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Day 153: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

“If you will it, it is no dream” — Theodor Herzl.

This iconic phrase opens “Altneuland,” The Old–New Land. Theodor Herzl’s utopian novel was published in German in 1902. The book later became one of Zionism’s establishing texts, as it expanded on Herzl’s vision for a Jewish return to the Land of Israel. The book ends with a concluding sentence: “…and if you don’t will it, what I have shared with you is no more than a legend and will remain just that.”

And the Jewish people have always full-heartedly willed it. We have always strived for peace. The Jewish people have always strived for peace. Shalom, the word for peace, is how we greet and separate from each other; it is the essence of the name of Jerusalem, the capital city. Three times a day, Jews across the world pray for peace, but we also express our desire to live peacefully through our actions.

Forty-five years ago today, on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Adar, Israel and Egypt signed a historic, first-of-its-kind peace treaty. The agreement was signed in Washington, D.C., by Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, and Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, and witnessed by Jimmy Carter, President of the United States. This tremendous historical moment followed Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977. The main features of the treaty were mutual recognition, cessation of the state of war that had existed since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, normalization of relations, and the withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The agreement took a heavy toll on both sides. In Israel, society was divided between supporters and opponents, many of whom were forced to leave their homes in the Israeli settlements in Sinai which were given to the Egyptians as part of the agreement. Egypt was suspended from the Arab League, and Syria severed all relations with Egypt. In 1981, President Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Although it was never a love affair but rather a “cold peace,” the agreement lasted since the treaty went into effect, and Egypt became an important strategic partner of Israel.

In 1994, Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan, where, in addition to land, Israel gave up one of its most valuable resources—water.

In 2020, through the Abraham Accords, the UAE became the third Arab country to formally agree to normalize its relationship with Israel. Later that year, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco also joined the Abraham Accords.

The signing ceremonies of the peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE

The November 29th, 1947, United Nations Resolution 181, supporting the end of the British Mandate and the formation of a Jewish state, along with recommending a partition between the Jewish state and an Arab state, marked the beginning of a war between Israel and its neighbors that has continued for nearly 76 years.

The Partition Plan was a compromise welcomed by the Jews who, after 2,000 years of yearning, received recognition of their birthright. The right to establish Jewish sovereignty in a Jewish state governed by the Jewish people led to spontaneous, joyful dancing in the streets, but unfortunately, also led to the beginning of a permanent state of war between Israel and its neighboring countries that rejected the partition plan and any form of compromise.

The plan, with its objectives to encourage political division and economic unity between the two nations, was rejected by the Arab world, indicating an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division. A rejection that led to the War of Independence and the eight wars that followed, marking a bloody chain of conflicts, operations, and terror attacks. These events define our collective identity as a nation under constant threat, always fighting for its existence—an identity molded by violence and hatred against us. But, to Israelis, the Jewish world, and most Western countries, have an identity shaped by bravery, determination, and desire to overcome obstacles. Israelis willingly pay the ultimate price and, when possible, reach out to neighboring countries, often settling for less land with the hope that it will assure peace.

Egypt’s willingness to work towards peace proved that, like the prophet Isiah’s words, it’s possible to will “swords into plowshares.”

As a young girl, I grew up in a country overwhelmed by constant violence and threats, mainly from Egypt, our mighty southern neighbor. Since the days of the Pharaohs, Egypt has symbolized aggression and a continuous desire to oppress the Israelites.

In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat stunned the world by visiting Jerusalem and breaking the psychological barrier produced by three decades of war and hostility. At the official invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sadat landed at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport for a two-day visit to Jerusalem.

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

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

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

Forty-five years later, the messianic prophecies of peace are still longed for. Redemption apparently, was after all, not Prime Minister Begin’s or President Sadat’s to determine. Our prayers are still waiting to be answered.

Exactly five months today, 153 days, Israel is facing the most harsh and painful of its wars. A justified war, which was imposed on us, and exacts a heavy and bloody price every day it continues.

In recent days, new videos from refugee camps in Gaza have been circulated, in which Gazan citizens are seen calling for the elimination of the Hamas organization, the return of the Israeli hostages, and the end of the war. The citizens of Gaza have been suffering from the brutality of Hamas for years. They, too, are the victims of the ongoing hatred against Israel, where, for years, Hamas has used its people as cannon fodder and human shields. The humanitarian aid trucked into Gaza every day is brutally robbed by Hamas terrorists who steal from their own hungry people, which is further proof of their heartlessness and the malice that drives them.

From 1947’s Partition Plan to Prime Minister Begin’s invitation to Sadat in 1977 to the 2020 Abraham Accords, our chronicles reveal the story of a nation yearning for peace, always willing to compromise, and never losing hope.

We will do it if only our neighbors will as well. How wonderful it could be when iron swords are welded to plowshares, the fields of slaughter will grow grain which will feed two nations, who together will prove that there is no sweeter reality than the fulfillment of the dream of peace.

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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