For more than 30 years they kept to themselves, hoping the memories of their ordeal in Egyptian captivity would be eclipsed by peace deals and the passage of time.
But accounts by former Israeli prisoners of war have been resurfacing of late, largely in retaliation to a flurry of atrocity allegations from Egypt.
The latest contretemps to strain ties between Jerusalem and Cairo began when Egyptian media mistakenly described an Israeli television documentary, “Spirit of Shaked,” as containing confessions about the killing of 250 Egyptian soldiers who were taken captive in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Denials by top-level Israeli officials hardly dented the onslaught of recrimination from Egypt. So some of Israel’s ex-POWs and military historians decided to fire back.
On an almost weekly basis, Israeli media have been carrying chilling testimony from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when soldiers stationed along the Suez Canal were overwhelmed by Egyptian forces and many airmen were shot down over Egypt and captured.
The survivors told of dozens possibly more of fellow servicemen who were executed or tortured to death after surrendering.
“They murdered many captives,” Giora Rom, a former deputy commander of Israel’s air force, told Yediot Achronot. “Don’t focus on those who remained alive but on those who were murdered.”
According to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Egypt captured 231 Israeli servicemen during the Yom Kippur War. The bodies of 39 slain troops were returned as part of a cease-fire, while other soldiers remain classified as missing in action. Somewhere among those figures lurk the Israelis who may have died at the hands of their Egyptian captors crimes that Cairo insists never happened.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit as saying the idea that his country’s armed forces unlawfully killed Israeli prisoners of war was “absurd.”
Nonetheless, one ! Israeli military historian, Aryeh Yitzhaki, is seeking redress.
Yitzhaki announced last week that he had written to the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv with a demand for a formal inquiry into the alleged 1973 atrocities against Israeli troops.
“The soldiers underwent barbaric abuse as POWs, and those who were not murdered suffered irreversible emotional damage,” Yitzhaki told the news Web site NRG. “Most atrociously, in a number of cases, commendations were issued to the murderers for their crimes.”
Smadar Perry, Yediot’s veteran Arab affairs correspondent, noted that Israeli efforts to address the Egyptian allegations from 1967 would be hindered by an incident from a previous war.
Aryeh Biro, a retired Israeli brigadier general, is on record as saying his men killed dozens of Egyptian soldiers taken prisoner during the 1956 Sinai Campaign.
At the time of this admission just more than a decade ago, Israel tried to calm Egyptian anger by promising a probe. Perry said no such thing transpired, and described an angry exchange she had on the subject with an unnamed moderate Egyptian intellectual.
“How would you react,” she quotes the Egyptian as saying, “if our reserve officers were to come out with stories about murdering Israeli POWs?”
“Have there been such cases?” Perry asks, adding, “My interlocutor falls silent.”