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Friday, 11 September 2015

Happy 92nd birthday to Uri Avnery (Helmut Ostermann), one of Israel’s most dynamic peace activists

Uri Avnery (Helmut Ostermann), one of Israel’s most dynamic peace activists, was born on this date in Germany in 1923. His family fled the rise of Nazism in 1933 and settled in Palestine, where he dropped out of school at age 14 to help support the family. Twice wounded in the 1948 Independence War, Avnery sat in the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. A lifelong writer and journalist with great expressive capacity, he owned HaOlam HaZeh (“This World”), an Israeli “alternative” news magazine, from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He is best known for crossing the lines during the 1982 Israeli war against the PLO in Lebanon to meet Yassir Arafat — the first time Arafat ever met publicly with an Israeli. Avneri is a secularist and leader of the Gush Shalom movement. He has been assaulted and stabbed for his activism more than once. In 2001, he and his wife Rachel Avnery received the Right Livelihood Award (the “alternative Nobel Prize”).

“[Issam al-] Sartawi and I are sitting in a small restaurant on the Boulevard St. Germain. After the main course, he excuses himself. ‘I have to go to the bathroom. Keep an eye on my briefcase.’ His attaché case – the kind Israelis call James Bond cases – stands under the table. After a few minutes he comes back, takes his seat and bursts out laughing. ‘If I told anyone of my friends that I left a briefcase full of PLO secrets in the care of a Zionist, they wouldn’t believe me,’ he says. ‘If I tell anyone of my friends that a PLO terrorist put an attaché case under my table and went away, and I remained there, they’d think that I was crazy,’ I reply. We laugh and order a dessert.” —Uri Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy, 1986

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