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How I was rescued from the Egyptian captivity – 40 years to the Yom-Kipur War

    How I was rescued from captivity: The diary of an Israeli officer captured by Egyptian forces and then released by an Israeli patrol while being taken to Cairo: 40 years to the Yom-Kipur War.

      Alon Kaplan, 2013

        For the Hebrew version

          For an introduction in Hebrew by Oren Kaplan

            For a review article in Hebrew published by Mako – Israel channel 2 TV
             

              Monday, October 22, 1973: On patrol before being taken prisoner

                                                        Early in the morning, I set out with three other soldiers in a civilian Peugeot 403 pickup truck that had been recruited for reserve service, along with its driver.

                                                          I was sitting in front with Uri, like me, a reserve officer, with the rank of lieutenant, and Moshe, the driver, a reserve corporal, who had been called up with the vehicle. Izhar, a reserve sergeant, was in the back. We were on our way to carry out a mission on the west bank of the Suez Canal. It was about three or four days after our forces had crossed the Canal and entrenched themselves in Egyptian territory. It was also the day when a cease-fire was due to come into effect. The journey to the Canal was uneventful. A few kilometers before we reached the bridges, the traffic along the road became heavier. We were approaching an embankment which obscured the view of the Canal. Suddenly, as we were driving through a break in the embankment onto the bridge, there was the Canal. Uri and I looked at it with great interest. The view was very different from the empty expanses of the Sinai desert, as there were thousands of palm trees, green fields and water canals. We drove over the bridge and turned left. Then we were on the west bank heading south east. Uri was a practical guy and he stopped the car to break for breakfast. It turned out later to have been a very smart decision, as it was the only meal we would eat for the next sixteen hours. We breakfasted on canned goulash, bread and canned corn. When we had eaten, we got back in the car and resumed our journey.

                                                            Our patrol of the west bank of the Canal took about four hours. For some of the time, we were travelling in a slow convoy and were able to see how ordinary citizens were displaying their solidarity. A pickup truck was driving along the road throwing newspapers to the soldiers, who picked them up as if they were hot rolls! Several civilians were standing along the roadside “bombarding” the military vehicles with useful gifts. We were thrown a packet of underwear, and later someone else threw us a huge parcel of sweets, containing an enormous bag of sunflower seeds and peanuts. But the best surprise was yet to come, when a civilian thrust his hand straight into the driver’s cabin and handed us some round cartons of cold ice cream. We looked at each other and said, “This is a ‘deluxe war’!”

                                                              Continuing on our mission, we drove away from the bridges until we reached a military base. We could see abandoned military equipment and recalled the results of the shelling we had seen on the east bank of the Canal. We got out of the car and, after a brief look round, Uri and I found two steel helmets. I found a simple steel helmet with Arabic writing on the strap. Uri didn’t fancy that one, though, and, after another quick search, he found a steel helmet with rank on it – it must have belonged to an officer.

                                                                When our mission was over, we decided to head back. It was about one o’clock when we set off at a good speed. There were hundreds of cars and thousands of soldiers who seemed to have been there for a long time and were organizing themselves in a field. We saw some of them preparing kitchens, ready to cook. But for the sounds of intermittent distant explosions, we could have imagined that we were taking part in a huge military drill where everyone was waiting for the moment it was over so they could eat. It really looked as if a giant picnic was happening by the roadside.

                                                                  When we reached the bridge, we saw that the place had been put in order during the morning. Military police were directing the traffic and soldiers were joking that the police weren’t stamping the soldiers’ passports as they crossed over into Africa. We drove slowly over the bridge, but Uri and I got out of the car and walked across. Rubber boats were going backwards and forwards across the water as if the soldiers were on a pleasure cruise. It felt strange to be crossing the Suez Canal on foot on a stable bridge. On the eastern side, there were high embankments where soldiers were sitting watching us, while on the west bank the ground was covered in vegetation, bushes and trees, in a scene reminiscent of movies about African jungles. The only thing missing were the zebras and monkeys – add them and the picture would have been perfect.

                                                                    We chatted with the soldiers sitting on the embankments, then got into the car and began driving back to the east bank, to the base, which was about a hundred kilometers from the bridges.

                                                                      It was a smooth journey, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. The road was tarmac, and we constantly overtook military vehicles driving slowly in front of us. Every so often we found ourselves in a cloud of dust when we overtook tanks driving alongside the road. It was on one of those occasions that we must have missed a junction where we should have turned left to go to our destination.

           

            The encounter

                                                                                                Suddenly we found ourselves on a completely deserted road. We drove in silence for a few minutes and then Uri said, “Strange, we’re not seeing any more of our forces’ vehicles”. I pointed out a cloud of smoke from a shell that had exploded very close to the road, just a few hundred meters away from us. Moshe, the driver, instinctively slowed down and at that moment we heard bursts of machine gun fire and several bullets tore through the cabin. For a moment we hesitated. We had to decide what to do. We could try to speed ahead and break out of the fire zone, but we were afraid the gunfire was coming from the same direction in which we were traveling. We weren’t sure where the shots were coming from and we thought that if we carried on ahead it would lead us right into the source of the gunfire. Uri told the driver to stop and we got out of the car to try and gauge the situation. We weren’t sure where we were. The driver did what would normally have been the right thing to do, but in the circumstances it sealed our fate. First, he drove off the tarmac onto the soft shoulder of the road and then switched off the engine. We jumped out of the car down into a ditch. We turned out to be in front of a large, fortified military camp, one of a chain of forts along the Canal. At that moment, we realized we were in trouble. The machine gun fire was getting heavier and it would have been impossible to drive away, as the tires had sunk into the sand. We couldn’t get out of the sand under heavy machine gun fire, especially as the car was facing right in the direction of the camp, which had fallen into enemy hands. Even if we had been able to get the car out of the sand, we would still have had to maneuver it in the opposite direction. Uri suggested that we move away from the car and try to get away from the enemy fire on foot. I stopped him briefly while I went to the trunk and took out the two steel helmets that we had found earlier, along with a gun for the driver.

                                                                                                  The four of us lay down in the ditch. Uri, wearing an Egyptian officer’s steel helmet, was armed with a pistol; I had on an Egyptian soldier’s steel helmet and was armed with an Uzi submachine gun. Izhar and Moshe were wearing Israeli steel helmets and Izhar had a rifle.

                                                                                                    We took a look around. Behind us was a completely flat area of hard, sandy ground, and the only ridge was some 200 meters away. About 100 meters away there was a single sand dune that we decided to use as a first stop when we fell back. We got out of the ditch and ran. When we reached the dune, we saw that Izhar had stayed in the ditch next to the car. Uri told me that Izhar had once complained to him that he found it difficult to run. He had apparently decided that staying in the ditch by the road would be his best bet. We knew that the car would be a target for enemy fire and we were afraid that if it took a direct hit it would explode and Izhar would be injured. Izhar signaled that he was ok and took cover in the ditch.

