Don’t Talk About 67….

Posted: February 17, 2015 in Discussion
 TIME Magazine:

Egypt: Don’t Talk About the (1967) War
By Amany Radwan/Cairo

Egypt’s leaders find themselves uncomfortably wedged between international and local politics whenever discussion turns to the country’s humiliating military defeat by Israel in 1967. It’s typically an opportunity for students, leftist intellectuals and Islamists to rage against the Camp David peace accords with Israel, which they say ties their hands in the face of the ongoing suffering inflicted on the Palestinians. So it was no surprise that a firestorm has been sparked by new claims that a unit commanded by Israel’s current infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, massacred 250 unarmed Egyptian prisoners.

The furor began when the semi-official daily Al Ahram reported that Israel’s Channel One TV network had aired a documentary on incident showing that Ben Eliezer’s Shaked Unit had ordered the execution of the prisoners after the fighting had ended. Since then, local media have been filled with calls for legal action, economic boycotts or even vengeance, and in a stormy session of parliament, legislators demanded that the Israeli ambassador be sent home, Egyptian diplomats in Tel Aviv be recalled and for Ben Eliezer to be charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The outcry prompted Ben Eliezer to cancel a scheduled visit to Egypt, while Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s powerful Intelligence Chief who is the principal mediator between Israel and the Palestinian factions, called off a scheduled meeting with a high-ranking Israeli official. Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit demanded an investigation when he met his Israeli counterpart in Brussels, and also asked for a complete copy and accurate translation of the documentary.

Israeli officials are hoping that such a translation will actually help calm the furor. “It is all based on non-fact,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, insisting that the issue is being stirred up by groups bearing an anti-Israel agenda. The producer of the documentary, Ran Ederlist, said in a radio interview that the Egyptian reports on the film’s content were inaccurate. “What happened was that there were [Israeli] fighters waging battle against a retreating [Palestinian] commando battalion… During this battle, you could say there was excessive use of force, [but] it was all in the context of war: Not prisoners, not prisoner-of-war camps, not people who put their hands up.” And Ben Eliezer’s office released a statement denying that his unit had killed Egyptian prisoners, saying the reports were based on confusing two separate incidents.

In 1995, a similar crisis broke out when some Israeli veterans said that they had executed Egyptian soldiers in the 1956 and 1967 wars. These disclosures led to the discovery of mass graves near the city of Al-Arish in the Sinai containing the remains of Egyptian civilians and POWs. Thousands of soldiers are still listed as missing from the quick and crushing defeat of 1967, and many families are still wondering about the fate of their fathers and brothers.

In the poisonous atmosphere of today’s Middle East, Egyptian analysts say Israeli disclosures of abuses committed against Egyptians in 1956 and 1967 embarrasses the current leadership, which prefers to focus collective memory on the war of 1973 — claimed by the Egyptian side as a victory because it led to the diplomatic process in which Egypt recovered the Sinai peninsula lost in 1967. And the discomfort is exacerbated by the fact that the latest revelations involve Ben Eliezer, an Israeli leader who visits Egypt and has strong ties to such powerful figures as Suleiman and President Hosni Mubarak.

Cairo will be reluctant to press the issue because its political and diplomatic consequences could jeopardize Egypt’s role as a peace mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, and also antagonize Washington. “Egypt and the U.S. have struck a back [channel] deal by which Egypt plays a regional role designed by the U.S. in return for casting a blind eye to the regime’s domestic politics and practices,” says Emad Gad, analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and editor of the monthly Israeli Digest. So, Gad says, the challenge for the regime is to find a formula that will save face in the public eye. “The regime has given the green light to the government-controlled media to unleash all its wrath on Israel in sympathy with the angry sentiments of public opinion,” says Gad. But it has no intention of pressing the matter. “Egypt is not in a position to have the diplomatic mediation role it is playing in the Israeli Palestinian negotiations minimized,” says Gad. “At the same time, it cannot offend the angry public by receiving Israeli officials at the moment.” For now, then, Egypt is telling Israel that it should momentarily bear the consequences of dragging them both into a mess that both sides hope will soon pass.

