Joining icons including civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, Jr and human rights activist René Cassin, Prime Minister Menachem Begin became the first Israeli winner of the annual peace prize.
He shared it with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. The Nobel committee awarded them the prize: “for the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace.”
At Camp David on September 17 that year Egypt became the first Arab country to officially recognise the state of Israel. In return Egypt gained control of the Sinai Peninsula.
Presenting the prize on December 10 1978, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said: “Never [have we] considered it apposite to award the Peace Price to statesmen from the troubled and sadly devastated Middle East…”
“The establishment of an Israeli state ushered in a new conflict throughout the Middle East. In the course of the last thirty years this dispute between the Jews and Arabs has unleashed four wars, which have not only caused tremendous material damage but also exacerbated hostility between them.
“Side by side with war and destruction, however, the constructive forces of peace, too, have hewn out a path for themselves.”
In 1981 Egyptian extremists aassassinated Mr Sadat, and two years later Mr Begin – Israel’s first Likud prime minister – retired from public life.
There has been one other Egyptian peace prize winner since; Mohamed ElBaradei in 2005. It was won by two more Israelis – Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, along with Yasser Arafat – in 1994.
Also in 1978, the Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
What Menachem Begin said:"The award has been given to the entire people of Israel. I am but the emissary…The first thing I thought of when I was informed the news was how my father would have reacted. He was murdered by the Nazis. I imagine that the last thing in the world he would ever have considered would have been that his son would have become the Premier of a Jewish State and would win the Nobel Prize.”
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