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A View From Jerusalem – November 2017

Kaf-Tet B’November (29 November)

Today the Jewish world marks one of the great moments in our modern history – the adoption of United Nations Resolution 181 recommending the end of the British Mandate and the formation of a Jewish state.

The resolution also recommended setting up a separate Arab nation with special international regime for the city of Jerusalem.

Spontaneous joyful dancing circles filled the streets of then-Palestine. The new Jewish State – 70 years ago on Nov. 29 – was on its way! It would grant an international legitimacy for Jewish refugees to immigrate to the land of Israel – the land we have longed for and dreamed of – in an attempt to find a safe haven.

This plan is since known as the Partition Plan for Palestine. After 2,000 years of yearning, the Jewish people received recognition of our birthright. In one great moment, we were granted the right to establish Jewish sovereignty, in a Jewish state, governed by the Jewish people.

The plan, with its objectives to encourage political division and economic unity between the two nations, was accepted by the majority of the Jewish community, despite its perceived limitations. Arab leaders and governments rejected it and indicated an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division – a rejection that led to the War of Independence.

The partition plan was not implemented and that first refusal to negotiate and compromise has ever since characterized the Arab’s world attitude toward Israel.

The War of Independence, modern-day Israel’s first war, marked the beginning of a bloody chain of conflicts, operations and terror attacks, all characterizing our collective identity as a nation under constant threat, always fighting for its existence – an identity molded by violence and hatred for some, but to us, to the Jewish world at large, and to most Western countries, an identity shaped by bravery, determination and an everlasting striving to overcome obstacles, willingly paying the ultimate price and when possible, reaching out to neighbor countries, as we did 70 years ago, settling for less land with the hope it will assure peace.

One historical price Israel has paid was relinquishing the entire Sinai desert to Egypt as part of the peace treaty with our biggest enemy. The Sinai desert is three times bigger than the entire land of Israel. Led by the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel gave up this land not lightly, but with a painful understanding that in order to reach peace, we must sacrifice, human beings are worth more than land, as big as it may be.

It all began exactly 40 years ago. I remember that day as if it was yesterday.

I was a young girl, growing up in a country overwhelmed by constant violence and threats, mostly from Egypt, our mighty southern neighbor. Since the days of the Pharaohs, Egypt symbolized aggression and a continuous desire to oppress the Israelites from the days of the Torah, to modern times. Egypt was not only the largest and most populous Arab state, but also the one spearheading repeated pan-Arab attempts to destroy Israel.

And then in November 1977, Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian president, Israel’s ultimate enemy, stunned the world by visiting Jerusalem and breaking the psychological barrier produced by three decades of war and belligerence. Anwar Sadat landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport for a two-day visit to Jerusalem, at the official invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Sadat will forever be remembered for his courageous act of visiting the contested capital of the Arab world’s foremost nemesis in an apparent acquiescence to the legitimacy of the Jewish state’s existence and its right to peaceful coexistence with its Arab neighbors.

We all held our breath. I can still hear the silence hovering over the empty streets, touch the holy air of messianic prophecy, and feel the great excitement of redemption wrapping us all with hope. Our prayers were finally heard, our wishes coming true. The desired peace is no longer a dream. It’s here, so close, carried on the wing of Sadat’s presidential airplane, all the way from Egypt’s dusty deserts.

This was the atmosphere throughout the streets of Jerusalem. We were all glued to our TV screens, rubbing our eyes as they followed the historical speech from our Knesset, the Israeli parliament, when the Egyptian leader declared: “No more war, no more bloodshed”.

Today, four decades later, most Israelis view the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty as essential to Israel’s national security. It’s not a love affair, not a warm friendly relationship. Relations between the two peoples have not developed at all and any connection that isn’t security or diplomacy related does not exist. Economic ties are very limited, and there are no cultural, scientific or sports relations. In school textbooks Israel does not appear on the map and a special permit is needed from security authorities to travel to Israel. But any cold limited relationship is better than none. The peace agreement has stood, solid. Despite opposition in Egypt, since the treaty was signed Egypt has never joined any military attack against Israel.

These days, security and governmental ties are unprecedentedly close as both countries view Hamas in the Gaza Strip as a mutual threat. And both Egypt and Israel are keen to counter Iranian influence in the region and see the Islamic State’s insurgency in Sinai routed.

Unfortunately, this past weekend the joint Israeli-Egyptian efforts to fight the Islamic State demonstrated why this alliance is so vital to our security. At least 305 people were killed and hundreds were wounded in a Sufi mosque in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt in the most vicious way. The attackers weren’t content to set a bomb; as people fled the mosque, Islamic State terrorists sprayed the victims with bullets. Among the victims were many children, all innocent worshipers in the middle of a sacred act of prayer, a ritual so well known to their murders. This cruel act of hatred ranks as Egypt’s deadliest terrorist attack in modern history.

Forty years later, the messianic prophecies of peace are still longed for and redemption was not to be a part for Sadat to carry on.  Our prayers are still waiting to be answered. Despite time and reality, peace is still our dream and we will never lose hope.

From 1947’s Partition Plan, through Sadat’s 1977 historical visit to Jerusalem, our chronicles reveal the story of a nation yearning to exist despite harsh realities, always willing to compromise, never losing hope.

I can only pray that the jubilee of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem will also mark the 10th anniversary of the new Middle East, one that with its open borders reveals trust, respect and a shared will to live peacefully. Or in Herzl’s words: “If you will it, it is no dream”.

 

Leah Garber,  Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center

 

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