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

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.


The MENA fashion designers dressing up social causes

Updated 1 min 22 sec ago

The MENA fashion designers dressing up social causes

  • How designers in the MENA region are making a different kind of fashion statement

CAIRO: Fashion is about far more than just trendy outfits. The growing demand for ethical clothing is one example of how designers are seeking to leave a legacy beyond the runway.

The ethical fashion movement is spreading to the Middle East and North Africa. Recent initiatives include Talahum by UAE-based designer Aiisha Ramadan, who created coats that transform into sleeping bags for disadvantaged and refugee communities living without proper shelter.

In 2016, Cairo hosted ICanSurvive, an event to commemorate World Cancer Day. As part of the project, 32 cancer survivors were paired with fashion designers to help them create the outfit of
a lifetime.

“I consider this to be one of my biggest achievements,” said Egyptian couturier Ahmed Nabil, 28, one of the volunteers at ICanSurvive. “I still can’t let go of the moment I saw her crying from happiness when she got to wear her outfit at the event.”

Though a transformational experience for Nabil, this was not his first attempt at thought-provoking designs. He was only 23 when he launched his company, Nob Designs, in 2014 to begin a journey of exploration by designing clothes for unconventional causes and experimental concepts.

The company sells a diverse set of fashion pieces with designs that aim to inspire conversation. Nabil’s creations are much like art pieces at a gallery, but instead of being displayed on canvas, they are exhibited on t-shirts, tops, dresses and abayas.

His latest collection combines street fashion inspired by underground culture with Arabic calligraphy. The Halal Project endeavors to blur the lines between conservative and edgy to demonstrate that fashion designs can be accessible to anyone.

“It’s all about the idea of accepting one another regardless of differences,” Nabil said. “My main aim for this project is a call for all people to peacefully coexist.”

Nabil added that the shift towards tolerance is not something that just the general public needs to work on. Fashion designers themselves are sometimes biased in their perceptions.

Many millennial designers, particularly in Egypt, remain wary of exploring modest fashion, despite the trend’s rising popularity. Sometimes it is because they want to avoid defining themselves as conservative instead of being considered modern and trendy.

Fellow Egyptian designer Sara Elemary, who has been running her Sara Elemary Designs label for nearly a decade, agrees.

“Modesty is a big thing in Egypt. I can’t understand why they are neglecting it,” she said. “A woman doesn’t have to be in a headscarf to wear modest clothing. There are so many famous designers for whom modesty plays a big role in
their work.”

Meanwhile, events such as Dubai Modest Fashion Week have been promoting the concept and encouraging budding designers in the region to consider this trending domain.

“I believe that there’s a problem with modest fashion, but over the past two years, that issue has started to diminish as designers have incorporated more modest designs in their collections,” Nabil said.

The next step for him is getting into the couture domain with his long-awaited project, Nob Couture. The look of the new collection is still a mystery, but he seems determined to continue sending messages and starting discussions through his designs, which he said are inspired by his life experiences.

As for designers in the region, the time is ripe for them to start supporting the causes they believe in through their work. Whatever topic or fashion style they decide to pursue, they need to be fearless in triggering conversation in the Arab world with their creations.