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.


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 25 April 2019
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.