As victory chants rang through the air and soldiers distributed food to the people of Arish an elderly man seemed to be the focus of everyone’s attention. People were offering him a place in the queue ahead of them. A middle-aged man bowed respectfully and kissed the man’s hand. A soldier, who noticed this attention, went over to the man and offered to help him. The man insisted on waiting his turn.
Sheikh Mohamed Muslim Al-Kashef (83) is an elder of the Al-Kashef clan. He proudly related the part he played in the resistance against the Israeli occupation of Sinai and then related that time to the current counter-terrorist operation. As with any enemy, it was important to sustain the fight against terrorism and use all possible force to eliminate it, he said.
Al-Kashef was a member of the Sinai Mujahideen organisation. His task was to help conceal intelligence officers from Cairo in occupied Sinai and assist them in their missions. One of the officers’ most important tasks was to photograph the Bar Lev Line.
He would tune in to the Sawt Al-Arab radio station. In the midst of those conventional programmes in which people would call in to dedicate a song to a friend and send greetings to their families and relatives, he would pick up a coded message, a greeting that would include, among the names of relatives cited, the identity of the intelligence officer assigned a mission and the name of a liaison officer and any others involved in the mission. This would set in motion Al-Kashef’s own assignment which involved hiding the officer in his house and helping disguise him as a merchant or fisherman as he photographed some strategic locations behind enemy lines.
The octogenarian relates that one day he was on his way home when he was stopped by an Israeli commander demanding his help in capturing an Egyptian officer. That officer was the same intelligence agent he was assisting. Al-Kashef says he pretended to help in exchange for permission to move freely for a week. During that period he was able to photograph sensitive locations that would have been inaccessible otherwise. Meanwhile, the intelligence officer returned safe to base and called up the Israeli commander to introduce himself. Al-Kashef recounts that, after the Egyptian victory in the October 1973 War, the intelligence officer described what a surprise he had given the enemy at the time.
Al-Kashef also had the opportunity to work as a driver for a petroleum company operated by the occupation authorities in Sinai. In this capacity he was able to observe the enemy and dispatch messages on its activities and circumstances. At one point Israeli intelligence issued him permit to travel to Tel Aviv.
In 1971 Al-Kashef’s espionage activities were discovered. He was arrested and tortured only to be released when his health deteriorated. Eventually he managed to reach the Egyptian Embassy in Jordan where he was given a hero’s welcome.
Al-Kashef has been awarded numerous medals. He still receives a pension as a veteran freedom fighter. But, he says, “I would have been happy to do what I did without these honours. It was my duty. I think everyone should know their duty and perform it without expecting anything in return.”
Today, Al-Kashef sends “messages from a freedom fighter” to the people of Sinai to urge them to remain resolute in the battle against terrorism. An enemy is an enemy, even if he disguises himself in a religious cloak, he says.
This time, of course, the messages are not coded as was the case with those relayed via Sawt Al-Arab during the War of Attrition. He conveys them openly, in meetings with friends and relatives and in public gatherings with the people of Sinai. His message is one of hope and resolve. As he put it to Al-Ahram Weekly: “The army is capable of winning the battle. It will defeat the enemy who wears a mask and hides like a coward just as it defeated the enemies who occupied this land.”
He acknowledges that there were some who collaborated with the enemy. “That can happen anywhere,” he says. “But the majority of the people of Sinai are not lured by the enemy’s temptations.” “The real jihad is to defend the land and sacrifice yourself for the nation.”
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly