Tumultuous Greeting for Begin on His Return from Camp David

Premier Menachem Begin returned from the U.S. to a hero’s welcome at Ben Gurion Airport Friday, declaring that he brought from Camp David “a peace agreement with security and with honor.” More than 40,000 jubilant Israelis greeted him at the airport and thousands more, including the entire school populations of Ramleh, Lod and other nearby towns, lined the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway to cheer the Premier’s convoy as it made its way to the capital.

Begin, smiling and obviously pleased with his reception, descended from the airplane to a red carpet where some 150 dignitaries awaited him, among them the two Chief Rabbis, the Speaker of the Knesset and scores of Knesset members, the leaders of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, members of Begin’s Herut Party and Betar, his family and friends.

The Premier embraced many of his well-wishers, shook hands, kissed the women and waved repeatedly at the enthusiastic crowds. Facing a barrage of microphones and television cameras, he made a brief statement, in Hebrew, to the world news media, which was translated for foreign reporters by their Israeli colleagues.

“I bring you from Camp David an agreement with security and honor,” he said to thunderous applause. But, he warned, “Can we say that we have brought peace unto you? No. Not yet. Very difficult days are still ahead of us. There are efforts we shall have to exert. But a sound and solid foundation has been laid down. A foundation for a peace agreement between us and Egypt and following that, between us and our other neighbors. Therefore, today I am the carrier of a message: The foundations of peace have been set.”

SPECIAL PRAISE FOR CARTER AND SADAT

Begin thanked Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who had accompanied him to the Camp David summit and all of his other aides and advisors for their excellent team work. He had special praise for the tireless efforts of President Carter, whose contribution and labor, he said, “enabled the preparations of the foundations for peace between us and our neighbors.” He also expressed special thanks to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and his advisors for contributing “on the last day, to make the announcement of the agreements possible.”

As the convoy left the airport, making slow progress because of the throngs who lined the road, Begin surprised his security guards by stepping out of his car to mingle with the cheering adults and children. He shook hundreds of outstretched hands and repeated that there is now a solid foundation for peace. The Premier was obviously launching his campaign for Knesset approval of the Camp David accords.

He could not have helped but notice among the cheering, flag-waving crowds on the highway, those who bitterly reject the Camp David outcome, many of them once among his staunchest supporters. These people were clearly visible because of the black umbrellas they carried, an obvious symbol of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “sell-out” when he returned from Munich in 1938 proclaiming “peace in our time.”

Begin also had a tumultuous greeting in Jerusalem where he was met and embraced by Mayor Teddy Kollek on behalf of the city fathers and the population. The celebration there was shortened by the onset of the Sabbath and Begin probably was grateful for the day of rest before plunging into the grueling Knesset debate scheduled to begin tomorrow.

(Meanwhile, Sadat returned to Cairo yesterday where crowds estimated at more than one million cheered him and waved banners reading “Welcome Back Sadat,” “From Victory to Peace,” and “Hail Prosperity.”)

NEXT STORY