THE NEXT YOM
Tomorrow, on Yom Kippur, we will remember the shocking
picture that changed the self-image of many Israelis 22 years ago:
Dozens of Israeli soldiers crouching on the ground, frightened and
humiliated, surrounded by their boastful Syrian captors.
That was the torpedo that sank the Ship of Fools, which
was cruising on the sea of illusions from the end of the six-day war to
the Yom Kippur war. The Captain was Golda Meir, and the navigator Moshe
It is hard to remember the climate of those days. The
shelves were full of victory albums showing the Israeli soldiers as
supermen. Court-poets composed triumphal hymns. The journalists,
competing with each other, flattered the idols of the time, headed by
Dayan. A cheerful military troupe danced to the words of the song "The
whole world is against us / But we don't give a damn…"General
Ariel Sharon announced that the Israeli army could reach Tripoli in
Libya within 48 hours. The contempt for Arabs pervaded everything.
Nearly a year before the war I warned Golda Meir, from
the Knesset rostrum, that Egypt was going to start a war. She reacted
with disdain. Nobody troubled himself to ask where my information came
from. The source was a high-ranking Arab leader, with whom I had a talk
at some international conference and who told me: "If Sadat will
conclude in the next few months that there is no political movement, he
will start a war. He knows full well that he cannot win against Israel,
but he will attack anyway, in order to put an end to the freeze."
Three years before I had an illuminating experience.
Eric Rouleau, an outstanding French journalist who had established close
connections with Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, told me that he had just had a
long talk with the Egyptian president. Nasser had spoken freely for
several hours, but in the end he had allowed the publication of only a
small part of the recorded interview. Rouleau let me listen to the other
parts. I was astounded. In the unpublished section Nasser had said that
he was ready to make peace and establish both diplomatic and commercial
relations with Israel.
I asked Rouleau if he would allow me to show the
interview in secret to a member of the Israeli cabinet. He agreed. In
consultation with Amnon Zichroni, then my parliamentary advisor, I chose
Pinchas Sapir, the all-powerful minister of finance and Labor party
boss, who was considered the most moderate member of the cabinet. He
received us in his office. I told him about the interview and offered to
let him listen to the recording. He showed no interest at all,
preferring to devote the time to heaping abuse on his enemy, Moshe
Nasser died soon after, Anwar Sadat took his place. A UN
mediator, the Swede Gunnar Jaring, shuttled between Cairo and Jerusalem.
He informed Golda Meir that Sadat was ready to make peace with Israel,
if in return all the occupied territory in Sinai was given back to him.
Jaring asked Golda to reply that she would indeed give back all the
Sinai peninsula in return for peace. Golda refused and built the town of
History has already judged Golda Meir. She is remembered
as a primitive, opinionated, strong and far from wise woman. I may be
permitted to add that I published this view immediately upon her
assuming power. If she had been removed from office than, the lives of
2000 Israeli youngsters and uncounted soldiers of the other side would
have been saved.
I do not write this in order to open old wounds, but to
prevent new ones. The contempt for the Arabs did not die on Yom Kippur
1973, it is only hidden better. What was true for Sadat than is true for
Assad now. If we do not give back the Golan, he will in the end start a
war, if only in order to put an end to the stalemate. He might think
that a few chemical warheads on Tel-Aviv or Haifa could do wonders.
But most of all this is true for our relations with the
Palestinian people. If we make them an offer that satisfies their
minimal national aspirations, we can achieve peace within a year. If we
are not ready for this, even fifty years will not suffice. Someday the
patience of this patient people will snap and a bloody confrontation
will ensue, a Palestinian version of Yom Kippur.
On the eve of Yom Kippur 1973, the Israeli government
asked its chief of military intelligence about the chances for an
Egyptian attack. His famous answer was "low probability". Leaders of our
government and army will most likely say the same about my apprehensions
Maariv, Eve of Yom Kippur, 19/09/99
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