Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Longest 250 Miles: Sadat’s Bold Flight

Imagine America’s foremost enemy addressing a joint session of Congress? You can’t; it’s almost impossible to envision such a scenario actually taking place. But such a miraculous event, took place on November 20, 1977, in the Israeli Knesset. General Anwar Sadat, the leader of Egypt, Israel’s foremost enemy, brought his message of peace to the Israeli people. It was a moment in time when people needed to pinch themselves to assure that what they were seeing was real and not imaginary. Menachem Begin’s victory in the 1977 Parliamentary election, caused a huge shift in Israeli politics, as it would be the first time a right-leaning government was voted into power. Many feared Begin and his Likud party’s conservative positions would lead to war, not peace. But within months of the election, the impossible actually occurred, just four years after the Yom Kippur war. The brief 250-mile flight from Cairo to Tel Aviv represented light-years of progress, and a huge risk on both the parts of Begin and Sadat.

Prior to his speech, Sadat prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and toured Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.

Speaking in the Israeli Knesset in his native Arabic, Sadat declared to Israel’s lawmakers and the world: “I come to you today on solid ground, to shape a new life, to establish peace.”

He noted how his decision to reach out to Israel was controversial and stated that if the Israelis actually invited him to Jerusalem, he would immediately accept, which he did. “I have declared that I will go to the end of the world; I will go to Israel, for I want to put before the People of Israel all of the facts.” Prime Minister Begin responded eloquently with a speech of his own welcoming President Sadat and his heroic overtures for peace.

Sadat’s Jerusalem visit led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which was brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and signed by Israel and Egypt at the Maryland presidential retreat, “Camp David.” Both Sadat and Begin were awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. Tragically, in 1981 Sadat was assassinated by terrorists who violently opposed his overtures for peace to Israel. Menachem Begin was among the world leaders attending Sadat’s funeral, on Saturday, October 10, 1981, and led the Israeli delegation who walked from the hotel to the ceremony due to the sanctity of Shabbat. President Reagan, led the U.S. delegation, which included Presidents Nixon, Carter and Ford.

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