Israel to investigate mass grave of Egyptian soldiers in center of country

Lapid promised that he would personally get to the bottom of the matter in a phone call with the Egyptian leader.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid promised Egyptian President Abed Fattah al-Sisi Sunday that Israel would investigate a suspected mass grave of Egyptian soldiers who were buried during the Six-Day War in central Israel.

Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz broke the story in their weekend editions, and al-Sisi brought it up in a phone call to the new Israeli leader. It was among a range of topics discussed ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip this week to the region.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Lapid told his Egyptian counterpart that he had ordered his military secretary “to examine the issue in depth and update Egyptian officials.”

While the hidden grave is now right outside the parking lot of a popular tourist site called Mini-Israel, which contains miniatures of the country’s most famous landmarks, in 1967 there was nothing there but empty land.

Dozens of Egyptian commandos — perhaps even 100 — were secretly buried there after the war ended, instead of being returned to their homeland in the exchange for bodies and prisoners.

The Egyptian soldiers were sent by then-president Gamal Nasser to reinforce the Jordanian Army and attack an airport in Ramla, a city in central Israel, when war broke out, said the reports. But the airport no longer existed.

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IDF troops fought several battles with them, ranging from Kibbutz Nachshon in the center of the country to the nearby Ayalon Valley area.

Those who fell were buried anonymously together near the kibbutz with the full knowledge of its members. An almond grove was planted there to hide the pit.

Ze’ev Bloch, a member of the kibbutz who commanded the area, told Yediot Ahronot that the grave was used for soldiers whose bodies had been burned by wildfires that broke out that summer.

“At this time of year, the Ayalon Valley is full of grass growing a meter to a meter and a half high,” he said. “It wasn’t cultivated land, it was hot and dry, and the brambles caught fire quickly. Some of the Egyptian commandos were there and got burned.

“It could be that they also put [in the grave] other Egyptian soldiers who were killed during IDF sweeps of the area.”

For over 30 years, nobody said a word about the grave. Then, in 1999, a kibbutz member named Dan Meir started knocking on doors of senior Israeli officials to see how the bodies could be returned honorably to their country. He even contacted Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. When no one wanted to deal with the issue, he tried telling the press, but the military censor stepped in to quash the story.

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Twenty-three years later, the ban was lifted and the story has been revealed.