Sixty Egyptian officials, greeted by cheers and applause from Israeli onlookers at Ben Gurion Airport, arrived in Israel today to make hasty preparations for the historic visit this weekend of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The enthusiastic welcome given the advance party - whose Boeing 737 was the Egyptian aircraft seen over Tel Aviv since the Egyptian air force bombed the city in 1948 - set the tone for what is expected to be a tumultous reception for Sadat himself when he arrives Saturday night.
Israelis are in a fever pitch of excitement over the Sadat visit and there was literally dancing in the streets by dozens of people here in the capital last night. "I just cannot believe it," is the comment most often heard. The Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv printed "Welcome Sadat" in Arabic over its nameplate.
"We left Egypt with prayer in our hearts and with faith in God," Hassan Kamel, director of the presidential bureau and leader of the Egyptian advance party, told Israel officials who met him at the airport. "Our intentions are pure and we really want peace."
As Egyptian and Israeli officials began working together to prepare for Sadat's whirlwind visit, Israel's Cabinet met to make final plans and to prepare Israel's answers to any proposals Sadat might make. There is a sense here that Sadat's suddenly arranged visit will change the situation in the Middle East, but no one can predict how or in which direction.
It is expected that Sadat will have at least three or four sessions with Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin in addition to his address Sunday to Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, the central event of his visit.
He is also scheduled to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - among the holiest sites in Islam and Christendom - and visit Yad Vashem, the memorial to the 6 million victims of the Nazi holocaust.
Perhaps the act that will most clearly embody the drama of the meeting of the long-sworn enemies will be a scheduled wreath-laying by Sadat at the eternal flame in front of the Knesset. The eternal flame is a memorial to Israel's war dead, many of whom fell to Egyptian guns, and the gesture is bound to have great impact here.
Security was tight at Ben Gurion Airport today and Israeli'helicopters were seen not only over the airport but circling over orchards and fields alongside the winding road from the airport up to the Jerusalem hills.
The advance party was taken to Jerusalem's King David Hotel where Sadat and his party will stay, and again they were greeted by applause from passerby. Some Jews from Arab countries sounded the traditional Arab ululation.
Ironically, in 1947 the King David Hotel was badly damaged and 91 persons in it were killed by a bomb blast set by followers of Begin, then a leader of the Jewish underground fighting against the British for independence.
Egyptian flags, virtually non-existent in this country a week ago, were going up throughout Jerusalem today and the city took on a festive appearance.
The Arabic language service of the Israeli state radio said it would broadcast Egyptian music in honor of the Sadat visit. Among the hit tunes it is playing: "You Are Dearer Than My Eye" and "Visit Me Once a Year," Associated Press reported.
The Jerusalem Post said it would publish a special edition Saturday night, although papers are generally not published on Saturday, the Sabbath The banner headline will welcome Sadat in Arabic and the back page will be an Egyptian flag that can be put on a stick and waved, the paper said.
A group of 14 U.S. congressmen, including House Democratic leader Jim Wright of Texas, have prolonged a visit to Israel to stay through Sunday to hear Sadat's speech at the Parliament, at Begin's invitation.
Sadat is scheduled to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport at 8 p.m. Saturday (1 p.m. EST). He will be met by more than 70 Israeli dignitaries lining the red carpet. Sadat's advance party brought Egyptian flags and the sheet music of Egypt's national anthem, which an Israeli military band practiced today. Sadat is to receive full military honors including 21-gun salute.
After inspecting the guard of honor, Sadat is scheduled to drive to Jerusalem with Israeli President Ephraim Katzir. There is a chance, however, that Sadat might be flown to Jerusalem by helicopter.
Sadat will be accompanied by a six-man delegation of Egyptian political leaders, Al Ahram, the semiofficial Cairo newspaper, said today.
These will include Butros Ghali, the newly appointed acting foreign minister; Mustapha Kahlil, first secretary of the Central committee, Egypt's highest policy-making body; Kamel and three parliamentary leaders, Mostapha Kamel Murad, Osman Ahmed Osman and Amrullah Baligh. Sadat's wife is not expected to amke this trip.
Ghali was hurriedly named acting minister yesterday after Ismail Fahmi resigned from the position as an apparent protest over Sadat's trip and Fahmi's deputy resigned when asked to replace him. Interestingly, Ghali, a Christian Copt, is married to a woman of Jewish descent.
An earlier plane carrying other officials and Egyptian journalists will arrive two hours before Sadat.
Sadat's party has the entire King David Hotel at its disposal and guests were asked today to pack and leave for other hotels. Sadat and Begin may meet for talks Saturday night but that is not definite.
On Sunday morning, Sadat is scheduled to enter the old walled city to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque - the third holiest place in the Arab world after Mecca and Medina. Sunday is the start of the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice which marks the end of Hajj, the season of pilgrimage.
Sadat has also asked to visit the Church fo the Holy Sepulchre - perhaps the holiest place in the Christian world as it contains the traditional site of Christ's burial.
Security within the walls of the old city, with its twisting narrow streets will be "a nightmare," one official said today. The old city - captured from Jordan in 1967 - is populated mostly by Palestinian Arabs, many of whom are opposed to Sadat's visit and consider it a sellout. Jordan's King Husdullah, the grandfather of King Hussein, was assassinated on the steps of the Al Aqsa Mosque in 1951 by Palestinian fanatics.
Feelings in Arab Jerusalem and on the occupied West Bank are mixed. Some leaders have cautiously welcomed the Sadat initiative while others have denounced it.
Late Sunday afternoon Sadat is to address parliament. He will speak in Arabic, according to Israeli planners, and Begin will reply in hebrew. Both are official languages in Parliament. Opposition leader Shimon Peres is also to be given an opportunity to speak.
Later that evening a working dinner is planned and on Monday morning Sadat is to meet with various political factions. That afternoon he will make a courtesy visit to President Katzir's house.
It is considered likely that Sadat will give a press conference before departing late Monday afternoon. Begin may join him at the press conference, but this has not been decided.
This afternoon, before darkness fell and the Sabbath began, the Egyptian plane departed for Cairo carrying most of the advance party home. Again there were waves and clapping and the Egyptians could be seen waving from the plane windows.
From all reports, the Egyptian and Israeli officials worked together smoothly but the Egyptian security people were reportedly not very forthcoming.