Israelis In Egypt Keep Low Profile 10 Years After Peace Pact
NUBARIYA, Egypt (AP) _ Despite 10 years of peace, Israelis living in Egypt still face resentment and are forced to keep a low profile for reasons of politics and security.
Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, on a rare trip to Egypt by a senior Israeli official, tried to raise Israeli visibility recently by visiting this state- owned farm where Israeli experts are involved in an irrigation project.
″This project is a big success,″ Arens said, ″and being a big success it will become well known.″
The project was started in 1986 but was kept quiet until the foreign minister came with a busload of journalists.
Egypt’s agriculture minister, Yussef Wali, noted that while the project had not been publicized in Egyptian media it is highly visible to Egyptians because it is about 60 miles north of Cairo on a main highway to Alexandria on the Mediterranean.
″It is seen by thousands of people, and this is real publicity for the project,″ Wali said.
The farm, however, has no sign to show that Israeli experts are there watching over such crops as chilis, sweet peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.
A large green-and-white billboard, however, announces Saudi Arabian cooperation in other aspects of the farm.
Mark Zuk, 38, one of a half-dozen Israeli agriculture advisers here, said he had no specific instructions to hide his presence. But he added that political events sometimes made the atmosphere tense and he avoids sensitive topics. One such topic is the 15-month Palestinian uprising in the Israeli- occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Israeli soldiers have killed more than 390 Arabs.
″We never talk about political subjects,″ Zuk said. ″They don’t bring it up and neither do I. I feel comfortable with the people I am working with and don’t feel any rejection.″
Thousands of Israeli tourists have visited Egypt since Israel signed the peace treaty March 26, 1979, that ended three decades of war. About 100 Israeli Embassy staff members and their families now live in Cairo, but only about a dozen non-official Israelis work in Egypt on a full-time basis.
Ovadia Keidar, 48, an Israeli agronomist who lives in Cairo with his wife and three of his five children, said the relationship between Israelis and Egyptians remains tentative, complex and often emotional.
″The peace agreement is not something that you can switch on and off. You make the peace gradually, breaking through one barrier and then another. I believe that peace will survive the occasional ups and down. What we have to do is understand each other.″
Keidar was born in Egypt, speaks Arabic fluently and has a good knowledge of the country. His family was forced out of Egypt after the 1956 Suez war, and Keidar became a settler in the Sinai Desert after it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
He then fought as an Israeli soldier on the Egyptian front in the war of 1973, was uprooted from his Sinai settlement by the 1979 peace agreement and returned to work in Cairo five years ago.
In the beginning, he said he was afraid for his safety but eventually decided to stay.
″If I couldn’t start here who could?″ he said
Keidar said his battle for acceptance has produced mixed results. He recalled that when his daughter was 5 years old she was excluded from the birthday party of her best friend because her friend’s parents didn’t want an Israeli in their home.
″She was very hurt and sad,″ he said.
When his daughter turned 6, Keidar had a birthday party in a restaurant and his daughter’s friend attended.
″We met the parents there and became friendly,″ he said. ″One of the parents studied with my cousin.″
The Keidars now visit the Egyptian family in their home. But the Egyptian family, who are related by marriage to Palestinians, have yet to visit the Keidar home.
″There are still some barriers because of the Palestinian problem, but I can understand them,″ said Keidar, adding he believed relations would remain uneasy with Egypt until there was a negotiated settlement of the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The low point in Egyptian-Israeli relations came Oct. 5, 1985, when seven Israeli tourists were killed when an Egyptian policeman opened fire on a beach party at Ras Bourka in the Sinai. The policeman, Suleiman Khatir, was sentenced to life in prison. He died in jail as a result of what authorities said was a suicide.
Earlier the same year, an Israeli Embassy employee, Albert Atrakchi, 30, was assassinated by a gunman in Cairo.
The only resident Israeli correspondent in Egypt, Yoram Mizrachi of the liberal newspaper Haaretz, moves frequently to avoid being targeted after the Egyptian weekly Al Ahali described him as a dangerous man and published his address.
Other Israelis, he said, use bodyguards because of resentment among Egyptians.
Mizrachi, who has been in Egypt about six months, recalled that Egyptian journalists once demanded he leave a news conference.
″One of them called out that there was an Israeli present, and they would not participate if I did. So I left.″
Mizrachi said, however, he was able to move freely to cover the news, visiting neighborhoods throughout Cairo and even the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
A former commander of Israeli troops in south Lebanon, Mizrachi recently interviewed PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, risking censure and possible prosecution at home for dealing with the outlawed group.