Sometimes a single sentence is enough to reveal a person’s mental world and intellectual profundity. Such a sentence was uttered by Shaul Mofaz, the Minister of Defense, some days ago during a visit to the Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip.
“With our enemies, it seems, no shortcuts are possible. Egypt made peace with Israel only after it was defeated in the Yom Kippur War. That will happen with the Palestinians, too.”
This means that there is no political solution. There is only war, and in this war we must “defeat” the Palestinians. A simple, simplistic, not to say primitive, view.
But the revealing sentence is: “Egypt made peace with Israel only after it was defeated in the Yom Kippur War”.
Revealing, because it utterly contradicts the almost unanimous view of all the experts in Israel and around the world–historians, Arabists and military commentators. These believe that the exact opposite is true: Anwar Sadat was able to lead Egypt towards peace only because he was admired as the commander who had defeated Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Only after the Egyptian people had won back their national pride were they able to consider peace with the enemy (with us).
When the war broke out, the Egyptians did something that amazed the world and shook Israel: they crossed the Suez Canal and overcame the celebrated “Bar-Lev line”. Everybody considered this a brilliant military feat. The stupidity of Israeli army intelligence and the arrogant complacency of Prime Minister Golda Meir allowed the Egyptians to achieve total surprise, destroy a large number of tanks and pin down the Israeli Air force. The Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, was in shock and talked about the “destruction of the third Jewish state”. (In traditional Jewish historiography, the first two Jewish states are symbolized by the first and second temple in Jerusalem.)
In the course of the war, the tide turned and, in the end, the Israeli army crossed the Canal into Egypt. At the end of the war, Israeli troops were established on the western shore, but large Egyptian forces remained to their rear, on the eastern side. This week a long-delayed official study by the Israeli army was leaked. It declares unequivocally that Israel had “not won that war”.
But the professional military analysis is not so important in this context. What is important is how the events appear to the Egyptian consciousness and affect their actions since then.
I succeeded in reaching Cairo on the morrow of Sadat’s sensational visit to Jerusalem, and found myself in a city drunk with joy, in some kind of delirious popular carnival. Over the main streets stretched hundreds of slogans celebrating the act of the president. Every commercial corporation felt duty-bound to hang such a slogan with a peace message.
The one slogan that outnumbered all others was “Anwar Sadat: Hero of War and Peace”.
The Egyptian people would not have supported peace, if they had considered it a surrender to the diktat of an arrogant enemy. Only the crossing of the Canal four years earlier, which Egyptians consider one of the greatest victories in all the 8000 years of their history, enabled them to accept the agreement as a compromise between equals, without loss of honor. Like many other nations, the Egyptians–and all other Arabs–consider national dignity the most important treasure.
Perhaps Mofaz should go to Cairo and visit the round building that houses the museum of the Ramadan War (as Arabs call the Yom Kippur War). There he will see an exciting, emotion-laden display of the crossing of the Canal. Every day the place is thronged with people, especially school-children.
If one wants to draw a parallel between the Egyptians and the Palestinians, as Mofaz tries to do, the conclusion would be: only after the Palestinians win back their national self-respect, will they be able to make peace with Israel. The first intifada, which Palestinians consider a victorious struggle against the immense might of the Israeli army, allowed them to accept the Oslo agreement. Only the second intifada, which has already proved that the Israeli army cannot subdue the Palestinian uprising, enabled them to accept the Road Map, which is supposed to bring about peace between the Israeli and the coming Palestinian state.
On a related topic: On the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli newspapers are full of revelations about it. Among them is the disclosure that I saved the life of Moshe Dayan. That surprised me, as it would have surprised Dayan, if he were still living. But it appears to be true.
The facts are revealed by Amir Porat, the former communication officer and personal confidant of Shmuel Gonen (universally known as “Gorodish”), who was in charge of Southern Command during the war. Later, when the public was looking for a scapegoat for the terrible initial defeat, the main blame was put on Gorodish. He was dismissed from his command and nobody was prepared to listen to his side of the story. All the media boycotted him.
This man, who practically overnight had fallen from the height of glory (as one of the heroes of the 1967 Six Day War) to the depths of ignominy, was in despair. He blamed Dayan for the injustice done to him. In the end he made an appointment with him, planning to shoot him and then himself.
At the very last moment, one day before the fateful meeting, Haolam Hazeh correspondent Rino Tzror arranged a meeting between us. At the time I was editor-in-chief of this newsmagazine, the only medium in the country that was truly independent of the establishment. We had a reputation for supporting the underdog and challenging the powers that be. I talked with him at length. During the whole conversation he toyed with his pistol.
Gorodish was very far from my political views, he was a right-wing person, an out-and-out militarist, but I became convinced that the official inquiry into the war had indeed done him a shocking injustice. Therefore I promised to help him getting his side of the story across. He saw that the whole world was not closed to him. Having someone listening to his side of the story and promising to publish it relieved his despair and made him give up the idea of killing Dayan and committing suicide. I published a large article under the headline “The Israeli Dreyfus”.
This affair has its ironic side. In the whole of Israel, no one was more opposed to Dayan than I. More than anyone else (except Ben-Gurion and his sidekick, Shimon Peres) Dayan laid down in the 1950s the anti-Arab tracks on which Israel is moving to this very day. In the pages of Haolam Hazeh I attacked him relentlessly, writing hundreds of articles against him, exposing his illegal traffic in stolen archeological finds and his private peccadilloes that endangered the security of the state. And in the end it appears that I saved his life.
Back to the main point: The Yom Kippur War did not lead to the “destruction of the third state”, as Dayan had prophesied, but to peace with Egypt, after its national honor had been restored. If Sharon and the army command succeed in disrupting the hudna (truce) and bring about the renewal of the intifada, they will not break the Palestinians, who will refuse to submit. And after large-scale bloodshed, Yasser Arafat will make a speech in the Knesset, as did Sadat, the “Hero of War and Peace”.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. One of his essays is also included in Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: email@example.com.