1975 was probably the most optimistic year in a long while for anyone holding hopes that peace can ever come to the Middle East. First there was the reopening of the Suez Canal. The canal had been closed for eight years, since the 1967 Mideast War. Now, ships were once again making the 100-mile journey, and although no Israeli ships were allowed to pass through, other ships carrying supplies to Israel moved without incident. As a show of good faith, Israel said it was reducing its troop numbers along the canal.
But the big news was the acceptance in September of a Sinai disengagement plan by Israel and Egypt. It came after months of shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who flew back and forth from the United States to Jerusalem and to Alexandria.
Secretary Henry Kissinger: "We all hope that this agreement will be the first step towards a lasting peace for an area whose suffering has lasted for a generation."
Ed Karrens: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to the United States in October. It was the first time an Egyptian President had visited the U.S. Speaking before the United Nations, he expressed hope for a final solution to the Mideast problem.
Translator: "I have no doubt that you agree with me that there will be no peace in the region without a political settlement of the Palestine problem. It is inconceivable, nay, utterly unacceptable, that the Palestinian people should remain homeless and dispersed. They must regain their entity and establish their independent state so that this ancient people could contribute constructively to the development and the progress of our international community."
Ed Karrens: About ten days after Sadat had spoken to the United Nations, the General Assembly adopted resolutions calling for the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in all efforts for peace in the Middle East. But the resolution passed that day, which caused intense dissention in the world, was an Arab-inspired resolution calling Zionism a form of racism. Daniel Moynihan, Chief of the American Delegation, incensed by the vote, addressed the Assembly.
Chief Daniel Moynihan: "The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations and before the world that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act."
Ed Karrens: There were still isolated incidents of guerilla activity in the Middle East during 1975. Perhaps the most bizarre attack occurred in Tel Aviv, when a group of Arab commandos came ashore in two small boats. They held 40 guests and employees hostage at a waterfront hotel until Israeli soldiers stormed the hotel.
Jack Patton, UPI reporter, describes the confrontation.
Jack Patton: "The guerillas have apparently taken a number of hostages in the hotel and are holding off counterattacking police from the roof of the building. Police sources say at least five Israelis were wounds in the initial attack and that the city's hospitals are on full alert for more casualties. Military spokesmen say the guerillas landed in two river boats about 11:00 p.m. Israeli time, ran on the beach firing in all directions and went straight to the hotel. About 300 soldiers have taken up positions in the area of the fighting, ready for heavy exchanges of fire with the guerillas. Machine gun and bazooka firing is crackling through the city, and magnesium illumination flares are lighting the midnight sky. The attack took place at the city's busiest intersection at the center of the commercial and entertainment district of Tel Aviv."
Ed Karrens: Seven Arabs, two Israelis and nine Europeans were killed in the skirmish.
But despite the occasional lapses, for the first time in a long time, there was hope that the disengagement agreement will help lead to the end of the hostilities between the Arabs and the Jews
Ed Karrens: This sound of gunfire became more and more familiar to the residents of Beirut, Lebanon as the year grew older and older. Lebanon is a country where Christians and Muslims make up the majority of the population. There have always been political and religious differences, but nothing like the hostilities which erupted in 1975.
The religious civil war started in February, when extremists from both sides managed to tear the country in half with violence. The capital city of Beirut had a year filled with the sound of gunfire and shrieks of death. Over 4,000 persons were killed in a situation of bitterness, which is sure to carry over into the new year.
The city of London also had its share of violence during the year. There were bomb explosions that were generally thought to be the work of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, the radical group of Irishmen who oppose British rule in Northern Ireland. One explosion happened outside the London home of Parliament member Hugh Fraser. In the Fraser home at the time was 17-year-old Caroline Kennedy, who was staying with the politician's family. Caroline, the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, was not hurt.
One of the worst attacks occurred in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in London. Bert Edwards was in the lobby when the blast went off.
Bert Edwards: "I was just reaching for a sign to put up at my desk, and suddenly this whole flash came across; and there was a girl who's quite badly injured was on the other side of the desk in the Hilton in the lobby itself. And then there's this blinding flash, and our whole desk blew in. And then she was gone, just everything went."
Ed Karrens: As in Southeast Asia, the conflict which brought six months of turmoil to Portugal was one of Communist versus non-Communist opponents. In the end, it was the anti-Communists who won, as pro-Communist Chief of Staff General Vasco Goncalves was removed from office. In the new government, only one known Communist was named to the 15-member cabinet. Portugal's problems with instability in their government had the aggravation added to by an economy that wasn't performing well and troubles with Angola, which received its independence from Portugal in November.
In 1939, Francisco Franco became the leader of Spain after a three-year civil war which he led against the former government. But 36 years of strong-handed rule ended when Franco died after a one-month illness during which the 82-year-old dictator clung to a thin thread of life, assisted by artificial means.
"Franco's designated successor, Prince Juan Carlos, took over control of the government. While the new leader doesn't exercise the full control that Franco had, many of Franco's policies are expected to stay the same.
Haile Selassie, Lion of Judah and former Emperor of Ethiopia, died in 1975. He died during a year that saw Ethiopia go to war with Eritrea, a small country under Ethiopian rule since 1952. The Eritreans' push for independence began in 1969 and escalated to full-scale bloodshed in 1975. It was reported that more than 6,000 persons were killed in March alone.
With her critics shouting democracy was dead in India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, instituted press censorship and jailed all the leaders of the opposition parties. Freedom of speech was curtailed and freedom of assembly disallowed.
The sudden action started shortly after Mrs. Gandhi was convicted of using illegal means to win reelection in 1971, and while she was permitted to stay in office, she lost her seat in Parliament. Two weeks after this happened, Mrs. Gandhi declared the state of emergency, saying a deep and widespread conspiracy against the functioning of democracy was responsible for the move. Then to make sure she still had control, she had the laws changed; that is, the laws under which she was convicted in the first place, and new laws also made it illegal to serve a lawsuit against the person who is the Indian Prime Minister. And through it all, Mrs. Gandhi gained the support of the citizens by relieving shortages, lowering prices, improving the collection of taxes and improving public order.
© 1975 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.