NASSER’S JEWS (III)
It began before Akaba/Tiran.
It all began in May before the war, before Akaba/Tiran. At the beginning of May the Jews connected with or employed by the public institutions received a letter sending them on vacation for an unlimited period, and then a second dismissing them. Their bank accounts were blocked.
When with outstretched arms Nasser said during his press conference: "To the Jews we say 'Come'," the Jews were not even concerned that for the first time in fifteen years Nasser had not said "Zionist" or "Israeli" but "Jew." They knew. This time there would be no legal fiction. With Akaba blocked, war must break out. This time they knew they would be arrested as in 1948 and 1956, but it would no longer be imprisonment at the Hukstep or Abassieh camps. In 1948 and 1956 anti-Semitism was still courteous. This time they would not simply be given as fodder to the special services. It would not be enough to leave everything-homes, cars, carpets -to the officers of Section 94. The auction room in Nemr Street, whose owner was a member of the Jewish community and whose shadow-partner, Lieutenant-Colonel Chaaraoui, was Director of the Department for Jewish Problems, would no longer be the shortest route from prison to Paris. There would be something else, but what?
Five Minutes ...
In 1948 there were 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Now there are no more that 2,000, women and children included. Since 1948 not one had been expelled without having consented to his possessions being plundered and pillaged, a process organized by the police. And no one asked the big police chiefs who had been the prior owner of their motor car or the previous occupant of their apartment. On the morning of 5th June, swarms of secret police agents left the basements of the political police headquarters and spread out through the city. "Five minutes," they said. "It's nothing, a mere formality. You will be back in five minutes."
It sounded like a round-up and the last days of Pompeii. By sunset over 300 Jews were piled into the police stations. They had left their businesses, and their wives and children of whom they were to have no news until the end of August. Soon they were 350.
"Five minutes" for the man with one leg, for the Jewish doctor from Turah prison who was operating on a prisoner, for G. H. who was parking his car beside the pavement. Five minutes for the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria, five minutes for M. H. who was preparing an injection: his mother was dying, his wife about to give birth. He placed the syringe in boiling water and followed the policeman. It was only at Abu Zaabal that he learned that his mother had died. Five minutes, from eight in the morning till the evening for 350 Jews, not a single one more. That was the quota fixed by the special services.
At the mental asylum in Alexandria they had to find a shirt and a pair of trousers for M. S. He couldn't follow the policeman in a strait-jacket. At Abu Zaabal, M.S. in a flash of lucidity said to the doctor, a Moslem Brother: "No, doctor, you can't do anything for me. You've been here for thirteen years. You're crazier than I am.')
D. H., another lunatic who was arrested, thought he was Cod. We slept side by side at No. 17, Stalag 17. He got up in the night, gripped the bars on the door and yelled: "I am a free man!" Every day at prayer time came the crisis. "Don't pray, don't pray, I tell you. I am God."
Five minutes for the three P. brothers whom the police picked up from the examination table in the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine. Five minutes for M. the beggar, who plied his trade in front of the Police station at Bab Charki in Alexandria. All he had to do is go to the other side of the wall.
... Or Five Years?
But they were not all like M. They all left money, a car, offices, cheques to be signed, and disappeared. But they all knew quite well that five minutes (khamsa) in Arabic could mean five minutes or five years. They are still at Abu Zaabal. Nearly all of them learned in July or August that their furniture and possessions had been sold by auction. Nearly all of them shrugged their shoulders and found it all quite natural. What they didn't understand were the blows, the torture. On 5th June, in the evening, the officer on duty at the Muski police station had attached a butcher's hook to his switch. As soon as a Jew arrived, he ordered him stand with his back to the wall, place the hook between his shoulder-blades and pulled with a sharp movement. Everything came away-skin, flesh and all. A woman who had followed her husband and protested against his arrest was whipped. J.C. had "too much" money on him seventeen pounds. The officer tore up the serial numbers and gave the wad back to J.C. after he had trampled his spectacles under foot.
Mr. Z, 69 years old, was shut up from 5th to 6th June without food or water in a hole fifty centimeters square. He had the brilliant idea of asking why he had been arrested.
Also at the Muski station two agents had committed sodomy on little Y. on officers’ orders his mother was there.
