By Naomi Leitner
Naomi Leitner is an attorney in Israel.
Several stories have been carried in Israel’s media today and yesterday (March 5 – 6, 2007) concerning the passions being stirred up in Egypt over the documentary movie “Ruach Shaked” (The Spirit of Shaked) which was aired last week on Israel’s Channel 1.
The documentary examines the elite commando unit “Shaked”, including the fighting on the so-called “seventh day” of the 1967 Six-Day-War.
The Shaked unit has its unique mystique and traditions – a select group of tough fighters who eschewed military-style formality. Uniforms were often shabby and unkempt; the officers shared tents, latrines and mess facilities with the enlisted men. Morale and motivation were high, and ethical behavior always prized and demanded. These were men who often lived in field conditions for months on end.
Though most of the fighting had ended within 6 days, there was sporadic fighting on the seventh day, too. As in all wars – there are those last battles and “the last man to die”. The documentary examines the recollections of former Shaked fighters of the battles of the 7th day. They were given orders to pursue a unit of the Egyptian army that was in retreat.
The unit was composed of Palestinians from Gaza. (Note: Gaza was an integral part of Egypt until that time.) At no time did the Egyptian army unit surrender, its fighters were armed and none of its soldiers were held as prisoners. The battle turned into a rout in favor of the Israelis. At the time, the unit was commanded by Benjamin “Fouad” Ben-Eliezer, now a minister in the Israeli government.
To their everlasting credit, 40 years later, the Shaked fighters are willing to examine the issue of proportionality in the use of military force and whether it would have been possible to forgo this last battle. They are honestly struggling with the ethical issues that arise in every war.
From this the Egyptian media has been spreading the lie that 250 unarmed prisoners were massacred by the Shaked unit. The word in Arabic is Matbacha.
The public incitement is causing diplomatic waves, with the formerly well-received Ben-Eliezer (an Arabic speaker, born in Iraq) told not to make an official visit to Egypt.
The news is spreading around the Arab world, with talk of war crimes and atrocities.
At the least this is a tempest in a pot of tea. In fact, it is turning into yet another 21st Century blood libel. It is turning a military victory into a war crime.
And the fortunes of war are fickle. In 1973, the Shaked unit fought the Egyptians in what the Israelis refer to as “HaChava HaSinit” (The Chinese Ranch) in the Sinai desert. In that battle, of the over 100 Shaked fighters that went in, less than 20 came out alive. That doesn’t bother the Egyptian media in the least.