In peoples’ understandable determination to uncover the truth of the Nakba and what happened in 1947-8, the massacres of the 1967 War have barely been covered.
|Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War|
|The iconic photo that the Zionists used to whitewash the invasion - 3 soldiers at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall|
|Israeli Generals Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan and Uzi Narkis in Jerusalem|
The 1967 war occurred because the bluster of Nasser allowed Israel a golden opportunity. Having blocked Israeli ships from the Gulf of Aquaba Nasser foolishly ordered the UN troops in the Sinai to withdraw. Israel of course took full advantage of this in order to conquer the Sinai, Golan and West Bank.
|The Zionist soldier's eternal dilemma|
“In the operation we had to cleanse the inhabitants. This uprooting of a villager, rooted in his village and turning him into a refugee, by simply expelling him, and not one, two or three of them but a real eviction. And when you see a whole village is led like lambs to the slaughter without any resistance you understand what is the Holocaust.” — An Israeli soldier’s testimony in the documentary Censored Voices, directed by Mor Loushi (2015)
|The USS Liberty, a spy ship, was attacked and nearly sunk by Israel because they didn't want the US knowing what their plans were. US President Johnson covered it up. It was only when the US sent planes to defend it that Israel called off the attack|
|General Ariel Sharon at the battle of Abu-Ageila|
|An over confident Nasser laughing with Airforce pilots|
Evil repertoireThis 48th commemoration of the 1967 war coincided with the 67th commemoration of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine before and after Israel’s founding in 1948. There is more than a symbolic connection here. The evil repertoire confessed by the soldiers in the new film reminds us of the atrocities perpetrated 67 years ago on a much larger, though similarly horrific, scale.
The 1948 atrocities were ignored by the international community and for a long time the entire Nakba was denied while the Holocaust memory seemed to provide carte blanche to Israel to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
No wonder then, when in 1967 Israel’s territorial appetite was satisfied with the occupation of the whole of historic Palestine, as well as large territories from Egypt and Syria, it was achieved with the help of similar inhumane ethnic cleansing operations of expulsions and massacres.
There was one difference between the two chapters of atrocity committed in the two wars. In 1967, Israel was less secure about possible global, and even American, complacency in the face of its cruel methodologies on the ground and therefore attempted to hide them from prying eyes. The wall of secrecy Israel built, however, nearly cracked, when the US navy ship USS Liberty eavesdropped on the communications between the troops in the Gaza Strip on 8 June 1967, revealing probably both the summary execution of Egyptian prisoners of war and Palestinian civilians. The ship was destroyed on the same day from the air by the Israeli air force.
Later on, the atrocities were substantiated by eyewitnesses and came to the fore when mass graves were exposed in 1995 in the al-Arish area in Sinai, straining Egypt’s relations with Israel, as CNN reported at the time.
The network interviewed, for the first time, relatives and survivors of these war crimes who recalled the massacre of hundreds. The link between the unprovoked assault on the USS Liberty and the wish to hide the massacres and executions was thoroughly investigated by James Bamford in his 2001 book Body of Secrets.
Thus, the newly released tapes corroborate atrocities already known and told by those who were their victims (in this case, including 34 American navy personnel). This was very much in the same way as Israeli documents declassified in the 1980s corroborated the Palestinian oral history and testimonies of the Nakba.
Purifying the perpetratorsIn both cases, it took a while for the victims’ version to be heard after years of being brushed aside by Western academia and the media as a figment of an oriental imagination.
The Israeli eyewitnesses in the new film do not mention names of places or dates — neither do we know who the Palestinian or Egyptian victims were. De-naming and dehumanization are two sides of the same coin and thus the new harrowing testimonies are cautiously presented as an act purifying the perpetrators rather than honoring the victims.
It is another case of “shooting and crying”: namely the problem is not that a girl lost her eye, a man’s house was demolished or an unarmed prisoner of war was executed. The aim is to cleanse the tormented soul of the victimizer and there is nothing like a good confession to make it all go away.
Names and dates, and even more so real human beings, require not only acknowledgement but also accountability. Saying sorry is not always enough, especially when the lesson is not learned. And, thus, year after year since 1967, including in recent weeks, Palestinians, with faces and names, are still expelled, imprisoned without trial and killed.
Permanent realityThis new film gives the impression that these crimes were the inevitable outcome of the June 1967 war. But in fact the crimes committed after the war were much worse in every aspect. The atrocities were not the outcome of the war, they were part of the means used by Israel to solve the predicament the new territorial achievement produced for the Jewish State: it incorporated in 1967 almost the same number of Palestinians it had expelled in 1948.
After the war, other means were added in the search for reconciling this predicament. The aim was still the same: to have as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it as possible. The new strategy, after the war, was based on the logic that if you cannot uproot people you root them deeply in their areas of living without any outlet or easy access to the world around them.
