’s Martin Asser, “In 1996, one of the deadliest single events of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict took place in Qana, Lebanon—the shelling of a U.N. base where hundreds of local people were sheltering. More than 100 were killed and another 100 injured, cut down by Israeli anti-personnel shells that exploded in the air, sending a lethal shower of shrapnel to the ground. A U.N. investigation reported in May 1996 that the deaths at the Qana base were unlikely to have been the result of an accident, as claimed by the Israelis.”

The al-Aqsa intifada, which began in 2000, continues until the present. It was sparked when Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon and his Likud followers deliberately provoked the Palestinians by storming into the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem—an act the U.N. called a clear breach of the human rights of the Palestinians.

Ten years later, during Israel’s 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, Qana again was in the headlines, this time because of a single massive bomb dropped by an Israeli aircraft, causing a building to collapse on top of dozens of civilians, many of whom had been seeking shelter in the basement. Human Rights Watch investigated the incident and issued a report on Aug. 3 saying that 28 people were known to have died, while 13 were missing.



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