Lessons from Taba


Recent headlines have focused attention on the Egyptian town of Taba , and called into question some assumptions which have been in place for the last 25 years regarding peace and the mood of Egyptians toward Israel .

Ironically, Taba became one of those sites whose name, like Camp David , Wye and Oslo , became associated with the hope of future peace between Arabs and Israelis. For many years there has been an all-quiet-on-the-Egyptian-front perception of peace and good will between Egyptians and Israelis. People in the West would ask why other Arab nations could not follow this obviously successful model for peace and security. After all, there had been no conventional wars or low grade conflict between Egypt and Israel since 1973.

Coupled with this perception was a belief that beyond an end to open hostilities, Egyptians and Israelis were discovering each others cultures and engaging in the kinds of social and cultural exchanges which characterize normal relations between nations.

In America , people contrasted the statesmanship of Sadat and Mubarak to the bellicose and aggressive Saddam. They barely heard Egypt mentioned in the context of the Arab-Israeli struggle. When they did, it usually involved Egypt as interlocutor, exercising diplomacy to bridge gaps between the United States and Israel on the one hand and the Arab world on the other.

The reality is that peace between Egypt and Israel has never evolved beyond an armistice. Anwar Sadat parted company with his own people and the rest of the Arab world when he signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979. The world was told that Egypt was ready to fully accept Israel and engage in an open exchange of business, tourism and diplomacy. The execution of Sadat by members of his own military was like a bucket of cold water thrown upon those who were basking in the warm glow of the peace accords.

Sadat, like Mubarak, did not govern by popular mandate. He was simply a strongman who was able to impose rule over his own nation, but too weak to confront Israel on issues of concern to Egyptians and other Arabs. Sadat chose to switch rather than fight.

The signing of The Camp David Accords was accompanied by predictions of a peace dividend in the form of standard of living improvements for the average Egyptian. Twenty five years later, Egyptians have stopped holding their breath. Life has become worse for the average Egyptian who questions what purpose was served by Camp David , other than to sideline Egypt while Israel completed its destruction of the Palestinians, invaded and occupied Lebanon and consolidated its taking of Syria 's Golan Heights .

In the 25 years since Sadat inked the accords, virtually no Egyptian has bothered to visit Israel . Visits to Egypt , primarily by Israeli politicians, have been met with scorn and open protest by the Egyptian populace.

On October 7, 2004 , bombs shattered the Taba Hilton and two other hotels in Egypt , killing 33 people with as many as a dozen people still unaccounted for. In addition to the resorts they targeted, the bombs shattered long held beliefs that everything was copasetic between Egyptians and Israelis. The perpetrators are suspected to have been Islamic militants, perhaps even Al-Qaeda.

We have come to identify this type of merciless and indiscriminate targeting of civilians as the modus operandi of Arab and Islamic culture. Yet, if we look back in time, we may find that the inspiration for this form of terror has a uniquely Israeli origin.

On July 22, 1946 , the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was rocked by an explosion which killed 91 people and injured 45. The bomber was Menachem Begin, who would later become Israel 's Prime Minister and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. However, before being recognized as a head of state, Begin had a price placed on his head by the British government, which governed Palestine at the time of the bombing. Begin was a leader of the Irgun terrorist group. These Jewish militants bristled at being designated terrorists or criminals, instead claiming that they were freedom fighters seeking to secure a land of their own.

Today similar claims by Palestinian militants are categorically dismissed by America and Israel , who argue that there are no circumstances which justify the taking of innocent lives in the name of a national liberation movement. Wish that this were true in 1940s Palestine .

The Taba bombings also shattered the myth of Egyptian-Israeli brotherhood which had been in place since 1979. They were the eruption of a dormant volcano of simmering anti-Israeli sentiment which pervades Egyptian society ' perhaps even more now than in 1979.

Speaking of his cooperation with Israeli rescue workers at the scene of the Taba bombing, Egyptian fireman Abdel Aziz Mansour bluntly stated 'I am here because this is my country and there are Egyptians that could be buried here. I would never help them to save their people's lives.'[1] Similar sentiments were expressed by other Egyptians. Alaa Fathi, a civil defense worker cautioned, 'Our shoulders are next to them but I am on my guard and ready to kill them if it becomes necessary.'[2] Adel Sameh, a waiter in a five star hotel, admitted, 'If I argue with Israelis I might end up killing any Israeli I see, but for the sake of my job I have to keep my mouth shut.'[3]

Israel 's policies of mayhem against the Palestinians in the face of Egyptian government silence have cultivated a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement. Its growth has been further fueled by the declining conditions in which the average Egyptian must live, and the government crackdown on political opposition.

There is little doubt that Egyptians played some role in the Taba bombings. There is also little question that the resorts were targeted because of a substantial Israeli presence. Most of the casualties were Israelis ' Israelis whose own government understood that Camp David was pure veneer, and had warned them of their ultimate fate.

Ironically, the leaders of those targeted in the Taba bombings had themselves targeted hotel guests in an effort to advance their political agenda. Neither revisionist history nor treaties signed by unelected rulers has managed to deflect the grievances of Egyptians toward Israel . These are the lessons of Taba. They need to be understood to avoid a continuation of the self-deluded thinking which has led us to this point.

[1] MSNBC, quoting Reuters, October 9, 2004

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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John Peters is an attorney in Michigan, a Libertarian, and a freelance author.