I’ve been reading the book “The Yom Kippur War” by Abraham Rabinovich and came across a passage that I want to share.
The context is one of doomsday for Israel - perhaps the lowest point of their existence. Three days into the war Israel has suffered enormous losses. The might and tactics of the Egyptians and Syrians had proven too powerful for Israel, and on virtually every front the Arabs were pushing the Israelis back. Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan was speaking about the “Third Temple Burning”, indicating his fear that Israel was about to fall.
|“Television cameraman Mohammed Gohar was probably the first Egyptian to cross the canal. He had been hastily dispatched from Cairo Tuesday morning to film Israeli POWs in Sinai before they were carried off to prison. Seeing their soliders as humbled prisoners would clearly be a devastating blow to Israeli morale.|
The twenty-one-year-old cameraman crossed at Kantara and was led to a group of prisoners near the canal. They sat in rows – unshaven, heads bowed, with the vacant look of men who surrendered their fate. Egyptian soldiers were milling about watching the scene. Gohar told his military escort to have the soldiers moved away. Scanning the prisoners he saw that some were wounded. He asked that they be shifted out of camera range.
That done, he examined the remaining. There were 16 in all and he made his calculations regarding light and camera angle. Before beginning to shoot, he looked at the prisoners again, this time not with the camera’s eye but his own. It was, he realised, the first time he had ever seen Israelis. He had never seen a photograph or a television image of one. All he knew of them were the grotesque cartoons in Cairo newspapers of Dayan and Golda Meir. He was surprised to see that the soldiers looked perfectly normal – in fact, like himself. They were about his age and many of them – Sephardi Jews – had olive skin like his and the expression they wore was what he expected his would be in their situation. All he had heard about Israelis, all he had learned about them at school, had not prepared him for this. As he studied them he saw some raise their heads and look at him quizzically. They took in his stare, trying to understand what it meant. And they took in the camera he was pointing at them. Having their picture taken – and shown on television – meant that they were likely to survive captivity. He understood what they were thinking and from the eye contact he believed they were beginning to understand something of what he was thinking. Gohar would in time become the official photographer of President Sadat. But from the brief encounter on the bank of the Suez Canal at the high point of Egyptian military achievement, he became a believer in peace with Israel.
6 years later Israel and Egypt would sign an historic peace treaty. Under the accords Israel would agree to withdraw from the Sinai in return for Egypt’s recognition of the state of Israel. Egypt achieved, through negotiation what it failed to achieve with all their military might in the 1973 war. Sadat and Israeli PM Menachem Begin would receive the Nobel Peace prize for their efforts. President Sadat died for his decision to shake hands with Israel, assassinated in 1981 by extremists in the Egyptian army opposed to the treaty.