Book Review: A reminder of life in Sinai under Israeli occupation

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 2 Jun 2024

Yaomiat Tabib Sinawi – Al-Sanawat Al-Egaf wa Mehnat Al-Ehtelal (A Doctor from Sinai: Memoir – Tough Years under Crippling Occupation) is not just a memoir of a man who grew up in Sinai under the Israeli occupation that started in 1967, but a testimony for what Israeli occupation was like.

 

Yaomiat Tabib Sinawi – Al-Sanawat Al-Egaf wa Mehnat Al-Ehtelal (A doctor from Sinai: memoir – Tough years under crippling occupation), by Salah Salam, GEBO, 2023, Pp182

The book is a testimony for the resilience and much underestimated patriotism of Egyptians in Sinai.

It is also a testimony for the resilience and strength of an Egyptian woman who managed to cope with economic hardship and Israeli occupation that came with a life of little if any choices.

Salah Salam’s book is a reminder, as novelist Youssef Al-Ka’id wrote in his introduction to the 182-page volume, of the wars that Egypt had to have with Israel in the second half of the 20th century – “the wars with the Zionist enemy” that cannot and should not be forgotten.

Salam, an accomplished medical doctor, decided to contribute his personal take on the life of a young man from Sinai.

The young man woke up one day in June 1967, when he was only seven years old, to the astounding noise of jet fighters that were looming over Arish, in north Sinai.

He thought, as the radio and other forms of public propaganda, were suggesting that the Egyptian army was “liberating the land of Palestine from Israeli occupation.”

However, it was only a matter of hours when the boy, his family, and other residents of Arish realized that what happened was exactly the opposite.

Being as close as it gets to the frontline of the battles, Salam was there to see for himself the presence of Israeli tanks on the soil of Sinai and the violent entry of Israeli soldiers into people’s houses. They were searching for escaping Egyptian soldiers or hidden weapons that the soldiers had to leave behind when they were forced into “the most unorderly and humiliating withdrawal.

It was just when Radio Cairo was starting to announce the early news of the military defeat that Salam was standing there seeing a remaining Egyptian soldier with a single gun trying to shoot at the enemy.

Then, the Israeli soldiers shot enough bullets at the soldier to turn his body into pieces that were collected and buried by residents of Salam’s neighbourhood along with other bodies of other Egyptian soldiers killed as they tried to fight despite the orders for withdrawal.

The horrors of the early days of the 5 June 1967 Israeli occupation of Sinai along with Gaza, which had been under Egyptian administrative rule, offer an introduction to the hardship that Salam’s family, as almost every other family in Sinai at the time, had to go through under Israeli occupation.

The occupation lasted throughout the rest of his school years and through his university years as he joined the faculty of medicine at Cairo University.

Along with that came the cultural isolation – “with no transmission for Egyptian television reaching Sinai” and with “the only possibility to watch Egyptian films when they were aired on Friday evenings on Israeli television.”

Moreover, Salam’s book offer accounts of resistance, including militant operations that civilians in Sinai carried out under the guidance and directives of the Sinai Arab Organization.

The accounts of heroism are coupled with a subtle and almost unspoken sense of bitterness for the lack of wide recognition for the acts of patriotism of the people of Sinai from June 1967 until the October War in 1973.

The book is divided into independent but connected chapters and written in a very simple but moving language.

However, it is not at all short on personal accounts where Salam shares moments of grief, love, and joy through his years in Arish and when he later came to Cairo.

Salem’s book is a tribute to his late beloved mother whose support and guidance lit and led the way for his successful medical career.

She is there in almost every single chapter, trying to save some clean drinking water during the days of war, listening to the Arabic service of BBC to get the news, economizing to make ends meet, and cooking simple but warm meals for Salam.

The book is a new volume in an ongoing GEBO series of social history in Egypt.

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