The Market of Seleukia

The Market of Seleukia

The Market of Seleukia

The Market of Seleukia

Excerpt

This is an impression of the Muslim Middle East as it was at a decisive moment of its history.

One day in November, 1956, I stood beside a road in the Sinai desert with a colonel of the Israel Army. A troop of French-built tanks had stopped nearby, and the young Israeli tank-crews were sprawled on their turrets or eating sandwiches in the sand. There were Yemenis, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, and a solitary fairhaired South African, and they were in uproarious spirits, their laughter swirling about and their white teeth flashing as they talked. Overhead there sometimes swept a Mystère jet fighter or a lumbering transport aircraft; in the distance a platoon of infantry was marching in jaunty silhouette along a ridge.

All around us, as we stood there talking that afternoon, there lay the debris of a defeated army. There were smoking and blackened trucks; burnt-out tanks; guns destroyed in their emplacements; boots and tents and rifles and ammunition boxes; and a multitude of papers, paybooks and orders and letters home, littered among the tentage or blowing fitful and forlorn across the desert. Up the road from the south came a succession of lorries. They were piled high with the booty of war, from bedspreads to petrol drums, and as they rumbled northwards their drivers leant out and waved to the tank-men, or whistled jubilantly in their cabs. Sometimes captured tanks came past on transporters; once a column of prisoners marched despondently by, their hands behind their heads. There was success in the air, and the smell of blood, and the Sinai that day was both sinister and stimulating.

This was the aftermath of a cataclysmic battle. The Israelis, hurling themselves upon their Egyptian enemies, had driven them helter-skelter out of Sinai to the banks of the Suez Canal; and almost at the same time the British and French armies had attacked Port Said. That afternoon the Tricolour and the Union Jack flew side by side over the Suez Canal, and the Israelis were . . .

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