We Were as Dreamers

It was the end of the summer of 1977. Menachem Begin, the father of all "revolutions" and fears, was already prime minister, and I was walking down Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv with a German colleague. He was telling me about his visit to Cairo, and I said to him: "That's the difference between us. You are free to travel the world and I will never reach countries that are terra incognita - Egypt, for example."

At the end of that year, I landed in the middle of the night in Cairo and arrived at my hotel, Mena House. I threw myself down on the bed, exhausted from the long trip via Athens and from the tension of being an Israeli traveling alone to an enemy country. In the morning I opened the curtains to one of the wonders of the world: the pyramids of Giza. I knew this would be a moment to treasure forever.

I will also never forget - a few weeks before that special moment and exactly 30 years ago today - November 19, when, as a young broadcaster for Army Radio, I was waiting for then president Anwar Sadat to land at Ben-Gurion International Airport. We stood in the press box, and we were as dreamers.

Newspapers from the days before that truly great revolution reveal that November 1977, started with a new economic plan by Yeruham Meshel and Simcha Erlich on a boring front page. Nothing hinted at what was to happen. When Sadat told American broadcaster Walter Cronkite that he would come to Jerusalem, we were, as usual, suspicious. "Fears and suspicions about Sadat's sincerity and his intentions" read the acerbic November 13 headline in Haaretz.

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Motta Gur warned of some great deception: The door of the presidential plane would open, and an Egpytian commando force would come out shooting, or something like that. By the day before, the headlines were mixed: "Sadat arrives tomorrow" and "U.S. administration response restrained; concern over Geneva conference." We should remind the Americans of that now.

The plane landed at exactly 8 P.M, bearing the unbelievable words, "The Arab Republic of Egypt." It slowly came to a standstill, the door opened and the Israeli chief of protocol, Rehavam Amir, went up the stairs to invite the guest to come down. Two tense minutes passed.

Then he appeared. "The president of Egypt is standing in the door of the plane!" I shouted in the most excited voice I would ever use in a live broadcast.

Seventy-five people stood in line to greet him. He planted a kiss on the cheek of Golda Meir, whom he used to call "the old woman." "Where are the preparations for war," he asked the chief of staff, smiling. Over the next 24 hours he charmed us. A generation of stereotypes, the fruit of brainwashing and unnecessary wars, toppled.

After Sadat inspected a military honor guard to the music of the IDF orchestra, another scene that was difficult to describe on air, he got into then president and professor Ephraim Katzir's vehicle and drove up the road to Jerusalem. I knew then that such a moment would never come again.