Who would have thought the Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar Sadat would be addressing a packed session of the Israeli Knesset on November 20, 1977. Those of us who saw this event, either in person or on TV, still marvel that this event took place, especially due to the circumstances at the time (only four years after the Yom Kippur War) and in light of what is the present reality today.
I had only been in Israel for three years when this event took place. The sight of Sadat emerging from the plane that had brought him and his entourage from Cairo to Ben Gurion Airport, was something that brought feelings of wonder and exhilaration to virtually everyone who witnessed it; especially those like myself who believed that this might be a new beginning for relations between the State of Israel and her hostile neighbors â€“ especially with one of the countries that could have been instrumental in Israel’s destruction. Sadat himself had great apprehensions to come to Israel, fearing harm not only to himself and his family, but to his country as well by journeying to what most Arab countries still consider to be their worst enemy.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was himself an ultra right winged politician, who until his election victory a mere six months before was always in the opposition to the previous labor led Israeli governments. Yet, here he was sitting beside the Egyptian president in Israel’s parliament, and saying to the world that there should be “no more war, no more bloodshed”. It was also touching when former Israeli P.M. Golda Meir, who was in power at the time of the Yom Kippur War, gave the Egyptian president a special gift for his new granddaughter “from a grandmother to a grandfather”.
A lot of things have happened in the 30 years since that historic visit â€“ in both Israel and in the world at large. True, a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was worked out several months later at Camp David Maryland. And Sadat and Begin, together with U.S. President Jimmy Carter sealed it with handshakes on the White House lawn. Sadat, unfortunately, paid for this treaty with his life, and Begin died a broken man following the double catastrophes of the death of his wife, Aliza, and the outbreak of the 1982 war in Lebanon. Though Jordan’s King Hussein eventually followed Egypt in making peace with Israel, the situation in Israel’s neighborhood is still far from ideal as the “Palestinian problem in all it’s aspects”, as noted in the treaty declaration, has yet to be solved. Syria is still an arch enemy of Israel, as well as Lebanon, which is partially under the dominance of the radical Shiite Muslim Hezbollah organization. The “peace” between Israel and Egypt is a cold one at best; and the future is very uncertain as Egypt’s present leader, Hosni Mubarak, is approaching age 80. Even the peace with Jordan is not like many would like it to be, as a new king, Hussein’s son Abdullah, now sits on the Hashimite throne.
And as for Israel’s present relations with the Palestinians, as many a Jewish grandmother would say: “donâ€™t ask!”
Still, in spite of everything, those awe inspiring and enchanting two days of November 19 -21, 1977, will forever linger on many peoples’ minds. I know they do on mine.
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