                                                                                                      By now we were under heavy machine gun fire. Thousands of bullets were spraying the area and we huddled behind the sand dune. After a few minutes, we decided to make a dash for better cover. Moshe ran first. He tore away and we watched in astonishment as machine gun fire literally chased after him, landing right at his feet. As well as machine gun fire, a shower of mortar fire fell close to him. Moshe must have felt that the bullets were landing too close, and he found a very small ridge, dived behind it and took cover there. The Egyptians seemed to sense that we were planning to retreat and aimed all their firepower at the ground on either side of the dune behind which Uri and I were lying. Then they started firing artillery shells, dozens of them landing all around us. Uri said I should start digging in because this was going to last a long time, and we should prepare some sort of shelter to protect ourselves from the shrapnel. As it was, we couldn’t move anyway. So we began digging in the hard, stony ground. First we used our fingers, then the heels of our shoes, and finally the steel helmets. Suddenly I saw several bursts of gunfire hit the front of the car, twisting it out of shape. Then a shell fell about a meter away from Izhar and I was afraid he had been hit. But he waved to me to signal everything was all right. I signaled with an arm movement to try and persuade him to leave his position and join us, but he wouldn’t move. I wondered where the safest place would be amid all that shelling. The fact that we were in different places meant that they couldn’t concentrate their fire on one spot.

                                                                                                        We dug frantically. Suddenly I remembered my pocket knife. I pulled it out and used it to break up a hard block of ground that was holding up my digging. It was a good idea, and I thought to myself that I would never have imagined that a pocket knife could be so useful!

                                                                                                          The shelling continued at full force, but we suddenly saw counter-fire hitting the camp. On the horizon we could see tanks moving and guessed that they were probably Israelis. As the tanks moved toward the camp, Uri said to me: “If they move this way they should spot us, but I hope we don’t get hit by friendly fire”. Then he added that we would probably have to hunker down until nightfall and we could escape in the dark. “But if the Egyptians have any sense,” he added, “they’ll send troops to get us.”

                                                                                                            It was a hot afternoon and we had already spent an hour in the sun after an exhausting run. I was thirsty and suddenly realized that we didn’t have any canteens. There was lots of water in the car, but we hadn’t taken canteens with us. I felt this was punishment for my negligence. I didn’t have a canteen, I was thirsty and I was facing hours, perhaps days, out there among the dunes. I wondered how I was going to walk long distances in the desert without water.

                                                                                                              Uri asked me what I was thinking about, so I told him I was angry because, like a fool, I had got myself into this situation. Uri laughed and said: “Don’t worry, Alon, God helps fools.” I laughed and carried on digging. God help us.

                                                                                                                It was then that I recalled a famous photo taken in the Suez Campaign, a picture of paratroopers sitting in a circle of fox holes and cleaning their guns. I thought our situation in our fox holes was similar, but we didn’t have the same forces behind us that the soldiers in the picture had.

                                                                                                                  I began to worry about being taken prisoner and remembered that when I headed off to the Sinai I left my reserve duty card at home. My wife asked why and I told her the open secret: these were the army’s instructions. The day before we left for the Sinai, a friend suggested that I take a look at a document containing the rules of behavior for prisoners of war. I rejected the idea with contempt. “Don’t bring down my morale”, I said to him. “It’s one in a million chances that I could be captured. My friend retorted, “You never know”. For courtesy’s sake, I glanced through the document.

                                                                                                                    Excerpts came back to me now. My recollections were a bit hazy, but important nevertheless. I checked my shirt pockets to see if I had any documents I shouldn’t be carrying and I advised Uri to do the same. We didn’t find anything – except our prisoner-of-war cards.

                                                                                                                      Uri had a map of the area which we decided to hang on to. Studying the map now, we located our position; we were opposite the point where the Great and Small Bitter Lakes conjoin, opposite Kibrit.

                                                                                                                        The type of fire began to change. Uri, an officer with a lot more combat experience than I had, gave me a lesson in identifying different types of weapons. “That was an artillery shell”… “That was a medium-caliber machine gun”… “That was a Bazooka”… then another Bazooka, and then: “Look, those are anti-tank missiles.” Two missiles cruised slowly past us, leaving a trail of smoke in their wake. Each one was about a meter long. One of the missiles hit the ground just meters away from us without exploding. The second missile continued on its flight for quite a distance. I followed its path closely until it disappeared out of sight. In the distance we heard the missile explode as it hit one of our armored vehicles on a ridge some two kilometers away. An enormous number of shells was being fired, and I couldn't understand how so many could be coming from the position near us. Later, when I returned to my unit, I was told that they came from an Egyptian rampart on the west side of the Canal.

                                                                                                                          There was a sudden silence. Uri and I raised ourselves up to see what was going on, hoping to take advantage of the lull to get to the ridge behind us. I saw five Egyptian soldiers standing by the car, having seized Izhar. I jumped back behind the dune, cocked my Uzi and shouted to Uri, “They're coming this way!” Uri cocked his pistol. We were ready to shoot the Egyptians once they were nearing the dune. After a few tense seconds, Uri stopped me and said, “No point in shooting, we’re surrounded – we don’t have a chance.” I could see he was right. We were surrounded. The first thought that crossed my mind was that we should immediately get rid of anything that could help the Egyptians figure out what we were doing in the area. I shouted to Uri, “The map!” Uri understood. He folded the map, took a step back and buried it in the sand. I decided to get rid of the Egyptian helmet I was wearing, thinking they would try to find out where the helmet had come from. They mustn’t find out that we had been on the west bank of the Suez. We took our helmets off, left our weapons in the fox holes and walked out from behind the dune towards the Egyptian soldiers. That way we could keep them away from where we had buried the map and our weapons. It helped Moshe, the driver, who was lying a short distance away from us, watching the scene unfold. The Egyptians thought there were only three of us so they didn’t carry on searching. If they had come over to where we had taken cover, they would certainly have spotted Moshe.

     

      Captivity – Part one

                                            What happened over the next few moments was a bit like a scene from a Spaghetti Western. A group of Egyptians armed with Kalashnikovs were standing opposite me, shouting in Arabic. One of them was holding a pistol. They signaled to us to put up our hands, which we did. Suddenly they opened fire on me from several weapons. For a moment I thought they were going to execute me. But, in fact, it was just an “Oriental fantasy”. The Egyptians shot dozens of bullets around my feet, under my armpits, past my head. We were frozen to the spot, immobilized until the shooting stopped. I knew that one careless move would seal my fate.

                                              The same thing happened to Uri, but with an unpleasant extra. A number of soldiers jumped on him and tried to remove his wedding ring, which he hadn’t taken off since his wedding. The ring had sunk into his flesh and the soldiers were getting impatient. Uri was afraid they would cut off his finger to get the ring, so he tried to get it off with his teeth. This worked and the soldiers grabbed it out of his hand. They took all Uri’s and Izhar’s personal belongings from their pockets, including their watches. Uri saw two soldiers arguing over the metal chain holding his dog tag. Eventually they compromised and split the chain in two. Apparently they weren't too happy with the loot they had taken from Uri. They jumped on him and stripped his clothes off. One of them threw a commando shirt at him and then shoved him onto a barbed wire fence. Uri lay down on the fence thinking they were going to execute him. A few minutes later they picked him up. It turned out that all they had wanted was a chance to go through his clothes and they had taken his shirt away so they could strip the ranks off. In the end they gave the shirt back with one of the ranks ripped away. The ranks on my shirt were field uniform ranks so they managed to rip them off easily without my even feeling it.

                                                One soldier, apparently cheated of loot, had to make do with my shirt buttons, which he ripped off. When it was all over – the whole thing lasted a few minutes – the soldiers led us away at a trot. This was the start of our sufferings. We ran along a narrow sand path that wove its way through the camp trenches, from which emerged dozens of Egyptian soldiers who assailed us as we ran past them. Some of them just punched us, but others hit us really hard with their rifle butts. Some of them threatened to stab us with daggers. The soldiers who were leading us stepped up their pace and tried to make a way through the mass. They also seemed to take a blow or two from the punches aimed at us. This mad run lasted a few minutes. All along the route, the Egyptians would leap out of their trenches and dash towards us to land a personal blow. We seemed to have been the first Israelis they had ever encountered up close, and they all wanted to lay into us. The leaders suddenly stopped and took us into a bunker. Perhaps they were afraid to run directly into the camp with us, but, on the other hand, perhaps they had been ordered to take us to the bunker. We went down through a sheltered post and into a dark, very dusty tunnel. We could hardly make out the soldiers sitting at the sides. Lying on mattresses were wounded soldiers hooked up to intravenous drips. Someone who looked like a doctor was treating them. They put us down on the floor at the end of the tunnel and tied our hands behind our backs with telephone wire.

 

    Captivity – Part two – Initial interrogation

                              We were sitting in a very awkward, uncomfortable position. Uri was at the side of the tunnel, either on a bench or on one of the mattresses to the side of the passage. Izhar and I were on the passage floor. The Egyptians had apparently separated Izhar and I from Uri thinking we were just soldiers and Uri was an officer. My field uniform ranks had been stripped off by one of their soldiers, but Uri still had brass ranks on one shoulder.

                                We were in virtually complete darkness in a cloud of dust and smoke, so we couldn’t make out the faces of the Egyptians sitting around us. I heard the Egyptians say something in Arabic, but I didn’t reply because I don’t understand Arabic. Even if I did I would not have responded. The language barrier can be the best weapon of defense in interrogation. Someone came up to us, speaking in Hebrew. He asked us for our personal details: first names, surnames, rank, place of birth, and the unit we belonged to. The questions seemed to come from a distance. I was still dazed from a rifle butt blow I had received on the way and it was difficult to work out what he was saying. He turned away and started speaking to Izhar and Uri. After they had answered him, he came back to me. In the meantime I had made my own assessment of the situation. I understood that I had suffered a blow to the head and I was not sure how bad the damage was. I decided I would answer questions very slowly so I could be in control of what I was saying. Today, it is difficult for me to reconstruct whether my slow response was deliberate or whether I really did find it hard to speak fluently. In any event, I was in control of my thoughts and I told myself that at this stage I should say as little as possible and just give them my personal details.

                                  I gave my first name, surname, rank and service number. When asked which unit and corps I belonged to, I answered according to the “general” category. The Egyptian interrogating me asked again which unit I belonged to. The questions were in Hebrew and were probably taken from an instruction manual. The interrogation stopped, probably because they couldn't take it any further.

                                    When I returned home, friends showed me a “captured” document, an all-inclusive instruction manual for Egyptian soldiers that included short explanations of combat doctrine, and, among other things, how to behave in the territory where captured. There were also a few basic words in Hebrew, one column in Hebrew and a parallel column in Arabic so that a soldier could say the words and understand them.

                                      In answer to repeated questions, I replied with the same personal details I had given earlier. When the Egyptian tried to take the interrogation further and ask more questions (Where had we come from? How many of us were there?) I repeated my personal details as if I hadn’t understood the question. When I did this for the third time and gave my name, someone interrupted and asked whether I was a relative of Yigal Allon. I said no and explained that Alon was my given name; Yigal Allon had changed his surname a few years ago and we were not related in any way. They seemed disappointed with this, and kept on asking about my relationship to Yigal Allon.

                                        Finally, someone asked where I had been born, and when I said I had been born in Jerusalem, I heard someone say in Arabic, “Palestinian”. For a few moments my senses were blurred and I couldn't hear a thing. When I could hear again, one of the Egyptians asked me what was wrong. I told him I had been hit on the head. The Egyptians spoke among themselves and then someone leant over and gave me a pill, which I refused to take. He told me it was an aspirin tablet and tried to persuade me to take it, saying it would help my headache. I firmly refused to take the pill, as I was afraid it wasn’t an aspirin tablet, and might contain something else that would blur my senses or knock me out and make me talk under sedation. I remembered that, according to the Geneva Convention, a prisoner was entitled to ask for a doctor. I decided to do this rather than taking the pill. A few moments later, a young man, who had been standing with the wounded Egyptians at the entrance to the tunnel, came up to me. He examined my head and repeated that I should take the pill, assuring me it was an aspirin. As I had seen him treating the wounded and he seemed to be a doctor, I decided to take it. I thought I needed to think clearly and perhaps it might help me after all. I could hear the faint sound of intermittent explosions, and people were coming in and out of the tunnel.

                                          About forty minutes later, they took Uri and led him out of the tunnel. Now I was worried. I knew that if they were separating us it meant that we were about to undergo a thorough interrogation. The fact that the three of us were together encouraged me. I told myself to hang onto my senses, and remain cool-headed. But my concerns were groundless. About ten minutes later, four soldiers came and told us to stand up. With great difficulty, Izhar and I managed to get on our feet. We moved forward, with the Egyptian soldiers pushing us unceremoniously. Suddenly we were outside in the daylight again. There were trenches and a few coils of barbed wire around the spot where we were standing. After a few moments my eyes adjusted to the light. An Egyptian soldier grabbed me by the shirt and started roughly dragging me along. I began to run, pulling Izhar, who was tied to me. I realized that we had better run fast, because this was a repetition of the earlier scene; Egyptian soldiers were once more leaving their positions to lay into us.

                                            Then suddenly we heard the familiar thunder of jet aircraft. I couldn’t see them, but I presumed they were descending on the camp. “Phantoms”, I thought – and then there was an enormous crash and everything went dark. When I regained consciousness, I was lying on a barbed wire fence. My clothes were entangled in the fence and I couldn’t move. Black smoke penetrated my nostrils and everything was pitching black. For a split second it went through my mind that this was what death would be like. Then I thought, when someone is dead, they don’t think about whether they are indeed dead. I had the impression that the attack had lasted for just a few seconds and that I had seen four jets swooping on the camp. Later, Moshe the driver, who was lying outside the camp, said it had come under attack from several quartets of jets. He reckoned six to eight quartets had bombed the camp for about ten minutes. A few minutes later, the smoke began to clear and two Egyptian soldiers released me and Izhar from where we were entangled in the barbed wire. They were in a state of shock themselves. They pulled us up onto our feet and pushed us forward. At that stage I didn't realize the implications of the fact that only two soldiers were leading us, not four. Only afterwards did Izhar tell me that he had seen two of our escorts killed during the bombing raid. We came to a deep trench leading into the bunker. To help us get down into the trench, one of the soldiers untied the knot in the rope holding Izhar and me together. Izhar hesitated for a moment. One of the soldiers kicked him and he fell into the trench, got up on his knees and stumbled into the camp. I jumped in after him.

 

    Captivity – Part three: Meeting with Egyptian officers

                                                        we went into a room with a domed ceiling. I had seen pictures of similar rooms in aerial shots of the forts. Metal wires were strung along the walls and ceilings. In the center of the room, there was a table with six stools. Uri was already there, sitting on the floor at the entrance to the room with his back to the wall. When I saw him smiling, I was relieved. My fears had been unfounded. Apparently, when the Egyptians reported that two of us were officers, they decided to bring us over to their commander. An Egyptian officer was sitting on the table. Somebody said something to him in Arabic, whereupon he lunged at me and struck me in the face. Later, Uri told me that this was because two of the Egyptian soldiers who were with us during the attack had been killed. The officer ordered the soldiers to put me on the floor at the entrance to the room with my back to the wall opposite Uri. They made Izhar sit at the other end of the room. There were several soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs sitting in a corner of the room. On a chair at the table sat another Egyptian officer, who looked European. They were both majors.

                                                          The officer sitting on the table had Arab features, a bit reminiscent of Nasser in photos taken when he was a young officer. By now he had calmed down after his initial agitation. He offered us a cigarette and gave us some water, which we accepted gratefully, as we were thirsty. Our hands were tied behind our backs so he walked around the room with a can of water and gave each of us a drink. The officer addressed Uri in quite good Hebrew. I was really surprised, as I hadn’t expected to come across an Egyptian officer who could speak Hebrew. Uri answered a few routine questions asking for information and then, with typical Sabra chutzpah, asked the officer his name. The officer was taken by surprise at this and hesitated for a moment. He looked at me and asked Uri why he wanted to know his name. Uri replied that we were officers and that when talking to Egyptian officers we would like to know their names. The answer seemed to satisfy him and he said his name was Suleiman. He told us he spoke good English and that he even spoke Russian quite well. Suleiman continued to engage with Uri for a few minutes and then he turned to me and asked for my personal details. Once again, I gave the routine answers and then he asked me where I had come from and what I was doing in the area. I responded that I had come from Tel Aviv that morning in a civilian vehicle, and that I had lost my way, which was how I had been captured. When asked about my profession, I replied that I was an education officer and had come to give a lecture to some soldiers. Suleiman laughed. I decided that I ought to try and improve relations with the Egyptian officers by changing the topic of conversation.

                                                            So I turned to Suleiman, using his name and rank: “Major Suleiman, you know, life can be very strange. Right now I am your prisoner, but the tide could turn and our soldiers could take you captive.” Suleiman burst out laughing, and said: “You never know, but that isn’t going to happen. We are in control of the situation and your army has been defeated. We’ve taken a lot of Israeli prisoners.”

                                                              But, all the same, it seemed to me that he had taken the hint and I was convinced that it helped improve the way we were being treated. When Uri asked Suleiman what had happened to the Israeli soldiers who had been in the fort, he said he had found a Torah scroll but had been unable to read it because he was not familiar with the way it was written. Then, apparently very pleased with himself, he started talking about the timing of the war. He was full of admiration for Sadat for tricking the Israelis when they attacked us on Yom Kippur. I was afraid he was about to ask us for more military information, so I preempted this by asking him a few personal questions about himself. He was twenty eight, and had attended a military college, where he learnt English and Hebrew. He had been overseas and had spent brief periods in Paris and Rome. He repeated proudly that he knew Russian and praised the Russians for supplying weapons to Egypt. When I asked him about his family status, he said, “I am married to the army”, and laughed at his own joke. I asked him about his family and was told that they lived in Cairo. Suleiman asked me what I thought Cairo was like. Did I think it was a backward Arab city? I said I had seen films on television in which Cairo looked like a large, modern city, and added that I knew there was a Jewish community in Cairo and a very ancient synagogue. Suleiman said that was true and even seemed proud of the synagogue. He promised to take us on a tour of Cairo to show us the pyramids and the sphinx. When he said that, two contradictory thoughts crossed my mind. One was my memory of Israeli prisoners from the War of Attrition who had spent years in Egypt and had their photos taken next to the pyramids, which sent me a bit downhill. The other was recalling what I had heard our soldiers saying when they were crossing the bridge: “We’re on our way to see the pyramids at long last! It’s our right. After all, they were built by our ancestors” – which cheered me up.

                                                                Suleiman asked Uri where he lived. Uri told him he lived in Haifa and added, “When the war is over, I’ll invite you to visit and we’ll have dinner with my family.” Suleiman smiled and said, “I accept the invitation, but first you have to visit me in Cairo.” Uri told Suleiman to take down his address in Haifa. Suleiman took out a piece of paper, sat down next to Uri and wrote down the details in Hebrew, with Uri correcting his spelling mistakes. Suleiman promised Uri that as soon as the war was over he would make sure that his wife would be informed what had happened to him.

                                                                  All the time they were talking, we could hear the thunder of shells exploding around the fort. Suddenly, the bombing became more intense and several shells fell nearby. Suleiman jumped up and ordered the soldiers to move us away from the entrance to the bunker. Apparently he was worried we would be injured. The noise increased and I thought I could hear the sound of jets again. We heard several loud explosions nearby. But the room seemed solid and impregnable. Suleiman smiled and praised the IDF’s fortifications. He told us that he had heard that the IDF had spent $45,000 on each of the forts. He obviously enjoyed the idea that the investment was paying off now, but for the Egyptian army.

                                                                    The conversation stopped when a few soldiers walked into the room and reported something that seemed to annoy him. Suleiman got up, shouted at them, hit one of them and threw them out of the room, then immediately sat down again as if nothing had happened. I asked him why he and his soldiers were interested in knowing where we had been born. His answer surprised me. “We are looking for volunteers from overseas – mercenaries. According to reports we have received, there are some American soldiers fighting with you, especially pilots. We have already caught one volunteer, an American pilot who abandoned his Phantom.” I told him I didn’t believe it and asked if he had met any of these volunteers. Suleiman admitted truthfully that he hadn’t met any of them personally but had heard stories from other people.

                                                                      I was fidgeting from side to side in great discomfort, because the telephone cable round my hands was far too tight. Suleiman asked what was wrong. When I explained, he ordered one of the soldiers to remove the cable. It was a difficult job that took about a quarter of an hour. The cables were indeed tied very tightly, and they had to use a dagger to get the knot undone. Suleiman himself tied my hands again, but this time not as tightly. That might have helped save our lives later on. I thanked him and asked him the time because I was expecting the cease-fire that was scheduled to come into effect at 6:52 that evening. Suleiman dismissed the possibility of a cease-fire. In his opinion Sadat would not agree to a cease-fire when the Egyptian army was winning and breaking into the Sinai.

                                                                        Suleiman asked me: “Do you know what Moshe Dayan’s number is?” I was taken aback by the question and said I didn’t. Suleiman laughed and said: “In 1967, you said that Nasser’s number was 48-56-67; now Dayan’s telephone number is 6-10-1973.” I asked Suleiman if he was willing to dial the number on his field telephone. When he asked me why, I said jokingly that that I wanted to complain to Dayan that when they built the fort they didn’t pad the walls. Suleiman didn’t understand and asked me to explain. I told him that the piping was too uncomfortable for us to lean on. Suleiman ordered the soldiers to help us up so we could sit at the table, which was a lot better.

                                                                          Uri told Suleiman that there had been a fourth soldier with us. Suleiman was surprised and asked why we hadn’t said so earlier. He didn’t know about the fourth soldier because we hadn’t admitted that Moshe was there, hoping he would be able to get away under cover of darkness. We calculated that if he hadn’t done so by now then it would be better if the Egyptians captured him and took care of him. Suleiman left the room and we saw flares going off outside. Suleiman came back shortly, wearing a sad expression and told us that his men had found Moshe, but he had died from injuries. We sympathized over his death, but Uri didn’t believe it.

                                                                            All this time, we had been hearing explosions, one after the other, and the pace of fire suddenly increased. We could hear the sounds of battle, shells and machine-gun fire. Flares were falling on the fort and the light outside was getting stronger. The sounds of shooting went on for about half an hour, and then everything fell silent. I waited a few minutes and then asked Suleiman if we could listen to a radio broadcast, as I wanted to know whether there was a cease-fire. Suleiman left the room and came back with a transistor radio. He switched on the receiver and listened to a broadcast in Arabic. Two other officers joined him and several soldiers also huddled around the radio. I saw they were listening intently and realized that something had happened. After they had heard the news broadcast, Suleiman turned to us and, in a voice expressing a mixture of joy and bewilderment, informed us that a cease-fire had indeed been announced. Suleiman patted me on the back and said, “The war is over.” He seemed amazed at the cease-fire, unsure what to make of it, although he was happy that the fighting was over.

                                                                              Suddenly the phone rang. Suleiman listened intently and when the call was finished he told us that he had been ordered to cease fire. The direct command over the phone seemed to calm him down.

                                                                                After a while Suleiman went back to the phone, and spoke to someone in Arabic. Replacing the receiver, he smiled and told us that we were to be taken “to Cairo, of course. But before that you will be taken to intelligence headquarters and then to a prisoner of war camp where you will wait until the war is over and prisoners are exchanged.” Suleiman tried to encourage us. “Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you. You will be with a lot of other Israeli prisoners.”

                                                                                  I told him I would use the time in captivity to learn Arabic and to play backgammon. Suleiman smiled, suggested that we begin Arabic studies immediately and started teaching me a few useful words. I repeated them out loud, thinking: “Better to pass the time like this than be interrogated for military information.”

 

    The road to Cairo

                                                                                                    The conversation came to an end when several soldiers walked into the bunker. Suleiman exchanged a few words with them and then turned to us, saying: “Now you are going to Cairo, so please stand up.” A soldier approached each one of us and grabbed hold of the telephone cables that tied our hands behind our backs. These soldiers looked different from the others in the fort, who were tall and strong. I hadn’t seen one soldier who was shorter than me. They wore camouflage uniforms and were shaved and polished. The uniforms worn by the soldiers who came to fetch us were bright khaki. These soldiers were a lot shorter and their facial features were more European. They helped us climb out of the trenches leading to the fort. Because our hands were tied behind our back, it needed great physical effort. One of them stood above me and pulled me up by my shirt, while another pushed my foot from below so that I could throw my body over the side of the trench and roll out. They helped us get up and clean the dust off our clothes. We were enveloped in darkness. A fire was burning about 50 meters away and from time to time we heard an explosion. One of the Egyptian soldiers said to me in Hebrew: “We must run.” He grabbed me by the hands and started running, bending down. I did the same and we ran past the flames; we could hear weapons exploding all the time. Along the way, we ran into a group of Egyptian soldiers walking in pairs, dragging blankets wrapped round dead bodies. We ran past them away from the ammunition that was on fire, and then stopped for a moment. Opposite us was a large lake – the Bitter Lake. We continued, walking slowly. Not for an instant did the Egyptian soldier let go of the cables round my wrists.

                                                                                                      We reached the lake shore where there was a long, black rubber motorized dinghy. The soldiers sat us down along the sides of the dinghy with an Egyptian soldier on either side of each of us. Suleiman joined us and sat down at the bow. The air was cold and I was shivering. I checked the knots of my telephone cables. Earlier on, I had felt that one of my hands was almost free of its cable. Now I checked again and felt that the ring around my left hand had widened and I would be able pull it free in one go.

                                                                                                        Several soldiers pushed the boat into the water. The motor was switched on and we started moving over the lake. Looking from side to side, I tried to work out where we were. I turned and in English asked the soldier opposite me where we were going. He replied in Hebrew: “We are going to Kibrit and from there to Cairo.” I was astonished to hear him speaking such good Hebrew without any trace of a foreign accent. Izhar was opposite me next to a soldier who asked me my name. When I replied, he asked me the same question that had been put to me so often – was I a relative of Yigal Allon? When I said I wasn’t, he turned to Izhar and asked him a few questions. Izhar gave him his name and surname and told him he lived in Tel Aviv. When the soldier asked Izhar if he could speak Arabic, Izhar said he couldn’t. The soldier suddenly changed his soft tone, raised his voice a little and said to Izhar: “You’re a liar! You know Arabic and you won’t admit it.” Izhar denied knowing Arabic. I felt uncomfortable, as I realized that we were entering a new phase of the interrogation, one that would be a lot tougher. The conversation came to an end when we heard Suleiman talking to Uri at the bow of the boat. I heard them laughing. Suleiman was joking about water-skiing in the lake and said that because there were a lot of food remains in the water and no movement in the Canal, both of them were full of large fish.

                                                                                                          Interrupting the conversation, I stopped Suleiman and said I wanted to make an announcement, which was: “We are the first Israeli soldiers to sail across the Suez Canal after the cease fire. I hereby declare the inauguration of sailing on the Suez Canal!” Everyone burst out laughing. It was a very strange situation. Three captive Israeli soldiers were sailing in a boat with their captors, and everyone was laughing. At any rate, it raised our morale. Suleiman added: “We’re transferring you to Africa without a passport.” The Egyptians, it turned out, knew this Israeli joke. I heard Suleiman chatting to Uri as the boat continued on its way. I had to make a very difficult decision. I knew that if I wanted to try escaping, all I had to do was pull my left hand out of its ring of telephone cables and my hands would be free. My escort was sitting next to me but wasn’t holding onto me, and I was ready to escape. All I had to do was fall back into the lake and start swimming, with a good chance of leaving the boat behind.

                                                                                                            I quickly assessed the situation. Sitting in the boat along with Suleiman were four soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs. The night wasn’t completely dark and we were near to the center of the lake. The shore looked very far away. I knew I still had enough time to act so I tried to think carefully. The boat wasn’t traveling fast so I knew that if I leapt into the water it wouldn’t move too far away from me. If they opened fire on me I had no chance. If I managed to get away, what then? I was still dazed from the blow I had received and my body was covered in bruises. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the strength to swim that far. Assuming that I could manage to swim as far as the shore, what guarantee was there that I would land up somewhere safe? I could find myself back in an Egyptian camp. I decided to give up on the idea. All the time, one thought occupied my mind: I couldn’t go to Cairo as a prisoner. For some reason, though, I felt optimistic and was hoping for the best.

                                                                                                              The boat reached the lake shore and stopped at a small pier, where the soldiers helped us out. We were cold. We stood next to a twisted metal construction that resembled a large dome with dozens of bent metal bars. A soldier explained to me that it was a signaling station for boats going through the Suez Canal and that it had been hit by a bomb. A long jeep arrived and the soldiers helped us onto it. Six of us were in the back, the three of us and three soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs.

                                                                                                                The soldier sitting opposite me aimed his rifle at my chest and the soldier sitting next to me aimed his at Izhar’s chest. For some reason, Suleiman decided to come along. He sat down with the driver and the jeep set off. The soldier sitting opposite me didn’t put his rifle down; the muzzle was just a few centimeters away from me. I was afraid that the jeep would hit a bump and make the soldier accidentally discharge his weapon, so I asked Suleiman to order the soldier to put it down. Suleiman agreed and ordered the soldiers not to aim their weapons at us. The soldier sitting to my left put his rifle down with the butt to the floor of the jeep. The soldier opposite me repositioned his rifle to the side, facing the outside of the jeep. I lifted my knees carefully and shifted them next to the barrel of the rifle so that I could prevent him from moving it back in my direction.

                                                                                                                  The jeep headed in the direction of Cairo. I was overcome by despair. All hope was lost. We were imprisoned in the jeep, heading for an interrogation at Egyptian intelligence. For the first time, it really hit me, and I regretted not jumping out of the boat into the lake. That way I might at least have had a chance. Now all was lost.

                                                                                                                    I thought of home. How much did my wife know? Nobody actually knew what had happened to us. We were “missing in action”, and it would be months before anyone had any news of us, if at all. What if we were killed on the way? No one would be able to identify us. Our prisoners’ forms had been taken away from us and our dog tags had been ripped from our necks. I tried to cheer myself up by thinking ahead. What would I tell my interrogators? I told myself that up till now I had held on and hadn’t worried. I ought to stop worrying immediately, but I couldn’t control my thoughts. In my mind’s eye, I saw my wife receiving the news that I had gone missing. I thought of the English expression “vanished into thin air”, and it seemed to describe our situation perfectly. I tried to calm down. A search party was undoubtedly looking for us. Somebody had to have found the car. I assumed that Moshe, the driver, had managed to escape and tell someone what had happened to us. At the prison camp in Cairo we would meet with representatives of the Red Cross. We would meet other soldiers there. I had to think positively and perhaps everything would work out after all. There was a cease-fire and there would soon be an exchange of prisoners. I saw that the jeep had slowed down. Uri told me later that we had passed by an abandoned Egyptian camp and that Suleiman had hesitated and started to lose confidence. He spoke with the driver and the jeep continued. The journey lasted about another ten minutes and the thoughts kept racing through my mind. Suddenly the jeep stopped. We had reached a place that was lit up, and I heard voices speaking in Hebrew. The driver wasted no time. He put the gear into reverse and started going backwards. Several things happened all at once. Uri stuck his head out of the jeep and shouted, “Stop them!” The jeep came under fire and dozens of bullets were fired into the vehicle. In that instant, I did two things: I released my hand from the cable and pushed with all my might with my right knee to prevent the soldier opposite me from using his rifle. The soldier threw himself onto the floor of the jeep. The other two also threw themselves down.

                                                                                                                      The jeep reversed another two or three meters. Uri threw himself back and with his feet pushed the driver under the steering wheel. The jeep came to a halt. The shooting continued. In all the commotion, Suleiman jumped from the jeep and ran away, shutting the door behind him. Uri managed to shout to him: “Suleiman, stop! Don’t go!” But Suleiman couldn’t hear him and fled. Uri shouted: “Hold your fire!” but the shooting carried on. I got up and punched out the window pane above me, which was already riddled with bullet holes. Shards of glass were scattered everywhere. I pushed my head out of the hole in the glass and shouted: “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! We’re Israelis!” After a few more shots, the shooting died down. The three Egyptians were lying on the floor with Izhar on top of them. Uri was outstretched across the seat. His hands were tied and he couldn't get up. I thought, if I don’t do something we are all going to be killed by fire from our own troops.