Horrified, she ran to the Spanish Embassy. The ambassador dashed to the police station, flew into a rage that was far from diplomatic and snatched little Y. from the cell. At other stations there were other eighteen-year-olds. They were not Spanish. The only ones who flew into a rage were those whose "advances" they resisted.
At the Old Cairo police station a 73-year-old doctor who asked to telephone his lawyer was politely accompanied to the booth. But it was not a telephone booth: he was joined by a convict. The police blocked the door. The Jews who were in neighboring cells heard the doctor moan for a whole hour. Then he came out: he was holding his trousers in his hands. He said nothing but all night his companions heard him crying.
Leaders and Lunatics
On the evening of 8th June, Dr. Mohammed Fayek announced over the radio that the first prisoners taken by Egypt would be arriving that night at Cairo railway station and that, if Israel had taken Egyptian prisoners, Egypt had nothing to envy it for.
Dr. Mohamed Fayek's pun sent crowds rushing to Cairo station. On 8th June, at 6 o' clock in the evening, a long line of old people, children and cripples who had been arrested in Alexandria got off the train from that city. They descended in pairs, handcuffed, and crouched on platform No. 2 to be pushed round by the crowd which the police could not longer control.
First in the line were the Chief Rabbi, president, vice-president and secretary of the Alexandria Jewish community. Behind came school children, lunatics from the asylum, a man who was deaf and dumb and the certified undertaker’s assistant who himself had one foot in the grave and whom the police in accordance with the who know-what regulation, had deprived of his wooden leg.
Pushed, shoved, spat upon, the Jews of Alexandria were saved from being stoned only thanks to the presence of mind of one of the officers. They were piled into Black Marias which drove without headlights to Abu Za’abal. And that was the Night of the Long Knives.
NASSER’S JEWS (IV)
Night of the Long Knives
Mr. Z. told us about the Night o the Long Knives. The Black Marias arrived at Abu Zaabal during the night. The officers were waiting for them at the foot of the trucks whose rails were too high. The prisoners were ordered to jump. Chained, they jumped two by two, rolled on the ground, were beaten and then packed into the yard, crouching in front of the sewerage manholes. From eight in the evening till six in the morning they remained there, hunched on their heels. Every hour an officer passed and beat them with a palm branch. The Chief Rabbi was crucified on the bars of the main gate and beaten till he lost consciousness. After the thrashing another officer came. He climbed onto their shoulders and ran back and forward on top of them. If one of the crouched men leaned against his neighbor, he was thrashed. By three in the morning many of the Jews were unconscious.
Towards four in the morning the officers put up a table, and the kapos brought long kitchen knives which they laid on white sheets. "They are going to cut our throats," said the Chief Rabbi. "Pass the word: pray..."
All the Jews began to pray. They prayed till dawn. After the knives came great receptacles full of boiling water. The Jews kept on praying. The officers were dressed in pajamas. Mass hallucination? Mr. Z. stated that that night he had seen two young women shrieking with laughter when the officers said: "Would you like to slit a throat yourself?"
Dr. G. was still more certain. He had heard an officer say to one of the women: "It was a good idea of mine to invite you to see Jews like that, wasn't it?"
At dawn the telephone rang in t c commandant's office. The Jews, who all the while had not ceased to pray, were then sent to their cells. They slept till the evening without food or drink.
During that night, towards three o'clock in the morning, Officer Amr had called I. D. out and ordered him to go upstairs, following him with his switch as he went. In the darkness I. D. fell. Amr beat him. Then he ordered him to enter a dark, open cell. He closed the door and as he did so gave an order to someone who was ostensibly concealed in the shadows inside: "Rape him, Morganc."
It was dark. Morgane was a Sudanese name. All night I. D. stayed on the alert. It was to be the longest night of his life. At dawn he realized that the officer had been joking: he was alone in the cell. He lost consciousness. The officers must have had a good laugh later.
Ratshad-called-Thunder, Amr-called-Hitler, Rifaat, Abdel Latif, Essam, the strong man with the eunuch’s voice, and Abdel Aal Saluma, the commandant-they were our torturers. It was Rifaat who came up three times a day and made us jump and run and shout that we were perverts. He would lay his switch on each prisoner's Adam's apple and chuckle when we began to hiccup. Rifaat had so well accustomed us to the thrashing times that we were uneasy on the days he didn't come.
