Preparing for the May 27 Summit

Beersheba, capital of the Negev, is in the midst of feverish preparations for the May 27th summit meeting between Premier Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to mark the first phase of the implementation of the peace treaty they signed last March 26.

With the historic event little more than a week away, this city of 101,000 is busily sweeping streets, painting buildings, decorating the town hall, drilling its police, preparing a helicopter landing pad and erecting reviewing stands along an eight kilometer route over which the two leaders will travel.

The project, under the supervision of Mayor Eliyahu Navi, has been given the code name Operation Sons of Abraham. It is an appropriate title inasmuch as Beersheba, whose origins go back some 2000 years, was, according to the Bible, the place where Abraham sojourned on his way to the Promised Land; and it was from Abraham’s sons, Isaac and Ishmael, that the Israelites and the Arab peoples are descended.

Beersheba is also a combination of the old and new that characterizes much of Israel. A dusty frontier, town 30 years ago, its ancient core is now surrounded by a much larger modern city of wide streets and modern shops and homes. Its population is made up of veteran Israelis and new immigrants and it is the seat of Ben Gurion University, one of Israel’s leading institutions of higher learning.

BEERSHEBA WILL BE IN THE LIMELIGHT

On Sunday, May 27, it will be in the limelight of world media attention. According to the plan worked our by a joint Israeli-Egyptian committee, Begin and Sadat will fly from El Arish in Sinai to Beersheba in two helicopters while a third will bring President Yitzhak Navon from Jerusalem. Navon and Mayor Navi, will officially welcome Sadat. He will be presented with the traditional bread and salt and with a key to the city.

The ceremonies will be much the same as those that greeted Sadat on his first visit to Israel in November, 1977. There will be a red carpet, a guard of honor, a military band and a 21 gun salute. After a brief stop for speeches in the town hall square, Navon will return to Jerusalem and Sadat and Begin will head a motor-code through the city to the Ben Gurion University campus on its outskirts. There the two leaders will address the 4000-member student body of which some 200 are Bedouins and Arabs–and the faculty.

There are only 2000 seats and there has been a mad scramble for tickets during the past few weeks. The speeches will be carried by loudspeaker to thousands of others expected to mass in the university quadrangle.

The events at the university will be under the chairmanship of Nissim Gaon, bead of the World Sephardi Federation. It was he who delivered a letter to the Egyptian government in which Ben Gurion University president Yosef Tekoah, Israel’s former Ambassador to the United Nations, proposed 10 fellowships for Egyptian students. Tekoah also proposed an honorary degree to be conferred on Sadat. But the Egyptian President declined, saying he preferred action to honors.

At least 500 journalists from all over the world are expected in Beersheba on May 27 to cover these events. For their benefit, dozens of additional telephone lines have been plugged into the Beersheba exchange, giving Israel’s desert city, for a day at least, the stature of a world capital.

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