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Uri Avnery, veteran Israeli activist for a Palestinian state, dies at 94

Journalist championed the two-state solution long before it gained political traction

Uri Avnery, Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, at his home in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2011. He died on August 20, 2018, age 94. AFP
Uri Avnery, Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, at his home in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2011. He died on August 20, 2018, age 94. AFP

The man known as the first Israeli to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in Tel Aviv on Monday at the age of 94.

Peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery was also one of the first Israelis to actively push for the establishment of a Palestinian state, more than 70 years ago.

A controversial figure among fellow Israelis, Avnery was hailed as groundbreaking by his supporters and an enemy of the people by critics.

Israeli publication Haaretz on Monday described the left-wing journalist as an advocate of co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis under a joint name and an opponent of the 1947 UN Partition Plan — that is to say, a supporter of a single state.

His stance, however, changed after 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war.


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"During the war, I was filled with compassion for the Arab population. You know, I entered a dozen villages whose inhabitants had fled a few minutes before — the pot on the stove was still hot,” he said in an interview with Haaretz in 2014.

“The war totally convinced me there’s a Palestinian people, and that peace must be forged first and foremost with them. To achieve that goal, a Palestinian nation-state had to be established,” Avnery wrote in his memoir.

Back then, a two-state solution was an inconceivable answer to the growing crisis. In this sense, Avnery was a pioneer.

During the 1982 Lebanon war, at the time the editor of investigative and gossip magazine HaOlam HaZeh (This World), travelled to Beirut with photographer Anat Saragusti and journalist-actress Sarit Yishai-Levi where he set up a meeting with Arafat. During the interview, Ms Yishai-Levi asked to meet Aharon Ahiaz, an Israeli pilot in PLO captivity. Arafat agreed and allowed the three to conduct an interview. At the time, the Palestinian leader was seen as a terrorist by the Israeli government and, as such, it was illegal for Israelis to meet him.

In 1993 he established Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) — a peace movement that advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state, the dismantling of Israel's illegal settlements and Jerusalem as the capital of both countries.

Avnery's death follows months of upheaval in Israel and Palestine. Months of protests and violence on the Israel-Gaza border have resulted in more than 100 dead and tens of thousands injured, while the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem served to widen an already gaping wound among Palestinians.

Avnery asked to be cremated, for his archives to be donated to the National Library and his money towards peace activism. He summed up his life by noting that while his ideals “won a resounding victory” theoretically, in practice they “were defeated politically”.

Updated: August 20, 2018 03:51 PM