Remembering Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery in 1965
From London Review of Books:
In some ways, Avnery – as the name he chose implies – is emblematic of the Zionist story. At the age of 15, as an admirer of the revisionist Zionist leader Jabotinsky, he volunteered for three years in the Irgun – the Zionist paramilitary force that used terror against Arab Palestinians and British targets. ‘I was convinced,’ he later wrote, ‘that we, like any other people, deserve a state of our own.’ In 1948, he served as a soldier in the Givati Brigade and was severely injured in fights with Egyptian forces around the Palestinian village of Iraq al-Manshiyya. A book he wrote following the war in 1949, In the Fields of the Philistines, was probably Israel’s first bestseller, reprinted ten times in its first year.
Avnery knew how to tell a story. And he soon realised he had a particularly urgent one to tell: the newborn state of Israel had fostered a militaristic society, was blind to the Palestinians, and did not want peace. In 1950, he wrote The Other Side of the Coin, which like Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front was dedicated to the horrors of war – to the looting, killing and removal of people from their houses. It was seen as defaming Israel, and the government prevented publication of a second edition. For the first time – certainly not for the last – Avnery was labelled ