World remembers Uri Avnery, veteran Israeli peace activist

World remembers Uri Avnery, veteran Israeli peace activist
Avnery, who fought for the creation of a Palestinian state and was one of the first Israelis to meet Yasser Arafat, has died aged 94.
4 min read
20 August, 2018
Uri Avnery (left) meets with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 2002 [AP]
Israeli journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, who pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state and became one of the first Israelis to meet Yasser Arafat, has died aged 94, a hospital spokesman said Monday.

Seen by many as the backbone of Israel's peace movement, Avnery launched scathing attacks on Israel's occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza right up to his death, as well as claiming that pro-government media had "brainwashed" Israelis.

Despite Avnery's prominence as a peace activist, as a teenager he fought as part of a right-wing militia during Israel's creation. The Irgun paramilitary group for which Avnery fought was responsible for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946 and the Deir Yassin massacre during the 1948 Nakba, in which 120 Palestinian villagers were killed.

A spokesman for Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv said Avnery died overnight after suffering a stroke and being hospitalised a week ago.

Born in September 1923 in Beckum, Germany as Helmut Ostermann, Avnery emigrated to British-mandate Palestine with his family at the age of 10, fleeing Nazism.

In 1950, he founded an independent weekly magazine, Haolam Hazeh, which he edited for 40 years.

The anti-establishment journal, the only one at that time not run by a political party, had a considerable influence on the Israeli press.

Avnery founded a political movement in 1965 and was elected to Israel's parliament where he served eight years. 

In 1979 he was voted in as part of a different movement and spent two more years as a lawmaker before resigning.

Avnery had pushed since the end of the first Arab-Israeli war, which began in 1948, for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a means to bring peace.

In July 1982, he caused a firestorm by becoming one of the first Israelis to meet Palestinian leader Arafat, who was at the time seen as Israel's arch-nemesis. The pair also met in Beirut which was then under siege by the Israeli army.

Ayman Odeh, politician and Palestinian citizen of Israel, was among the first to pay tribute to Avnery.

Odeh, head of the Joint List, a mainly Arab alliance in Israel's parliament, called him "a dear man who dedicated his life to peace".

"His voice, ideas and worldview will continue to resonate after his departure," he said on Twitter, posting a pair of the pair together.

Veteran Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhi was also quick to pay tribute to Averny, posting on Twitter: "A #Israeli original,visionary, peace activist, & iconoclast.He consistently & courageously fought the good fight for co-existence between Israelis & Palestinians. In a region rife w/ political and religious extremism, he will be sorely missed."

A violent past

As a teen Avnery was a member of the Irgun, the right-wing Zionist militia that fought both local Arabs and Palestine's British rulers prior to Israel's 1948 declaration of statehood.

However he was vocal in having no regrets about belonging to the group, admitting that he had been a terrorist.

"I fought for the freedom of my people against the British occupiers," he said. "For the same reasons, I always thought that the Palestinians were entitled to their independence and freedom," despite the fact that the group also battled Palestinians and were responsible for much of the Nakba's destuction and for the Deir Yassin massacre.

Hopes for a brighter future

A prolific writer, he published over 10 books including his 2014 autobiography titled "Optimistic".

He wrote up until his death on the prospects for peace in the region, launching frequent attacks on the Israeli government's creeping annexation of the West Bank, which he called "cruel" and "detestable".

He was equally abhorred by the Israeli blockade of Gaza and called the slaughter of Gazans during the Great Return March "stupid".

While prospects for peace dwindled in recent years under pro-occupation rightwing governments, Avnery remained firm in his belief the public could be swayed to support a Palestinian state.

"I remain optimistic because I believe in the ability of the (Israeli) people to change course," Avnery said in an interview with AFP in 2011.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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