Three Israeli prisoners of war who returned home today after three years of captivity in Syria related grim tales of torture at the hands of their captors who told them at one point that there is a Geneva Convention but not for you.” The three, all fighter pilots who bailed out over Syrian territory in 1970 after their planes were shot down by ground fire, were exchanged for 46 Syrian and 10 Lebanese PWs held by Israel. The exchange, which took place this morning at Amadieh Junction on the Golan Heights, culminated top secret negotiations which involved the International Red Cross, Israel and Syria.
The freed Israelis are Captains Gideon Magen and Pinhas Nahmani, both married and each the father of two children, and Lt. Boaz Eitan, who is unmarried. The three were briefly reunited with their families at Kuneitra after their release and then taken to an Air Force base for debriefing. Later they were luncheon guests of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Gen. David Elazar and Air Force Commander Benjamin Peled. Premier Golda Meir interrupted a Cabinet meeting to greet them by telephone.
Speaking to reporters at the Air Force base, the fliers said the Syrians had subjected them to the same methods of torture used by the Turks before World War I with some modern refinements including electric shock. They said their captors used wet branches to beat the soles of their feet and their fingertips. Lt. Eitan said the Syrians admitted there was a Geneva Convention barring the mistreatment of PWs but said, “That is not for you. You are Israelis.” He said the statement was accompanied by repeated blows to his head and body.
REPEATEDLY BEATEN BY CAPTORS
According to the returned prisoners, broken limbs and fractured ribs were a daily occurrence during the first few months of their captivity. They said they were examined by a doctor but only to see if their hearts were strong enough to bear further torture.
Capt. Nahmani, who broke a leg when he bailed out, said he received no medical treatment for five days but was repeatedly beaten by his captors during that interval on his fractured leg and on his head. He said that as a result of his head injuries he permanently lost the hearing of one ear.
Capt. Magen gave a similar account of his treatment. He said they were not visited by Red Cross representatives for 4-1/2 months after their capture, and that period was the worst. But even later, when their treatment had improved, it was still far from what the Geneva Convention required. Nevertheless, Capt. Magen said that while a prisoner he was able to take a correspondence course in mechanical engineering from the Haifa Technion. He said textbooks in Hebrew and English were supplied to him through the facilities of the Red Cross.
POSSIBLE FUTURE EXCHANGE WITH EGYPT
Dayan, who was on the Golan Heights this morning to witness the PW exchange, told reporters that it might pave the way for a similar exchange with Egypt but that he didn’t want to raise too much hope for that prospect. There are 10 Israeli-PWs in Egypt, most of them downed pilots, and 56 Egyptian PWs in Israel.
The Syrian PWs returned by Israel included five senior Army officers captured by Israeli forces during a raid into southern Lebanon on June 21, 1972. They are: Brig. Gen. Arham Amwani, Col. Ranabu Alouch, and Col. Nazir Jerah, all of the Operations Branch of Syrian General Headquarters; and Lt. Cols. Rafiq Syrbag and Walid Abbasi, of Air Force intelligence. The other Syrian soldiers were captured by Israel during a raid on June 26, 1970. The 10 Lebanese soldiers exchanged today at the Ras el Nakura border post included two officers captured with the Syrian officers. The others were captured on June 21 and Sept. 16, 1972.
Dayan said he assumed that the capture of the five Syrian senior officers played a major role in persuading Damascus to agree to the PW exchange. Two of the Israeli pilots, Capts. Pinhas and Magen, bailed out on April 4, 1970. Lt. Eitan bailed out on June 26 of that year. All three were on undisclosed missions over Syria.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.