Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dignity of the Enemy

There's a lot of debate (or maybe there's not much news, so they need to latch on to something) about whether the photos of Osama bin Laden's elimination should be distributed so that the world would be sure that he's really dead. That has lead to talk about whether he should have been buried at sea, whether the US Navy should have gone through such efforts to give him a "halachic" Moslem burial.
American officials went to great pains to explain the dignity with which they treated his body, so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities. How kind.Osama's "burial" brou
ght to mind another Arab burial that I actually meant to write about on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial day for Israel's fallen soldiers). After visiting Kibbutz Negba recently, we stopped at the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Egyptian Soldier.

The funny thing is that the information on the monument is a bit confusing. The soldier isn't unknown at all, and it isn't one soldier. It's the monument to four Egyptian soldiers – two colonels, a sergeant and a private. In addition, the monument says that they fell at the Battle of Faluja in June 1948.
Another confusion. The battle of Kibbutz Negba, not Faluja, took place in June 1948. One thousand Egyptian soldiers attacked the 140 Israelis (mostly teenage Holocaust survivors) of Negba. The Egyptians reached the kibbutz's inner fence, but the kibbutz members had no tanks or machine guns to repel them. Still, they fought bravely against the mighty Arab Army with their guns and Molotov cocktails, and B"H miraculously, destroyed six tanks and drove off the Egyptian forces
Was this what the Memorial referred to as the Battle of Faluja?
Or perhaps they were referring to the battle at Ibdis in July 1948. The village of Ibdis was part of an Egyptian stronghold which was taken by the Egyptian army in June 1948. The village was destroyed a month later, and it was yet another location from which the Egyptian attacked the forces defending Kibbutz Negba.

Jewish Mass Graves and Arab Memorials

Perhaps they meant a different battle that took place nearby in December 1948. The IDF tried to take control of the Egyptian stronghold (right between Kibbutz Negba and today's Kiryat Gat – formerly Faluja - on Route 35) Iraq-el-Manshiya. The stronghold had been a fortified British police station, which at their departure, the British turned over to the Egyptians (instead of the Jews of Negba). It was renamed the Iraq Suedan fortress, after a nearby Arab village. From here the Egyptians had launched their attacks against Kibbutz Negba and other Jewish towns.
Alexandroni Brigade tried to conquer the fort during Chanukah of 1948, but the entire company of 87 soldiers died in the effort. The Egyptians buried them in a mass grave. The city of Kiryat Gat has a moving memorial for these soldiers (see left).

The Israelis were unable to take the ex-British fortress, despite many bloody battles, and the Egyptians stayed in possession of the former British stronghold throughout the war. When the fortress finally fell, Yigal Alon met with the Egyptian's Brigadier General Said Taha Bey and offered an honorable surrender.
As part of the Peace Agreement with Egypt in the 1970s, Israel buried four Arab soldiers killed at the Battle of Faluja (whichever battle it was) in a beautiful monument that stands proudly as a tribute to the bravery of the Arab soldiers. Its tall obelisk is recognized from quite far, and its beautiful Egyptian granite adds dignity and respect to the place, which is beautifully kept.
The Faluja memorial reminded me of one more memorial to fallen soldiers.

Memorial (or None) to a Massacre

These memorials to fallen soldiers of 1948 led me to think of the Lamed Hei, the legendary 35!In January 63 years ago, 35 Palmach soldiers set out on foot in the middle of the night from the Bet Shemesh area to bring supplies to the beleaguered kibbutzim of pre-State Gush Etzion. The kibbutzim had been cut off by the Arab villages and Arab Legion forces. Convoys to Gush Etzion had been attacked; some convoys destroyed and their defenders killed. Airplane drops had failed. The Palmach march was the last hope to aid the isolated Jewish towns.
Unfortunately, the 35 (Lamed Hei) were seen at daybreak. They were attacked by Arabs of Tsurif and the surrounding towns, and after a brave struggle, the Jewish soldiers were all butchered and decapitated. Their body parts were left to rot. The British didn't retrieve the remains of the Lamed Hei until two days later, and then 12 out of the 35 were so unrecognizable the sainted Reb Aryeh Levin had to perform a kabbalistic ritual - a lottery attributed to the Vilna Gaon (goral haGra) - to identify them for burial. Four months later Gush Etzion fell to the Arab Legion, and on the very next day the State of Israel was born.
[Find out more about the Lamed Hei: ]

The heroic Lamed Hei were reburied on Mount Herzl.
So, I guess all this has set me to thinking of battle burials and war memorials. Al Qaeida's chief Osama Bin Laden was given a sanctified Islamic burial by the United States armed forces. Was American journalist Daniel Pearl given a holy Jewish burial after Al Qaeida soldiers kidnapped and beheaded him?
The Egyptian soldiers of the battle of Faluja (whichever battle that was) were given a magnificent monument in the northern Negev on Israeli soil. Does Syria have a monument to the brave work of Israel's Eli Cohen (at left in a Syrian version of a memorial)?
Does Egypt have monuments to the IDF soldiers who fell in the Sinai or by the Suez Canal?
Does Lebanon have monuments to the Israeli soldiers who were killed there during either of the two Lebanon Wars?
Did the Arab Legion put up a memorial to the 35 Palmach soldiers after they butchered them? Is there a granite obelisk standing upon the Battle Hill of the Lamed Hei even today?
While it seems there has been great sensitivity paid to honorable burial for the enemies of Israel and the West, there has never been a demand for the same respect to bodies of Western or Jewish soldiers or civilians.
We must respect and demand respect for our civilians and our soldiers in death and in battle, but also in life.
We ourselves must honor and value our people's lives, and demand that others honor them as well. If we respected our people's lives, we wouldn't allow them to be kassamed or bombed or terrorized. We would do everything to stop i!
We must honor our own people at least as much as we honor the enemy, and care about the sensitivities of our own people at least as much as we care about the sensitivities of the enemy, protect the lives of innocent Jewish or Western civilians at least as much as we protect enemy civilians.
But that's another story.

1 comment:

  1. There are 2 memorials for the Lamed Hei at the top of givat hakrav (hill of the battle), where they fell, and one at the entrance to Kibbutz Halamed Hei - just to the left. There may well be more, but that's what comes to mind.