Israel’s Gaza departure stirs old memories

ISRAEL’S PULLOUT FROM the Gaza Strip on Monday stirred memories on both sides of the day Israel pushed into the Egyptian-administered territory 38 years ago.
Mohammad Ahmad Ashour was a 23-year-old Palestinian soldier serving in the Egyptian army in Gaza City when war broke out on June 5, 1967.

“A day before the invasion, planes dropped leaflets reading: O soldier we are more qualified and better armed than you, drop your weapons and go back to your family,” Ashour, now 61, said in the Gaza town of Khan Younis, where he makes knives.

“I was inside my position when the Israeli tanks entered Gaza from the border with Israel,” he said.

“It was the second time I saw the Israelis after [the 1956 Sinai Campaign] but this time it was different —we were tricked by the Israelis, who came on tanks flying Iraqi and Syrian flags.

“We… planted bombs. Two tanks were destroyed and two others remained. The Israelis never stopped and there was almost no resistance from our side and the side of the Egyptians,” Ashour said.

“I remember… a gunship started to shell Gaza City. We had no tanks with which to respond. We had only Kalashnikov [assault rifles], one malfunctioning RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and one heavy machinegun. But the Israelis killed the machinegunner immediately.” Retreating to Khan Younis with his brother and a cousin, Ashour could not get into his house for eight days because Israeli troops had commandeered its rooftop.

After they left, he was able to spend only three days at home before the Israeli army ordered all men between the ages of 16 and 50 to gather at the town’s main cinema.

“My father woke me up and asked me to comply because they threatened to kill whoever was found at home,” Ashour said.

“They had prepared 17 buses and they expelled us to Egypt, which first rejected to let us into its territory and threatened to shoot us dead but eventually allowed us in because the Israelis refused to let us return to Gaza.

“I stayed in Egypt away from my wife and family for three years and then I returned after my wife got approval for a family reunification through the Red Cross. I came back to Gaza and started the business I am doing.

“This is my story with the occupation,” he said.

No plan to take Gaza

Retired Major-General Yeshayahu Gavish, who headed the Israeli army’s southern command during the 1967 Middle East war, said the military was originally ordered not to enter Gaza as part of an assault on Egyptian forces in the Sinai peninsula.

“We had received a directive from [Defence] Minister [Moshe] Dayan that there was no need to go into Gaza. However, we prepared special forces to be at the ready in case they were needed,” Gavish told Reuters.

“Two hours after we began our assault on the Sinai Peninsula, we began to receive heavy tank and artillery fire all along the Gaza border from the two Egyptian divisions. At that stage, I gave the order to go in so we could secure the territory and continue our assault on Sinai.

“After very heavy clashes, our forces managed to take control. Our goal was not to conquer territory, but to secure the area to keep it quiet,” Gavish said, noting Israeli political leaders subsequently decided otherwise.

Gavish said it took 38 years, but Israelis finally realised “we have no place there” and it was pointless to devote huge numbers of soldiers to protect the 8,500 Jewish settlers living in territory home to 1.4 million Palestinians.

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