The old guard is definitely up in arms. Anger has been rising in Egypt ever since an Israeli documentary aired in February appearing to show the Shaked Reconnaissance Unit, led by Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as being responsible for killing 250 Egyptian POWs. It has, as some have described it, sparked the highest anti-Israeli sentiment since the peace agreement of 1979. In addition, the Channel 1 documentary is seen as a confirmation of widespread rumors among Egyptians of mass graves found in Sinai during the 1990s, even though the film itself does not refer to this. "Israel is seeking to make up for the humiliation it suffered during the 34-day war in Lebanon last summer," says Mustafa al-Fiqi, chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee, asserting that Israel wants to send a message that "it always kills prisoners of war."
UN soldiers doubt 1967 killing of POWs
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, the documentary's director, Ran Edelist, clarified that the soldiers in question were Palestinian fedayeen killed in battle, and not Egyptian POWs. However, this clarification has not penetrated the Egyptian media, which is largely state-controlled and is therefore limited in the amount of impartial information it can broadcast to the Egytian people. Additionally, anti-Israeli propaganda is reinforced by the government.
The Egyptian response to the film has been harsh, as protesters have marched in Cairo demanding the expulsion of Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen. Al-Ahram newspaper reported that Edward Ghali El-Dahabi, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee in Egypt, called for Cohen to appear before his committee.
Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Salah Eldin Selim, meanwhile, called on the Egyptian government to threaten Israel with an embargo of its natural gas exports if it does not give in to demands for an independent inquiry into the film. The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the progress of the inquiry.
Additionally, Parliamentarian Anwar Esmat Sadat, the nephew of former president Anwar Sadat, said in reference to the documentary that "the peace agreement Egypt signed with Israel is not a Koran and everything is open to being amended for the benefit of future generations."
Fouad Abdel-Moneim Riad, a former judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, pointed out that while the Egyptian rage is legitimate, it should be expressed in a non-violent manner, and that there is sufficient evidence to take the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
One student at the American University in Cairo claimed that, while the Israelis were killing defenseless soldiers, Israeli POWs were treated very humanely during the Yom Kippur War.
"It was even Egyptian practice," he said, "to take prisoners on trips to the pyramids at Giza."
Testimonies from Israeli soldiers suggest, on the contrary, that the Egyptian army killed prisoners of war captured at the Bar-Lev Line in 1973.
Dr. Bahgat Korany, director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, describes Egyptian anger over the film as a case of "cognitive dissonance."
"What the people see, the people believe," Korany told the Post in an interview in his university office. "Egyptians believe in principle more than application. If Israelis are killing Arab soldiers, it doesn't matter where they are from. This is because there is a large amount of resentment towards Israel over the Palestinian conflict and the details of the Sadat-Begin peace accords signed at Camp David, which are seen as 'unilateral.'"
Korany says those who have lived through the wars between Egypt and Israel are more than willing to see the documentary as an Israeli massacre, and not as clashes between two armed forces.
"However, many things are said in the heat of passion. I know [Anwar Esmat] Sadat and al-Fiqi personally and have discussed [this]" Korani says. "Angry words are not rational words. I don't think they thought about what they said. No one wants to end the peace with Israel. It is not in our best interest."
That, apparently, is the view taken by the younger, more even-tempered generation of Egyptians. There are few youngsters who want the current controversy to threaten the peace that exists with Israel.
The general feeling among the more secular students and young professionals around Cairo, according to one Egyptian who did not want to be named, is one of "Our parents lived through the war so for them it is a completely different experience. Because we were born afterwards we don't see it in the same way. We care more about issues of internal politics. To be honest, the documentary doesn't concern us that much."