Uri Avnery, who shocked Israel by meeting Yasser Arafat, dies aged 94

Yasser Arafat shakes hands with Uri Avneri in Ramallah in 2002 - 20 years after their famous meeting in Beirut. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Uri Avnery, who shocked Israel by meeting Yasser Arafat, dies aged 94

  • The peace activist dedicated his life to an agreement that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel
  • Tributes pour in for the former Knesset member , who was also an Arab News columnist

LONDON: Uri Avnery, a peace activist who became the first prominent Israeli to meet in public with Yasser Arafat, died on Monday aged 94.

Avnery, who was an Arab News columnist until 2016, met the Palestinian leader in 1982 during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and war with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

He crossed into west Beirut from the Israeli-held east to meet Arafat, sparking controversy back home. 

It was the first time Arafat had met with an Israeli, and from this perspective, it could be called a “historic meeting,” Avnery wrote in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper in February.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday described Avnery was an “icon of real and permanent peace” in the region, the Palestinian WAFA news agency reported.

“He was one of the first to have strongly endorsed the establishment of the independent Palestinian state and called for ending the Israeli occupation,” Abbas said. 

A backbone of Israel’s peace movement, Avnery never lost hope an agreement could be reached with the Palestinians.

He pushed since the end of the first Arab-Israeli war, for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a means to bring peace.

Writing in Arab News in 2016 about the increasing levels of hatred between Israelis and Palestinians, Avnery said: “I am convinced that it is in the vital interest of Israel to make peace with the Palestinian people, and with the Arab world at large, before this dangerous infection engulfs the entire Arab, and Muslim world.”

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.

Before becoming a prominent peace activist, he was a soldier and even part of a right-wing militia that fought both British and Arab forces.

He had no regrets about belonging to the group. “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.”

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

He started 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 in the Knesset before resigning.

His meeting with Arafat took place after he travelled to Lebanon at the invitation of the Israeli military as part of a reporting trip. It lasted about two hours and “dealt entirely with the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinian people,” he wrote.

It was broadcast the same night on Israeli television and Avnery was questioned by police but faced no charges.

In 2003, during the Palestinian uprising, Avnery traveled with other Israeli activists to Arafat's headquarters in the occupied West Bank, to act as a human shield against what they said were Israeli plans to assassinate Arafat after a Palestinian suicide bombing.

Avnery wrote that working to prevent such an act was “the most patriotic thing” to do at that time since killing Arafat would have been a disaster for Israel.

In Israel, politicians across the political spectrum paid tribute to his work. 

Arab politician Ayman Odeh called him “a dear man who dedicated his life to peace.”

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni described him as “a courageous journalist and rare, trailblazing man.”

He maintained “his principles despite attacks and planted in the heart of Israelis ideas of peace and moderation, even when they weren't in the lexicon,” she said.

President Reuven Rivlin said that his fundamental disagreements with Avnery “were diminished in light of the ambition to build a free and strong society here.”

Avnery had been admitted to Ichilov more than a week ago after suffering from a stroke.


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.