Israelis admit war crimes

Six Day War atrocities: Veteran's account of captives in Egyptian uniforms being shot in the desert adds fuel to scandal; 'A prisoner was given a shovel and started to dig. Then he was fired at'

ERIC SILVER

Jerusalem

Gabriel Brun, a Jerusalem journalist who served as a signals sergeant- major in the 1967 Six-Day War, described yesterday how he saw fellow Israeli soldiers shoot dead five prisoners of war in Egyptian uniforms.

His story added fuel to an escalating scandal sparked by a retired brigadier-general, who confessed to executing 49 Egyptian prisoners during the 1956 Suez war. Egypt, with whom Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, has demanded a full account. The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was chief of staff during the 1967 war, has ordered an investigation.

"What I saw happened on the morning of 7 June, the third day of the war," Mr Brun, who was then 24, told the Independent. "I was at El Arish airfield in the Sinai desert, attached to the headquarters of an armoured division. I saw 120 to 150 Egyptian soldiers sitting with their hands tied behind their backs in a makeshift hangar made of sandbags. About 20 yards away I saw a trestle table with two men sitting behind it, their faces masked with khaki handkerchiefs. Individual prisoners were pushed out of the group, brought before this table and apparently interrogated. Some were sent back.

"I was about 30 or 40 yards away, so I couldn't hear what was said. I saw one man questioned, then marched about 200 yards into the desert by two military policemen.

"He was given a shovel and started to dig. After about 15 minutes, I saw the shovel thrown out. Then each of the two soldiers fired a round into the hole. Another guy was brought and shot, falling into the same hole. A third prisoner was brought to cover up the grave, then was marched back.

"I saw five prisoners killed in this way. Earlier I had heard 10 similar shots. I interpreted those to mean that another five were executed."

Mr Brun said an officer explained to him afterwards that the victims were Palestinian "terrorists", who were wanted for murdering Israelis and had tried to get away by merging with the fleeing Egyptians. The interrogators were officers in army intelligence.

Arye Biro, 69, the retired brigadier who admitted killing 49 Egyptian PoWs in the 1956 war, said on Wednesday he was not proud of what he had done, but did not feel like a war criminal. "I have ached over what I did," he said, "but under the same circumstances I think I would do it again."

Mr Biro commanded a paratroop company which dropped in the Mitla Pass, one of the two main routes from central Sinai to the Suez Canal.

"We were hundreds of kilometres behind enemy lines," he said. "Egyptian planes were flying over us unhindered. Egyptian troops were pouring into the area, and the prisoners were shouting, 'Just you wait, the Egyptian army will slaughter you'."

The paratroops were ordered to head south. According to Mr Biro, they had no transport for the prisoners and feared they would reveal the Israelis' position. So he and a lieutenant ordered the prisoners to lie face down, then shot them.

"They didn't cry out," he said dispassionately. "It was all over in a couple of minutes."

The paratroops' brigade commander was General Ariel Sharon, now an opposition Likud MP. He was not in the Mitla Pass at the time of the executions. But the battalion commander, Rafael Eitan, was. Mr Eitan, who rose to chief of staff, is now a hard-right candidate for prime minister. Asked if Mr Eitan ordered the killings, Mr Biro replied: "Ask him."

According to Meir Pa'il, a military historian and retired colonel, Moshe Dayan, who was chief of staff in 1956 and defence minister in 1967, reprimanded Mr Eitan for the killings during a meeting with battalion commanders.

Michael Bar-Zohar, an author and former Labour MP who handled Dayan's public relations after the 1967 war, said: "In every one of our wars, Israeli soldiers have killed PoWs. The high command did not want it, but it was tolerated up to a point. I know of only one case - in the 1982 Lebanon War - where an officer was court-martialled for killing a prisoner."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss