Wikipedia holidays in Eilat

08 April 2012

How libels are manufactured

It’s somewhat ironic, that I am writing during Pessah (Passover) the Jewish festival commemorating the return of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. My friend, Ruth Landesman from Eilat brought this paragraph in Wikipedia to my attention. If you thought the war with Egypt over boundaries ended with the Taba decision in 1989, guess again. Now they want Eilat!

The area was designated as part of the Jewish state in the 1947 UN Partition Plan. An Ottoman decree of 1906 states that the territory belonged to Egypt. This is confirmed by the fact that a British police post was established in 1906 to defend British claims against the Ottomans†. The Arab village of Umm Al-Rashrash was supposedly taken without a fight on March 10, 1949, as part of Operation Uvda, but a mass grave discovered in 2008 contained remains of Egyptian soldiers, suggesting otherwise.‡ 

Border, border … where’s the border?

I hope I’ll have a chance to see if the Warburg claims were discussed or not when the final arbitration was made over Taba in 1989. But if there were discussed and dismissed or not brought up by the Egyptians the results were the same. The arbitration made their ruling. Taba belongs to Egypt therefore Eilat belongs to Israel.

Once that decision was made and accepted by the parties the text of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty 26 Mar 1979 should have ended all claims:Israel Egypt border map

Article II

The permanent boundary between Egypt and Israel in the recognized international boundary between Egypt and the former mandated territory of Palestine, as shown on the map at Annex II, without prejudice to the issue of the status of the Gaza Strip. The Parties recognize this boundary as inviolable. Each will respect the territorial integrity of the other, including their territorial waters and airspace.

Assumption by assumption – a thorough fiskingMasy Al Youm Mass Graves

It’s the second part suggesting war crimes that is most interesting and most requires refuting. The basis of the claim is a report in ALMASRY ALYOUM . It will be very difficult to read it from the Wikipedia link but I’ve caught a screen grab (right).

Mass Grave in Umm Al-Rashrash includes Remains of Muslim in Military Uniform Unearthed

By Gaza, MENA 5/1/2008

Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Reconstruction of Islamic Sanctities [1] has discovered an Islamic cemetery in the town of Umm Al-Rashrash, now Eilat, containing the remains of dead Muslims buried together [2].

The Foundation said in a statement that some of the remains were in military uniform [3] and parts of the Holy Koran [4] and knives [5] were also found among their clothes. “They could be among those executed either by hanging or by firing squad [6],”said the statement, calling upon all Arab parties to send any available piece of information [7] helps identify the remains of the dead and the cause of being buried in this site.

The statement pointed out the Foundation’s leader, Sheikh Ali Abu Sheikha, received information the day before last that human remains werer unearthed in a site where the Israeli municipality of Eilat was making some drilling operations to expand a cemetery where Jews and non-Jews are buried [8]. A team from the foundation dispatched to Eilat discovered the Islamic cemetery at dawn the next day.

It is noteworthy that the village of Umm al-Rashrash, renamed Eilat, has been part of the Egyptian territory on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, according to the Ottoman decree issued in 1906 [9], which demarcated these borders internationally before the Israeli occupation in March 10, 1949. Israel sparked a lot of controversy several months ago when it claimed Umm al-Rashrash was not Egyptian.

  1. The Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Reconstruction of Islamic Sanctities was closed for its connections to Hamas in 2008. Previously the same organisation has made false claims leading to violence that Israel was undermining the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
  2. I am agnostic over whether the cemetery was Muslim or not but isn’t  a cemetery, by definition, a mass grave containing the remains of dead Muslims buried together?
  3. This is where it gets interesting. Although pictures of bones received wide publicity (see below) I have found no online photo evidence of uniforms. Nor has any forensic evidence turned up.  It raises many questions.  What army? How many is some? What records? Most importantly, what date? The Wikipedia article suggests that suggests the border was there but there are other explanations including burial of  soldiers captured or killed by the Turks. In 1882, the Khedivate of Egypt becomes part of the British sphere of influence in the region, a situation that conflicted with its position as an autonomous vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The country became a British protectorate in 1914 and achieved independence in 1922. In 1914 Egypt nominally became a participant in the First World War. Ample time and reason for a clash between Egyptian (British) and Ottoman forces  In short there is an equally probable alternative explanation.When the cemetery story was spread to incite hatred of Israel two totally unconfirmed stories spread.  One referenced by Wikipedia but not from the supposed source is a previously unrecorded battle in 1948. No doubt despite its absence from both Egyptian and Israeli records, eye witnesses will suddenly be found. Some Arabic sources even speculate the bodies come from an equally unrecorded ‘massacre’ in 1967. That might even be possible but it rather blows the border story.
  4. Nothing excites Muslim rage like a story of desecrated Korans (see below) but that too raises questions. First of which is why bother if the site was unknown? If this was a massacre are we expected to believe that Israeli soldiers went body to body searching for Korans to desecrate them? Wouldn’t you expect whole Korans? The second question is more forensic? Does this look like a book buried sixty-three years together with decomposing bodies in a hole in the ground? Aside from the tearing it looks like it is in good shape to me.
  5.  Why only knives? You would speculate that if the soldiers were executed there would be other weapons and damaged military equipment. If they were executed you would expect them to be disarmed first, wouldn’t you?
  6. The complete lack of forensic evidence here is glaring. Any doctor could tell you from the skeleton, whether shot or hung … or as likely died from disease or starvation or poisoning. Of course it would be harder to determine who was responsible Turks, Egyptians, British, Arabs or Israelis.
  7.  An Israeli report (Hebrew) cites a Popular Front for the Restoration of Umm Rashrash claim that there are documents confirming 350 Egyptian border police were killed by Israeli forces under the command of Yitzhak Rabin on March 10, 1949 in what is known in Israel as Operation Uvda. Perhaps needless to say those documents haven’t surfaced. The individual graves photographs circulated online seem to make any connection with what would have been a massive body dumping had it occurred, unlikely. The difference in short between a mass grave and a cemetery.
  8.  It seems unlikely that Jews and non Jews are buried together. One might ask when were Jews buried in Umm al-Rashrash before it became Eilat?
  9. As mentioned before the independent arbitrators who determined the location of historic border markers and therefore that Taba was Egypt were less than impressed by this claim. I would be delighted if someone could point me to the direction of the materials used in the arbitration. I haven’t found anything online.

Bones in Eilat grave

What do you expect to find in a grave?

Koran fragments reported as found

Does this look like it lay 60 years in a grave?

Eilat in Egyptian hands?

Should you think about cancelling?

No one really knows what will happen in Egypt. Will a Muslim Brotherhood President demand Eilat? Not because they seriously expect to get it but because they may well feel an outstanding dispute is in their interest. Nothing keeps local eyes from the failures of a regime than a foreign enemy. Will it work? Hizbullah’s claimed to tiny unpopulated, strtegicly irrelevant Sheba Farms suggests it might.

Unlike Sheba Farms, Eilat is a both a major tourist asset; home to a permanent population of about 50,000; Israel’s Red Sea port and regional center for Israel’s South. If Egypt is determined to push on this point it could become very hot in Eilat!!!


† Gabriel Warburg (1979). “The Sinai Peninsula borders 1906–1947“. Journal of Contemporary History 14: 677–692.
‡  “Mass Grave in Umm al-Rashrash Includes Remains of Muslims in Military Uniform Unearthed”

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About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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