Begin, Sadat and Carter sign Camp David Accords. 'For 36 years, there have been no wars between us'
Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO
Today is a day of celebration for the State of Israel, but few of its citizens know that. It's a holiday hidden from the eye.
Today is the 36th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, which led to the peace treaty with Egypt. Peace with Egypt? One needs to have been for at least 50 years to understand the meaning of this peace.
How many people remember that Egypt led nearly every diplomatic and military move against Israel until 36 years ago? That the rusty, out-of-date and good-for-nothing Egyptian army managed to surprise the great and fearful IDF and deal it a serious blow?
Since its establishment, the State of Israel had been preoccupied with the Egyptian threat. Every move, every decision, every act and failure were determined according to decisions made in Cairo.
When Doves Flew
Minutes covering Israel-Egypt peace accord negotiations released by state archives. They include tense meetings between Begin and Carter, last minute disagreements and the final OK.
For generations, our practical life depended on the Egyptian presidential palace, on Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and others. We beat them. We crushed their army and their economy. We haunted them – and the Egyptians always managed to shake off the dust and failure and recover.
I will forever remember that night's third watch, 36 years ago. The phone call I received from defense minister Ezer Weizman at 4 am and the exciting announcement: "We are on our way to the White House for a signing ceremony. We have peace with Egypt." My urgent phone calls to friends at 4 am with the joyful announcement and without apologizing about the early hour. How I choked with joy and traveled to the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul that morning to tell my silent friends that the great news had arrived too late for them.
The Israelis, like all Jews, are a discontented nation which is also thirsty for the world's love. Many of them will say also today: You call this peace? There are no tourists from there, and now there are no tourists going there either. Trade relations? Absolutely nothing. The Egyptians hate us. They burn flags. Being an Israeli in Cairo today is extremely dangerous. Why don't they come here? Why are so hostile towards us?
My answer is painfully simple: So they don't like us. They even hate us. They burn Israeli flags like in Paris, London and Berlin. They don't want us to exist like the rest of the Arab world, which they are part of. So what?
For 36 years, there have been no wars between us. For 36 years, the State of Israel has been able to allot its resources to economy, education and health rather than to the establishment of additional armored divisions, thousands of soldiers and thousands of reserve duty call ups to guard the Israel-Egypt border.
True, there have been terror attacks. Israelis have been murdered in Cairo and on their way there. But – and there is no but when it comes to victims – the number of casualties in all those years barely reached the number of victims in one major terror attack against a bus in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem.
Each of these victims is precious, just like the hundreds killed in the battles against the Egyptians in the War of Independence, and the hundreds killed in the Sinai campaign and in the Six-Day War, and the thousands who lost their lives in the Yom Kippur War.
We are willing to tolerate the hateful chants against Israel, and watch the flags burning in front of our eyes. We are willing to accept anything that doesn’t mean losing the lives of thousands of our children in the cycle of wars every few years.
You're saying it may all end tomorrow? Well, at least we gained 36 quiet years, and in the history of Zionism that's something too. We gained our lives and the lives of our children and our grandchildren. In the horrible and dreadfully cruel world we live in, 36 years is something too.
And this is also an opportunity to thank those who deserve the gratitude, and perhaps, first and foremost, late prime minister Menachem Begin, foreign minister Moshe Dayan and defense minister Ezer Weizman, who dreamt their entire life about Bir al-Thamada and Bir Gifgafa and the "third Israeli kingdom" and sang in the shower, "In the Nahal settlement in Sinai, so many good things I saw with my eyes," and promised to live in the settlement of Neor Sinai, and said that "better Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace with Sharm el-Sheikh," and then demonstrated leadership and changed their views in the face of reality.
On the streets of Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba and Ma'a lot, thousands of people are living and walking around as we speak without knowing that they owe their lives to that leadership. That is the reason why they are not celebrating that holiday hidden from the eye today.