Uri Avnery: 1923-2018 [Obituary]

Submitted by Gemma_S on 21 August, 2018 - 1:19 Author: Omar Raii
Uri Avnery standing at the head of a march holding a placard with both Palestinian and Israeli flags

The longstanding left-wing Israeli activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery has died in Tel Aviv at the age of 94.

He lived an extraordinary life but ultimately he will be remembered as a paragon of the principled Israeli socialist who advocated for unity between Israelis and Palestinians and for an independent Palestinian state. He will also no doubt be remembered for founding the Gush Shalom – Peace Bloc – organisation, which exists to oppose the Israeli occupation and promote a two-state settlement in Israel-Palestine.

His origins were like thousands of Israelis of his generation, his family arrived in Mandatory Palestine after fleeing their native Germany in 1933 following the Nazi seizure of power. He initially grew up in radical right-wing politics, joining the Irgun in 1938 (he would later famously say, in response to a call for condemnation or Palestinian terrorism: “I used to be a terrorist myself”).

Disillusioned and shaken by the events and wars in the early decades of Israel’s history, he gradually moved to the left, founding a peace movement in Israel that led to him being vilified and attacked by some Israelis. In 1982 he made the hugely symbolic move of meeting Yasser Arafat in Beirut at the time of the first Israel-Lebanon war. He was said to be the first Israeli that ever met Arafat, an act so controversial at the time that even Avnery’s mother disowned him for it. He was also one of the few Israelis to attend Arafat’s funeral in Ramallah in 2004. Arafat was a complicated figure (to perhaps be a bit euphemistic) but Avnery’s friendship with him was a brave act and still braver was his push for Arafat and the Israeli public to support a two-state settlement.

He never stopped believing, until his final day, that peace and justice would not come to Israel-Palestine until there was justice for the Palestinians and mutual agreement for an independent Palestinian state. He rallied against injustice, such as the recent Israeli National-State law, until the very end.

His death is sad news for those who push for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, at a time of almost universal despair that sees the nationalist right-wing Netanyahu government seem relentless in its pursuit of racist policies and further settlement expansion. But Avnery’s example, of supporting two-states when it was unpopular both in Israel and until the very end of his life, knowing that it was the most principled position with which socialists could fight for unity between Jews and Arabs, is inspiring.

Gush Shalom and other groups that support the principle of two-states for two peoples will keep fighting for it, as it is more necessary now than ever.

• For an interview with Uri Avnery from 2010 see here

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