It was Amr who on the first night had hung up Nafusi, Chief Rabbi of Alexandria, with his arms outstretched like a cross, and had given him a hundred strokes with his stick, saying: "Jew, you are crucified..."
It was Essam who ordered the prisoners to stand opposite one another and slap each other's faces. We all slapped old men. We all took a few 4 1 walks" with our noses stuck into the behind of an old president of the Barristers Association or a doctor who was a grandfather three times over. That was called "making a chain." It was Amr who had packed us in groups of seventy into cells made for thirty. It was Amr who made Mr. Z. sing a children's song, "Kotati Saghira" with actions and smirks. It was Amr who made Dr. G., who suffered from coxalgia, jump up and down on the spot and sing "Do, re, mi. .
It was Rashad who made us run, shouting "I am a pervert ... My name is Zanuba!" But it was at the eunuch Essam, who called the sick Jews "Sodomites," that a Palestinian Moslem yelled one night: "Sodomites, son of Pharaoh! But it was the Jews who brought you to your knees! What would you have called them if you had won the war?!"
I didn't see Cell 22 whipped until three prisoners were brought in to the infirmary. But I was there when a policeman gave a hundred strokes of the belt to J.B. on officer's orders. The officer ordered the policeman to beat until young J. B. asked for mercy. He fainted, his teeth clenched. "I have a son your age. I pray to God that he is like you," said the policeman to J. B., who was lying on the flagstones.
Isolated from the World
Every morning before the dish of runner beans which the Moslem Brothers prepared and which was always very good, one of our Jews would climb onto the toilets and try to catch a few wisps of news from the officers' radio. We got no news. It was as though we were lost on the high seas. When we heard the cells near the staircase shout "Entebah" ("Present arms!") we knew it was nearly ten o'clock. Until midday it was the incessant "Long live Nasser!", "Long live the Revolution!", "Down with America, long live France!"
The cells danced about, sang Arab nursery rhymes in chorus, friends slapped each other in the face. Prisoners in their underpants came out by turn s in groups of five or six and galloped in the passageways until they were out of breath. When our turn arrived we were grateful to be given a thrashing and get it over. B., son of a gunsmith had a weak bladder. He ran two or three times to the toilet and was always getting caught by the officer. Each time he got a thrashing. It was tedious.
It was Amr who thrashed to death little I., who thought the cell was a swimming pool and would climb onto an upturned bucket and dive into us. We protested; his father, who was in the same cell, was indignant, then he collapsed into tears. Little I. had come out of a mental home. He had dared to show Amr-called-Hitler a glass in which a runner bean, a flower and a midge were floating. "Last night I put the bean and the flower in water and look what they made together." And he showed him the midge. Little 1. spent two days in the infirmary because of a midge.
'He's My Brother!'
It was Rashad-called-Thunder who came into our cell one morning and ordered two boys whom he picked out at random to undress. Then he told one of them to bend down with his face to the wall and after he had given a few blows of the switch to the other, ordered him to commit sodomy on his companion. We watched. One of the young boys suddenly broke into sobs: "I can't. He's my brother!" They were the B. brothers. Their father was there too. Rashad aimed at him between the eyes: "You haven't seen a thing, have you?" The father, with the palm branch between his eyes, said he had seen nothing.
The thrashing had the great advantage of keeping the cells quiet for an hour. Three times a day it was held like a ritual, a kind of low mass. Afterwards the quarrel and pettiness began again. They were no less tedious.
Amr-called-Hitler, Rifaat, Rashad entered, whipped. The Jews moaned. With one stroke of the wand, the Arab superman changed these yelling confederates into the Israel Army begging for mercy ...
I was released from Abu Zaabal on 4th September. The cells gave me the traditional farewell party. From one cell to another, through the bars, I heard: "Brothers, do you know who is leaving us today?" And from the other cell the reply: "It is our brother from cell 24. Happy release, maa el salama, brother." Moslem Brothers and Christian kapos came to embrace me. From the top of the passage Ch. winked at me and waved his cap. I gave him a military salute.
I spent another few days in the Barrages prison and a few hours at the Citadelle. At the passport office Lieutenant-Colonel Minchaoui, a little embarrassed, had one morning made me sign the relinquishment: I was no longer Egyptian. I left ...