                                                                                                                        I got up and, standing on top of the soldiers lying on the floor of the jeep, I jumped out. There was more gunfire. I ran to our soldiers, shouting: “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! We’re Israelis!” The soldiers stood there, stunned, thinking they had opened fire on an Israeli jeep. I grabbed a soldier standing close to the jeep and hugged him. “We escaped from captivity,” I said. “You saved us. Don’t just stand there. Go to the jeep. Two of our guys are in there and some Egyptians.” The soldiers ran to the jeep. Everyone got out. The soldiers pushed the Egyptians down on the ground and searched them. I asked one of the soldiers to call a medic because I couldn't see out of one eye. A doctor appeared from nowhere. He examined my eye and calmed me down, saying that glass shrapnel had scratched my forehead and the blood had been blocking my vision. The doctor cleaned up the blood, to my relief. I found a radio and reported the incident. I also reported that the driver of our car had been left behind in the field, lost in the desert. I also requested that our unit be notified that we were safe.

                                                                                                                          Meanwhile, it turned out that a truck full of Egyptian soldiers had being driving behind the jeep and were stopped when they tried to get away. My right hand was still encased in telephone cable. A soldier got it off and was going to throw it away, but I stopped him, saying, “I think I’ll keep this as a souvenir.”

                                                                                                                            Suddenly I realized that my back was wet. It was a chilly evening and I was surprised to be sweating. I felt my back, and when I looked at my hand I saw it was covered in thick, warm blood. I rushed back to the doctor. “You’ve been wounded – a bullet must have penetrated your back,” he said after checking me calmly as if he were in some sterile clinic and not in the middle of

                                                                                                                              nowhere, west of the Canal. Uri had a bullet wound in his hand and Izhar had been hit in the leg by small pieces of shrapnel.

                                                                                                                                Within minutes a festive meal had been put together. Somebody pulled a bottle out of nowhere and passed it round. Then I put on a clean shirt and the three of us were taken by car to a field hospital.

 

    The way back home

                                                                                                                                                  On the way there, we were once again in the company of Egyptian soldiers, but this time the roles were reversed. Wounded Egyptian soldiers, hit by shots fired on the truck, lay in the ambulance that drove us back, and we, the former prisoners, sat with them. It was about one in the morning by the time we reached the outskirts of Faid.

                                                                                                                                                    What a glorious coincidence! Just twelve hours ago, I had left Faid on my way home. In those twelve hours I had been taken prisoner, had been en route to Cairo and had managed to get back to Faid. We reached the field hospital where my back was cleaned, my bandages changed, and I was prepared for evacuation by helicopter. As we took off and headed back home, I looked around the wounded. Some Egyptians were among them and I was really hoping to find Suleiman or some of the soldiers from the boat or the jeep when they were the captors and we were the captured. Now that the roles had been reversed, I wanted to talk to them, but I couldn’t find them. It seemed that none of them had been injured, although I knew all of them except Suleiman had been taken prisoner. But while looking for them I did note one interesting detail: all the prisoners were wearing watches and rings and no one had thought for a moment of plundering anything.

                                                                                                                                                      We reached Assaf Harofeh Hospital. I was amazed at the efficiency of the staff in the emergency ward. We could have been on a conveyor belt the way they processed us! One took down the details, another removed the bandages and in the next room we were prepared for x-rays and operations. Meanwhile, I called the unit to report our location. The response was utter shock, and joy. It turned out that our unit had already received a report saying that we had been taken prisoner so they were prepared to inform our families. We brought the good news of our rescue. I called my wife and asked her to come and visit me. I spoke in a very quiet voice, doing my best to sound calm and relaxed, as if I was calling from the office.

                                                                                                                                                        Uri and I were admitted to Ward 39, but Izhar was in a different ward. Uri and I were given adjacent beds and were able to exchange impressions and jokes. We had already gone without sleep for 36 hours, and had put in enormous effort under stress. We both fell into a deep, relaxing sleep.

                                                                                                                                                          I had the surprise of my life the next morning when the door of the ward opened and in walked the dead-alive Moshe, the driver whose death Suleiman had lied about. His story was like something from a movie with a happy ending.

 

    The driver’s story

                                                                                                                                                                          This is the story of Moshe Hazut, a reserve corporal, the only who managed to flee the scene without being captured.

                                                                                                                                                                            After we passed the final convoy of IDF forces, the traffic started to thin out. I was sure we had taken the wrong route. I looked right and left and my gut feeling was that we were lost. Alon noticed my reaction, asked if I was tired and offered to take over from me. “No, I’m not tired”, I said. “It’s just strange that there’s absolutely no traffic.” Suddenly, shots were fired and I heard bullets screaming. I shouted, “I’m going to run for it.” Alon said, “Go”, Uri said, “Stay”. I jumped out of the car and saw it was stuck in the sand. Everyone got out. The shooting was so heavy I could see there was no way we could stay there, so I ran.

                                                                                                                                                                              I ran in the opposite direction from the source of the gunfire. When we had got some distance from the car, we decided that we ought to take the steel helmets with us. Alon ran back to the car and brought the helmets and Sergeant Izhar’s rifle. Bullets were flying in every direction. Every now and then, I stopped to see if my comrades were still running behind me. We ran until we found a sand dune and hid behind it. It was clear that we had no chance of survival in that spot. If we ran, we’d be saved. If we stayed we’d be captured.

                                                                                                                                                                                Alon threw me a steel helmet and I carried on running. I went a few meters and dropped down, went a few more meters and dropped down, until I managed to get a bit further away. I realized that the Egyptians were shelling us with artillery, missiles, Bazookas and all sorts of heavy weapons. There was no chance of escaping, so I carried on running until I could stop. Using my steel helmet, I began to dig.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Once or twice, I called out to Uri and Alon. I thought Izhar had been injured, so I called out a few more times. It was obviously dangerous to run any further, so I stayed put. The shelling must have gone on for about two hours.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Then I saw commandos in camouflage uniform running from the direction of the fort. I thought, “This is the end of us but let’s see what happens.” They ran towards the car and surrounded it. They caught Izhar and then they ran in the direction of the sand dune where Uri and Alon were taking cover. I saw Uri and Alon coming out from the behind the dune with their hands up. I was afraid the Egyptians would sweep the area, but they didn’t go as far as the dune. They didn’t know there were four of us and they couldn’t see behind the dune, which was why they didn’t see me. I kept my head down on the ground but saw the Egyptians leading Uri and Alon away. There were a few bursts of gunfire and then I lay flat again and waited to see what would happen next.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Later, things went quiet but then the heavy shelling started up again. I stayed put where I was. I thought, “This is it, this is my chance.” The shells were falling around me, but at uneven intervals. They were falling round the car, but not hitting it.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Later on, I saw a column of our vehicles driving down the road, trucks – civilian trucks as well. A jeep was leading the column. They came under heavy shelling, during which the jeep and the trucks all took direct hits and caught fire. There was a huge explosion and flames shot up into the darkness.

