For at least four generations, Farouk Shabtai's family lived and prospered in Egypt. The 27-year-old physician worked in a government prison near Cairo. His well-connected family even had friends in the Egyptian police force and in the Interior Ministry.
But none of that mattered when the authorities came knocking on his door in the afternoon of June 5, 1967. Jews were being detained, he was told, for their own safety and protection. Shabtai and his two brothers were taken to Abu Zaabal prison 65 kilometers outside Cairo and were later transferred to an internment camp at Tourah - the same prison in which he had been treating prisoners for the previous year.
The 1967 war ended in six short days. Yet it would take another two years before Shabtai and his brothers were granted their freedom.
"It was revenge," said Shabtai, today a 67-year-old family physician in Ashdod. "How long can someone protect us after the situation worked itself out?... To protect us for two years? That is not logical."
His wife Laila added: "What kind of protection is it to torture a person?"
Shabtai was one of at least 425 Jewish males - the vast majority of the community's men - who were detained in Egypt during the Six Day War.
Within days of their detention, 75 Jewish detainees with foreign passports were released due to pressure exerted by these countries and expelled, according to Prof. Michael M. Laskier of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern History. One hundred and twelve of the remaining 350 prisoners were released by the end of 1967 or the beginning of 1968 and expelled, while the rest were gradually released over the next two and a half years.
But many of those who carried Egyptian passports were detained for nearly three years. Shabtai, like many Jews born in Egypt, did not have citizenship and was considered by the government to be stateless.
"The idea was to break the back of the Jewish community and demoralize it," Laskier said. "If you take people 18 to 50, they are the backbone of the community, the main providers, that can assist the community - people that authorities might have felt... could be any kind of help to Israel or might carry out acts of sabotage."
When Shabtai and his brothers were taken from their home, their widowed mother was left to manage largely on her own. It was at least three months before his mother and his future wife, who had met him a month before his detention, received word of his whereabouts. For at least three weeks at Abu Zaabal, Shabtai remained clueless about outside events. When he finally heard from a new detainee that Israel had captured the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, he felt "internal happiness" - emotions he was careful not to reveal to his captors.
The first several months at Abu Zaabal were very difficult for the detainees, who corroborate stories of random physical and verbal abuse, indiscriminate beatings, strong feelings of uncertainty and humiliation.
On their first day there, they were required to hand over any possessions they carried with them and to strip down to their underwear. Before they were crammed into their small cells, they were forced to run quickly around an open rectangular corridor while prison staff waited to hit them with belts or wooden sticks as they passed by. The exercise would repeat itself many times.
"Every time Israel attacked the Egyptians, they used to take revenge on us," Shabtai said. "I don't know on whose instruction but among the captains that were there, there were bad ones. There were even captains that they called 'Hitler.' Who knows if they had brothers who died in the war, if they had parents that died in the war" or if they knew prisoners captured by Israel. "They didn't have anyone to take revenge on, except us."
Gamliel Yallouz of Herzliya, says that once after a long run, an officer was waiting to hit them as they entered their cells. When Yallouz entered, the officer, waving a club of dried date leaves, took the thickest and roughest part of the weapon, stuck it hard into his bare chest and turned it 360 degrees.
"The only thing I thought to do was to grab his belt with both hands and jump with him" to the ground a few floors beneath them. "I felt so humiliated, so bad, I told myself, 'I'll take him with me.'" The only reason Yallouz didn't commit suicide, he says, was that he suddenly saw a vision of his two children - two and four - standing next to the officer. "This was the only thing that calmed me."
Prison officials, he added, would select detainees at random, take them out of their cells and beat them during late at night, which would cause the prisoners' imagination to run wild.
There were even detainees older than 60. They slept in very cramped quarters, and for a time there were as many as 70 people crammed into a 5 x 7-meter cell, said Sami Mangoubi, an engineer in Haifa, who was then a 21-year-old student at Cairo University.
"You are there and don't know what will happen to you tomorrow, it's not a clear thing. There is always fear," Mangoubi said. "You don't know how much time will pass... if it will become more serious." In fact, it was a good thing that they did not realize they would be detained as long as they were, he said.
In addition, sanitary conditions were far from ideal.
Yallouz said he did not receive a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap or a change of underwear for at least four months. The food at Abu Zaabal included fava beans with insect eggs, cheese with worms and an occasional five-centimeter cockroach.
But for many, the hardest thing was dealing with the shame of being reduced from a productive citizen to a helpless captive.
"I felt as if we were nothing, not human beings," said Yallouz, who remained in Abu Zaabal about six months before being transferred to Tourah. "That is the most bitter part, the humiliation."
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