Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Backward Christian Soldiers, 1967 through the eyes of the defeated

Ten years ago I was in Cairo for the thirtieth anniversary of the 1967 war. Twenty years after Camp David, and several years into the Oslo process, the peace between Israel and Egypt was still chilly. If ordinary Egyptians did not want to make war on Israel, they were still far from wanting to make love. The mood has not changed that much.

Talking to General Talat Soliman Gallaby in 1997 gave some insight into past and future. was one of the first Egyptian officers to get the news of the scale of the Israeli victory in 1967. In Cairo, thirty years later, over a cup of coffee, he was happy to let met know how upset he still is. As a Lieutenant Colonel at a supply base at the gateway to Sinai, he met the first troops of the Egyptian Army as they fled from the Israelis. It was June 7, two days after the war started. “I was still listening to Radio Cairo, hearing about our great victories. I was very enthusiastic, and then these persons and officers came to me describing our defeat. I was very sorry for the weakness of our leaders,” he remembered lugubriously.

In retrospect, although vociferously unhappy about the results, he was not surprised at them. “I joined as an officer in King Farouk’s army - it was for parade grounds only, we were not trained to fight - unlike the Jews” he contrasted, “who the British trained to fight during the Second World War in Dashur, just outside Cairo.”

Afterwards, he said, Nasser neglected the army in favour of schools and industry, “so it was not trained well.” Its commander continued the old habits of nepotism that had made Farouk’s army such a joke. “They moved our officers around, shifted units about, we never got to train together,’ he explains. “And Nasser had one big fault. He was not a democrat. In a democracy, you can say ‘you are wrong!’”

The General was, on his own admission, “fat, and I have asthma.” But his winning smile and sense of humour could not disguise the firmness of his opposition to the peace talks with Israel, current and past. He was still serving in 1973 as well. “Ah! That was marvellous! We had good weapons and good training, and we made a victory! But then Sadat used it badly. I wasn’t pleased with anything he did. And most Egyptians think so as well. When Nasser died, there were huge crowds at his funeral. When Sadat was buried, they had just a few, and they had to bring them from outside, like Begin and Carter. Sadat’s friends were all foreigners.”

“Anwar Sadat was a traitor,” he declares roundly. “Nasser was a good man, whose good works all disappeared because he was a dictator. Sadat was a much weaker man who destroyed everything Nasser did. Three foreign ministers resigned rather than go to Jerusalem with him. Sadat spoke to Carter and Begin, but not to his own men!” He vigorously dismissed the return of territories negotiated at Camp David. “Yes, we have Sinai, but we have no troops there and the Israelis can take it back within an hour! All those millions of investment will be wasted!”

No one could accuse him of fundamentalism. He was Copt, who invoked scripture constantly, although in versions unlikely to be authorized by the Evangelical right in the USA. “No one can be rich without being a thief,” he declared, explaining his socialism, “Remember what Jesus said about a rich man going to heaven, like a camel through a small hole." Nor is his vigorous and militant version of Christianity the “turn the other cheek variety.” He sees Christ more as a proto-Palestinian prophet, declaiming, “Jesus said, Luke 22, sell your clothes and buy a sword.’”

Laughing, he summed up his forty- year military career, “I love war! War is the only solution, the way to peace, the only way to get your rights. Jesus said,' Love Justice.' Jesus does not want anything but for people to love each other.” Should that not mean he would support peace talks? He dismissed the idea firmly, “You don't talk to a serpent. You kill it!”

He had actually been on his way to Gaza when the war broke out. He had been there before. From 1954 to 1956, he was one of twenty Egyptian officers who trained Palestinian commando unit in raids across to their former homeland. “Nasser could not restrain them, so he wanted to integrate them into our forces. They were brave, firm for their rights.”

In fact, he recounted a story to show how brave and moral they were. He says that 1,700 of them, rather than be trapped and killed in Gaza, when the Israelis joined with British and French in the attack in 1956, set off to trek through Israel across the Negev and made it to Jordan several days later. "On the way," he reminisced, "we stopped and took food and water from an isolated house, and I asked whether they wanted to kill the family there. The volunteers all refused, and said we do not make war on women and children! They are good people the Palestinians!” he declared, shaking his head with admiring disbelief at their sentimentality

And the Israelis, he said, are bad people. “You cannot trust them.” Waving his arm to indicate the crowded Cairo streets, he declared, “Ask any of these people here. Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, but he cannot make us love them.”

1 comment:

Anthony Joseph Geha Yuja said...

Kudos to you for another splendid and perceptive article.The Egyptian general is right in saying Israel can not be trusted to do what is morally right, since it was created on the basis of lies and constant deceit.

Their fraudulent democracy is for Jews only where Palestinians and non Jews are discriminated against, robbed of their land, their basic human rights, their dignity whilst the zionist media continues whining about the holocaust, antisemitism etc...

A nauseating state of affairs which continues to poison and corrupt our common humanity.