In the morning we decided to take a trip. I was staying as a guest with a couple of friends at Kibbutz Hatzerim. From there, we took a car belonging to the kibbutz and headed south, to Sinai. We crossed Rafah and reached El-Arish. We drove as if the area were our own backyard. It was only when we realized we were running low on fuel and the Israeli gas stations were closed that we changed course and abandoned plans to reach the Suez Canal.
It was Yom Kippur. Once we returned to the kibbutz, we noticed a large crowd forming in the cafeteria. MK Aharon Yadlin, a member of the kibbutz and one of the Labor Party's most senior officials, received a phone call summoning him at once to a meeting with the prime minister. This was Yom Kippur, the year 5734 on the Jewish calendar. War.
There is no need to give an answer now to the question of what would have happened had we continued on our trip, but this of course is not the only question that has reverberated since that year. Our complacency - mine and that of the paratroop officer from Hatzerim during our last trip together to Sinai - was not out of step with Israeli society in the fall of 1973.
This past weekend, I leafed through the newspapers of the 30 days that preceded "the earthquake." There is no better barometer in sampling the spirit of the time. "Cairo: Impose economic blockade against Israel if it doesn't withdraw from the territories," "Richard Nixon: U.S. attaches supreme importance to settling conflict in the Middle East," "The Seventh Brigade celebrates 25 years in Latrun," "Golani conference in Yarkon Park," "Palmach veterans reunion set for October 16," "Sam Peckinpah's 'The Getaway' and 'Last Tango in Paris' playing for the 23rd week at Studio Cinema," "Haaretz now being sold in Sharm el-Sheikh courtesy of the Arkia corporation." The newspaper labels the heads of the PLO as "terrorists," as usual. Military affairs commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote: "The IDF assures itself there will not be a stalemate in thinking along the chain of command." More headlines declared: "Israel celebrates 1,900 years since Masada" and "The Israeli Opera presents 'The Queen of Sheba.'" "Expedite your holiday blessings," says a notice from the postal service. "Three-day march gets underway from Beit El, marchers hug and kiss the chief of staff, David Elazar," Sasi Keshet sings at the Magic Carpet nightclub and Shimon Dzigan presents "Shehecheyanu V'ki'imanu."
IDF generals would park their Valiant cars on the sidewalks of Kings of Israel Square and grab a bite to eat at Eli Ronen's steakhouse, the best steakhouse in the entire country, whose walls were adorned with the generals' photographs. Every child knows by heart the names of everyone in the IDF General Staff, men whose faces would soon be plastered on the walls of Sukkot tents. There are no real parties in town without a general on hand. Moshe Dayan came up with an idea: "a deep-sea port" at the Israeli settlement of Yamit. Transportation minister Shimon Peres is quick to offer an explanation to the press, stating that "professional considerations" were behind the port project, which will break ground in another 12 years.
And then there's the cherry on top of the whipped cream: an announcement from the Labor Alignment in preparation for the elections to the eighth Knesset. It was given the heading "The Bar Lev Line," above a picture of the strapping group of individuals who comprised the party's dream team. "Quiet reigns on the banks of the Suez. So too in the Sinai desert, the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, and the Golan. The borders are secure, the bridges are open, Jerusalem is united, settlements are arising and our political standing is strong. This is the result of a carefully-weighed, daring, bold and visionary policy. Vote by inserting the Emet slip into the ballot box." This was September 19, 1973, 17 days before Judgment Day.
Three-and-a-half years before this, in April 1970, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat invited the head of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Goldmann, to visit Cairo. Prime minister Golda Meir prevented the trip, doing so with scorn. In February 1971, Sadat presented his conditions for peace with Israel to the United Nations' envoy Gunnar Jarring. The Israeli government rejected these conditions out of hand. Defense minister Dayan said at the time how it was better to have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. In July 1973, he offered a prediction to Time Magazine that war would not break out in the next 10 years and that Israel would remain in its borders.
"If Israel rejects our outstretched hand, I will enlist a million soldiers and we will embark on war," Sadat vowed in an interview with an Austrian newspaper. "They're not even capable of crossing the canal," Golda Meir said. The rest is history.
Even now, "quiet reigns on the banks of the Suez." Now, on the eve of Yom Kippur, in the Jewish year 5770, quiet reigns on the Golan Heights, the northern border, the West Bank, even in Gaza, relatively speaking. This is not the time to make a move toward peace. Why should we? Anyway, there is quiet. It is true, the generals are not as adored now as they were then, and Haaretz is not being sold in Sharm el-Sheikh, and Dzigan is dead. Aside from all that, though, what has changed?
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