—With reporting by Phil Zabriskie/Jerusalem

  1. In all honesty, those stories, though horrendous and occasionally completely unexpected with regards to the magnitude of the crime, are so frequent I have become desensitized to them. But more importantly, this information is no longer valuable to us! What will it mean that three thousand soldiers or even more are still missing? What will it mean that we have just uncovered a new war crime committed by Israel in 1967 (by the way, we have committed our own war crimes too, don’t forget the Syrian soldier who axed 11 Israeli soldiers and then won a medal for it). If we were in a state of war, where we can use this information to our benefit, maybe even go to the Hague. But that is not an option today. The article suggested something every Arab knows, we are confused. Manyof us are anti-peace, and many others see the benefits of peace, and see logical reasons behind it. Others still are wholeheartedly for it, and we expect our governments- which by the way we have never elected in a free and fair election free of gerrymandering, vote-buying and bribery, are expected to take in all those voices and find a middle ground we agree on!!! The case is that Arab governments are just another belligerent in this war of thought, and their opinion juts depends on where their own private interests lie, and in this case they do not lie with with this war crime, and that is why we don’t know about it in Jordanian media.

    • I feel like the problem of the Egyptian government that the article is talking about is another conflict between idealism vs. pragmatism. What would be ideal is to acknowledge their failure at 1967 and fight against the war crimes of Israel -the cruel victor in the minds of the Egyptian citizens. However, what is more pragmatic is to lie flat and let this pass, not taking any action, and then going back to the normal relationship with Israel. Especially if it is true that Egypt does have a ‘deal’ with the US about its role in the Middle East, then it is crucial for Egypt to keep its amiable relationship with Israel and US.
      And as Jordan has survived until now observing pragmatism, I believe the smart option (and the option that they will eventually choose anyways) is to keep its current status with Israel regardless of the events of the past. Idealism does not go well with politics.

  2. Marah Tarawneh says:

    I can see why the Arab governments don’t want to talk about 1967, and why they want to keep it from the public, however, I don’t agree. First, letting the public know about the details of 1967 war and the consequences of Egypt and other Arab countries interventions when they are not ready for it, would educate the public who are now putting pressure and going against the governments to intervene. Second, In my opinion, I find it ridiculous that Egyptian government want to even think that it will “save face in the public eyes” by being a “mediator” between the Palestinians and the Israelis, after 1967. Third, clinging and following up to stories about soldiers being killed or captured is just pathetic, the defeat alone is an enough humiliation and we don’t need any additional stories. Instead of spreading these stories and blaming Israel for committing war crimes, maybe we should start with the details of what we did wrong, and why we lost wars we weren’t even ready for but started anyway.

    • abbyhungate says:

      I agree with Marah. Hiding what really happened in the war is only going to lead to consequences in the future. There is a reason that history is required in school, because it teaches us how to learn from our mistakes or our achievements. Arab countries need to analyze the war and make all the information available to the public so that they can learn from what they did wrong. War is not some sort of blame-game, and trying to put the blame on Israel does not help the situation and does not change what happened.

      • Marah and Abby, your suggestions would be great, if the policy of the Arab countries was to attack Israel. That is not the case now, every Arab and predominantly Muslim country in the world has ratified the Arab Peace Initiative. No one wants to fight Israel anymore. Yes, like both of you, I believe that Arab countries need to be more transparent with their information. But we all know (at least the Arabs do, Westerners don’t hear about it on their media) that terrible atrocities were committed in 1967 and 1973, so knowing the details of a specific incident will not really change much- it does not support the policies of the current Arab governments, or the more preferred solution to this conflict- a peaceful one

      • Marah Tarawneh says:

        I see your point here, Mohammad. However, even with the peaceful solution, transparency is better than victimizing ourselves. I just see that putting the full blame on Israel about 1967 and freeing ourselves from our mistakes, which is what I was taught before I came to king’s, only leads to people wanting war not peace. How are they expecting people to support the peaceful solution if the people are fueled up with the cruelty of Israel that caused the humiliation in 1967? The problem is not that they are hiding all of the details of what happened, it’s what they chose to announce to the public, how they altered the events, and that they’re still doing it.

      • miralobaidi says:

        I agree with you, the Arab countries should not just put this war behind them but analyze what went wrong and what tactics they would need to use in the future.

      • Yasmine Malas says:

        I agree with you 100%. The purpose and profoundness of history is to look back, whether it be on the mistakes or accomplishments of others, and see how they can be applied in our present and future. Of course, we must not repeat things even if they have been accomplished in the past, because time and development play a huge role in our lives and “the times have changed”. However, tweaking certain aspects of the lessons learned from the past and applying it to our present could fix a lot of our future.

        We just need to find out which information is important for us today, and make sure we understand it.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      another aspect would be the recognition of the danger of keeping things away from the public is that they will find an alternative way to find out about it. Informing the public about it would be better and more beneficial than letting them know by themselves. there has to be a mutual trust and some level of transparency between the two sides in order to achieve harmony within a country.