                                                                                                                                                                                          All of a sudden, Phantoms appeared overhead and bombed the fort. The shock waves were so strong that I felt as if something in my stomach had torn. I checked but everything seemed ok. I saw the fort go up in smoke, but every now and then I would get up and run another few meters and stop, because when the bombing ceased, the shelling would start up again.

                                                                                                                                                                                            When the bombing was over and the whole fort was covered in smoke, there was no more shelling, and I started moving away. It was still daylight. Earlier, Uri had shown me which way to run.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I simply ran away from the source of the gunfire. By now it was pitch dark. I ran until I felt very tired and thirsty, and then remained where I was. I had only a steel helmet and no rifle. I lay down on the ground and rested for about half an hour. I asked myself, what next? It was a bit chilly and I was only wearing a shirt. Suddenly I heard tanks moving and saw a cloud of dust in the distance. I waited a few more seconds to see what would happen and then I ran in the opposite direction from the tanks. I let them go past me and then I ran after them. I got near the first tank, about 80 to 100 meters away from it. There was so much dust I couldn't see a thing. I thought, that isn’t one of ours. I couldn’t hear any voices. Nothing. No voices. I crawled until I was about 50 meters away. I felt nervous, as it seemed dangerous. For a moment I thought of running away from it all, but then I told myself that my only chance was to get right up to the tanks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                I saw a small, low vehicle, a half-track. I went up closer and heard instructions being given over the radio in Hebrew and realized it was one of ours. My ears were ringing incessantly. I thought, perhaps I am imagining it’s Hebrew because I can also understand Arabic. I hit my head with the steel helmet and then I understood that the voices were speaking in Hebrew. I went right up to them and said: 'I’m Israeli'. They stood, stunned, obviously not understanding what was going on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  The commander of the half-track told two guys to jump off and check me. Perhaps I was an Egyptian soldier who could speak Hebrew. I put my hands up. The two checked me and asked me all sorts of questions. I told them we had lost our way and that we had been hit near the fort along the road. When I explained what had happened and reported that my friends had been taken prisoner, they initially thought I must be mad and didn’t believe my version of events: “Who's the brigade commander? Who are the officers?” I gave them the names and they called the unit because they could see that I had all the right answers. They also asked for details about the car. When I answered that the unit knew me and the other guys, they asked me whether I wanted to keep running or join them. “Guys, are you going to abandon me?” I said to them. “Of course I’ll go with you. I want to keep fighting. I joined the force that attacked the fort. They said, “Lie down and sleep – you’re exhausted.” I told them I wanted to do something and would be very happy if I could. They said, “If we need you, we’ll take you. Meanwhile, take it easy.” We were near the fence round the fort. Over the radio came an order to withdraw. The Egyptians had lit up the area with flares and it was like daylight, so we began to withdraw.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I gathered that the situation was dangerous. We parked for the night. When the commander heard my story, he asked for me to be brought to him so he could hear it from me personally. He looked me over and asked if I was all right. Then I told him the story. He examined me to see whether I had any injuries. I told him the details of the incident and he told me to go to Refidim. I couldn’t sleep and had no equipment. Someone threw me a blanket. I covered myself, sitting in the half-track. In the morning an ambulance came and evacuated me with the wounded. At Refidim I met the officer in charge, who called Tel Aviv.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Someone asked him something over the phone and he replied, “I don’t think he’s delusional. He seems quite normal to me.” The officer had received an order to transfer me to Tel Aviv. When I arrived, he sat me down next to a map and began debriefing me about what had happened to us. He asked if I knew what had happened to my friends and I told him I had seen them putting their hands up and being taken away. He asked if the Egyptians had shot at them. I said I had heard a few bursts of gunfire but that I hadn’t seen what happened. Then he asked me, “Do you want to see them?” I said, “Yes, where are they? What happened?” “Go and visit them in Tzrifin”, he said, getting out a piece of paper and writing down the number of their ward at the Assaf Harofeh Hospital.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I went to see them, feeling very excited. I went to Ward 39 and met Alon and Uri walking round in their pajamas. They were very thrilled to see me. Then I went to see Izhar in another ward. He was lying in bed, a little shaken, but when he saw me he cheered up, got out of bed and said, “You’re a sly one! How did you even think of escaping?” “That’s the risk you take”, I said. “You run and survive, or you stay and get taken prisoner, or you run and die.”

 

    From "Ful" (broad beans [o.kaplan]) to champagne

                                  The afternoon after we were admitted to hospital, one of the nurses told us that an officer in the adjacent ward wanted to see us. When we went to see him, he turned out to be the officer from the armored corps unit that had freed us from captivity. He had been wounded in the fighting and had been taken to the same hospital.

 

    This is the armored corps officer’s story:

                                                On the night of the 22nd of October, after the cease-fire had come into effect, my unit was camped out at a junction where one of the roads led to Cairo.

                                                  We were preparing to camp for the night when we saw two vehicles traveling along the road with their headlights on. One of them was a jeep and the other a truck. They tried to get past us, with the truck travelling in front and the jeep following behind. Because the cease-fire had already come into effect, it wasn't clear to us whether we should open fire or not. The instruction was to let all the Egyptians in the area escape. There seemed to be a large number of troops in the convoy and the best option was to let them escape rather than take prisoners, and then wait until morning to see what kind of force was ahead of us. We had seen a number of trucks escaping into the distance, but the jeep and the truck had come right up close to us.

                                                    “Our commander ordered us not to open fire but to allow them to pass. However, it appeared that the order hadn’t been clear to one of the soldiers, who was nervous, and he opened fire on the truck with a machine gun. Everyone else was on edge and also started firing. The truck was between us and the jeep, so the jeep wasn't hit. But the jeep driver, who must have been in shock, overtook the truck and drove right into where the tanks were camped. We heard shots and someone jumped out of the jeep and ran up to the soldiers who were shooting at it. “Don't shoot!” he shouted. “We're Israelis!” That is how I found out that you had escaped from captivity.

                                                      Press writes about the dedication of the medical staff' I wouldn't wish for anyone to find out from experience how true it is, I wish you all good health!

                                                        It was my fate to get wounded and I can honestly say that the medical care here is beyond belief. A team of four doctors, headed by Dr Idelman, visited us every day. They were so interested in us and gave us all the attention we needed until we were back on our feet. No effort was spared, in getting us well and making our stay a pleasant one.

                                                          On my fifth day in hospital, my entire family came to visit me to celebrate my birthday. I had been reborn; they told me, toasting me with a glass of champagne and asking me to say a few words. I had just one thing to say: "Guys, if I was in Cairo today I would be celebrating my birthday with "Ful" (Broad beans- Egyptian popular food), not champagne.” Everybody laughed and raised their glasses.