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Routine Abandoned; Atmosphere of Almost Universal Euphoria Takes over

November 21, 1977
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Sunday in Israel is normally a routine work day. But this Sunday the streets of every city and town were nearly deserted. Shops, offices, factories were either closed or manned by skeleton crews as Israelis of all ages and political and religious persuasions remained riveted to television and radio sets, watching and listening with rapt attention to every move, every nuance, every word of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic journey to Israel.

For this nation of three million, the first visit by the leader of an Arab state inspired an atmosphere of almost universal euphoria reflecting the deepest yearning of ordinary men and women for peace. Whatever the outcome of Sadat’s mission, his presence on Israeli soil, his progress through the streets of Jerusalem, his solemn appearance at the Yad Vashem memorial to the six million Holocaust victims where he wrote in the guest book, “Let us all bring an end to suffering for humanity” re-vitalized the hope that peace may indeed be at hand.

From the moment Sadat landed at Ben Gurion Airport last night, Israelis seized eagerly on rumors that the Egyptian leader would declare a state of non-belligerency as of now, that he would sign a separate peace agreement with Israel, that he would remain in the country longer than necessary to achieve the purpose of peace. Israelis went all out to demonstrate their eagerness for peace and friendship.

MOOD REFLECTED IN THE PRESS

It was reflected in the daily press, including those newspapers that ordinarily exercised caution, skepticism or militancy with respect to Egypt’s intentions. Maariv covered its front page with the words “Welcome Sadat” in Arabic. The English-language Jerusalem Post published an extraordinary Saturday edition with an Arabic headline welcoming Sadat which sold out quickly and seems destined to become a souvenir item. Haaretz carried a welcoming editorial in Arabic on its front page with Hebrew translation on an inside page.

Haaretz called for an all-out effort by the Israeli government and people not to allow Sadat to return to Cairo empty-handed. “Let us not waste this hour of opportunity,” the paper said. “For Israel, a Jewish and democratic state, whose enemies will compromise with her, it is worth the price to give up parts of ‘Greater Israel'” for peace, the paper declared with reference to the occupied territories.

Yediot Achronot hailed Sadat’s visit as a “holy mission” because it aims to end blooded. Moariv, not to be outdone by its rival, featured Israeli and Egyptian flags together on its front page in full color and cautioned that “this hour of good will should not be wasted.” Another paper warned Israelis not to overdo their welcome to Sadat lest his image be damaged in the Arab countries.

DEPARTURES FROM THE NORM

There were many departures from the norm. In the ultra-Orthodox township of Bnei Brak where television sets are banned from homes because they are considered a tool of evil, many of the ultra-Orthodox joined throngs outside of TV shops watching Sadat’s arrival. The Israel Electric Corp. reported that power consumption broke all records for a Saturday night because everyone was at home with radios and TV sets on and using electrical appliances to heat snacks and beverages. This morning, however, when normally the resumption of business and industrial activity would create peak demands for electricity, the company reported the power load was abnormally low.

There was, of course, some commercial exploitation of the event. Many firms bought advertising space in newspapers to link their products with the Sadat visit. A cigarette brand-named “Time” took a large ad proclaiming “Now is the Time for Peace.” Street vendors did a brisk business hawking Egyptian flags and commemorative dishes imprinted with the Israeli and Egyptian colors and the words “Welcome Sadat.”

Other businesses didn’t fare as well. Those restaurants and coffee houses that remained open had few customers. Movie theaters projected films to mostly empty seats. Taxi drivers yawned at the hack stands, for everyone was home watching Sadat.

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