  3. faisaldahabra16 says:

    1967 was a very bad year for the Middle east one of the worst years in the Middle Easts history for Jordan a NEW country with it first war with another country and loosing is a disgrace but not only that another big issue in 67 was black September so this year for Jordan is very dramatic

  4. Daniel Leal says:

    A lot of Arabs seem to hurt for the Palestinians and it is this pain which in their mind endows them with the necessity to act in favor of their cause. In reality, more often than not, Arab intervention has hurt the Palestinian cause. From arming them in hopes that guerillas will topple an army whose strategy is asymmetric response, to proposing resolutions for peace; there is always something to be won by the Arab parties involved. Granted sometimes this gain may be stability and peace.
    I think what the Middle East needs is some vision. While governments may at times focus on the future of the country, identity politics tie the country’s people to the past and cause a disenchanted and anger-fueled present. This leads the government to act to please its people so as not to have their anger pointed at it. Meanwhile, outside influences look at the Middle East with pity as such potential is wasted on problems that do not have solutions through violence, but rather require time to heal and stabilize, all while the rest of the world moves on and takes advantage of such a lack of foresight.

    • Interesting thought. I think it sums up a portion of my thoughts on the modern Middle East history that I could not quite grasp before. I think the best is a balance between the feelings towards the past and the vision for the future/advancement. It is inherent in human nature to constantly look back, and be tied to the past and identity. I think what the Middle East needs is pragmatically deal with their struggles and memories from the past. For instance, instead of arming the Palestinians, they should work on providing what the Palestinian refugees need, and negotiating with Palestine and Israel.

    • Yasmine Malas says:

      Not sure if this is going to count as a “blog post” but I just wanted to say that I genuinely couldn’t have said this any better.

  5. farah sinokrot says:

    As an Arab that is born and raised in the middle east i knew very little about the 1967 war i just knew that the Arabs lost and it is very bad for the Arabs and that the loss was a disgrace to the Arab world because there were no Arab unity. however, after learning about the war i realized that the Arab were united but they were incapable of defeating the Israeli was not because they weren’t strong enough but the forces that were helping the Israeli and the tactic of using the a surprise attacked was the reason for the Israeli to win the war.

    • miralobaidi says:

      I don’t completely agree with you because the Arabs were NOT strong enough to fight the Israeli army. They were also unprepared for such a loss because of how high their morale was. Also, the fact that it was THREE countries against ONE is what set them up for failure anyway. The Arabs never really united unless it was against a common enemy, unlike the Israelis.

      • Farah Sinokrot says:

        i disagree, because Israeli wasn’t one country in fighting the war it was helped with bigger world leading countries because Israeli would have never won any war if it wasn’t for the support of these countries. and Arab unity was relevant because how are you staying that it is 3 countries against one if Arab countries aren’t united?

  6. Zaid Khalaf says:

    How are they expecting people to support the peaceful solution if the people are fueled up with the cruelty of Israel that caused the humiliation in 1967? this doesnt make any sense

    • Yasmine Malas says:

      Because dwelling on the fact that what the Israeli’s did was “unfair” doesn’t quite sway political leaders and convince them to put the conflict at rest.

      We must find strategic and peaceful ways to do so, and not just merely complain about past treatment.

  7. khaleel abdel razeq says:

    I think that the stand that Gamal Abdel Nasser chose to do is an extra brave one. Its always brave for anyone to go against the flow and sang up to whats wrong even though he’s the only one, but in our communities in these days, whenever some one stands up to whats right, then everyone wants to try to ruin his point. In my opinion, Gamal did a very brave stand when he didn’t do a peace treaty with Israel, even though he lost a war, but still he tried and all Palestinians admire his decision and supports him till the end of it.

    • Nizar says:

      Dear era,
      Going against “the flow” is not always a good thing. Gammal abdelnasser made the people believe in something that wasn’t realistic. Therefore, he is accused of being idealistic.

    • Yes, Nasser attempted to ‘Push the Israeli’s into the sea.’ He failed, and many. many people died because of it. More were displaced from their homes, and many more would die or live in the refuse of the refugee camps. What Nasser did was not a ‘brave’ thing. His Idealistic approach has cause more conflict than any other single human being has in the region.

  8. Nizar says:

    Not informing the public can sometimes be a positive thing in which sometimes if you say the truth it may cause chaos in the country. Therefore, this will cause a worse problem

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