The Palestinians all over Palestine were, since 1967, incarcerated in small enclaves surrounded by Jewish colonies, military bases and no-go areas that bisect their geography. In the occupied territories, Israel created a matrix of control many African National Congress leaders regard as far worse than the worst of apartheid South Africa. The Israelis marketed this method to the world as a temporary and necessary means for maintaining their rule in the “disputed” territories. The “temporary” means became a way of life and transformed into a permanent reality on the ground, for which Israel sought international legitimacy through the 1993 Oslo accords – and nearly got it.
This month as we commemorate the 48th year of the 1967, war we should remind ourselves once more that this was a chapter in a history of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and occasionally genocide of the Palestinians.
The “peace process” that began more than two decades ago was based on the assumption that the “conflict” began in 1967 and will end with Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The “conflict” had actually begun in 1948, if not before, and the worst part of it was not the 1967 military occupation of those parts of Palestine that Israel had failed to take over in 1948, but rather that the international immunity for these crimes still continues today.
One can only hope that those with the power to effect change in the world will understand, as did the soldier quoted in the opening of this piece, that there is more than one holocaust and that everyone, regardless of their religion or nationality, can be either its victim or its perpetrator.
The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.
Six Day War atrocities: Veteran's account of captives in Egyptian uniforms being shot in the desert adds fuel to scandal; 'A prisoner was given a shovel and started to dig. Then he was fired at'
Friday 18 August 1995
Gabriel Brun, a Jerusalem journalist who served as a signals sergeant- major in the 1967 Six-Day War, described yesterday how he saw fellow Israeli soldiers shoot dead five prisoners of war in Egyptian uniforms.
His story added fuel to an escalating scandal sparked by a retired brigadier-general, who confessed to executing 49 Egyptian prisoners during the 1956 Suez war. Egypt, with whom Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, has demanded a full account. The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was chief of staff during the 1967 war, has ordered an investigation.
"What I saw happened on the morning of 7 June, the third day of the war," Mr Brun, who was then 24, told the Independent.
"I was at El Arish airfield in the Sinai desert, attached to the headquarters of an armoured division. I saw 120 to 150 Egyptian soldiers sitting with their hands tied behind their backs in a makeshift hangar made of sandbags. About 20 yards away I saw a trestle table with two men sitting behind it, their faces masked with khaki handkerchiefs. Individual prisoners were pushed out of the group, brought before this table and apparently interrogated. Some were sent back.
"I was about 30 or 40 yards away, so I couldn't hear what was said. I saw one man questioned, then marched about 200 yards into the desert by two military policemen.
"He was given a shovel and started to dig. After about 15 minutes, I saw the shovel thrown out. Then each of the two soldiers fired a round into the hole. Another guy was brought and shot, falling into the same hole. A third prisoner was brought to cover up the grave, then was marched back.
"I saw five prisoners killed in this way. Earlier I had heard 10 similar shots. I interpreted those to mean that another five were executed."
Mr Brun said an officer explained to him afterwards that the victims were Palestinian "terrorists", who were wanted for murdering Israelis and had tried to get away by merging with the fleeing Egyptians. The interrogators were officers in army intelligence.
Arye Biro, 69, the retired brigadier who admitted killing 49 Egyptian PoWs in the 1956 war, said on Wednesday he was not proud of what he had done, but did not feel like a war criminal. "I have ached over what I did," he said, "but under the same circumstances I think I would do it again."
Mr Biro commanded a paratroop company which dropped in the Mitla Pass, one of the two main routes from central Sinai to the Suez Canal.
"We were hundreds of kilometres behind enemy lines," he said. "Egyptian planes were flying over us unhindered. Egyptian troops were pouring into the area, and the prisoners were shouting, 'Just you wait, the Egyptian army will slaughter you'."
The paratroops were ordered to head south. According to Mr Biro, they had no transport for the prisoners and feared they would reveal the Israelis' position. So he and a lieutenant ordered the prisoners to lie face down, then shot them.
"They didn't cry out," he said dispassionately. "It was all over in a couple of minutes."
The paratroops' brigade commander was General Ariel Sharon, now an opposition Likud MP. He was not in the Mitla Pass at the time of the executions. But the battalion commander, Rafael Eitan, was. Mr Eitan, who rose to chief of staff, is now a hard-right candidate for prime minister. Asked if Mr Eitan ordered the killings, Mr Biro replied: "Ask him."
According to Meir Pa'il, a military historian and retired colonel, Moshe Dayan, who was chief of staff in 1956 and defence minister in 1967, reprimanded Mr Eitan for the killings during a meeting with battalion commanders.
Michael Bar-Zohar, an author and former Labour MP who handled Dayan's public relations after the 1967 war, said: "In every one of our wars, Israeli soldiers have killed PoWs. The high command did not want it, but it was tolerated up to a point. I know of only one case - in the 1982 Lebanon War - where an officer was court-martialled for killing a prisoner.