During his lifetime, he was a journalist, a politician and an activist. In his youth, he was a member of the Irgun paramilitary group for three years, dropping out because of the latter’s anti-Arab policy. The war of 1948 convinced him of the need for a Palestinian state. For some, he was a brilliant mind, but for others he betrayed Israel.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Uri Avnery, peace activist, journalist and statesman, died today at the age of 94. He was one of the first Israelis to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
For Adam Keller, spokesman for Gush Shalom, the peace group founded by Avnery, the latter was also a "prophet" who was ahead of his time and fought for peace until his last breath.
“He was, until the last moment, involved in what he did all his life. Two weeks ago, there was a big peace rally in Tel Aviv, and he had the stroke as he was going to the rally.
“For the last two weeks he was unconscious. So, you could say that the last conscious moment he was still doing what he did at the age of 94 and what he's always done all his life: work for peace.”
Born in Germany in 1923, Avnery moved to what was then Mandatory Palestine in 1933.
During his life he never shied away from controversial issues, nor did he hide his membership - at the age of 15 - in the Jewish paramilitary group Irgun, which carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Mandatory Palestine.
In the Irgun, Avnery handed out flyers but dropped out three years later because of its violence against Arabs.
In 1946, Avnery favoured the idea of a single state for the two peoples, “an ideal built on a cultural partnership of homeland and history”. This came to nought when the UN supported the partition of Palestine and war followed in 1948.
Despite this, he remained convinced of the necessity of a Palestinian state to establish peace between the two peoples, a vision no more than ten people shared. Considered a brilliant mind by many, Avnery was equally subjected to harsh criticism and accused of being a "traitor" to the Jewish state.
For 40 years, he was the editor-in-chief of HaOlam HaZeh, an anti-establishment and subversive publication, operating under its legendary slogan “Without Fear, Without Prejudice”.
He also threw himself into a long political career, always in the opposition.
"I've known him for many years, since I was in high school in Tel Aviv, in 1969,” said Keller. “At the time he was a well-known person.
“He's made an enormous impact in the history of Israel. He was always in the opposition, and never had any kind of 'official position'. He never had the chance to implement what he said, and yet he very much influenced [the country]. He was a prophet, a visionary, who said that Israel can - and must - make peace with the Palestinians.”
The activist notes that Avnery promoted peace with Egypt when it was thought impossible. Later he added that peace with Cairo was not enough, that it was necessary to make peace with the Palestinians.
“He was amongst the first to talk with the PLO, when the Government of Israel considered it a terrorist organisation. He was among the first to say that Jerusalem should be the capital of both states, Palestine and Israel. He introduced ideas that at the time were outside popular consensus. Very often, people who were against him in the end accepted what he suggested.”
Now Gush Shalom will continue his work, Keller said, which fits with its founder’s ideas. As Avnery wrote in his memoirs, “Life goes on, the struggle continues. Tomorrow is a new day”.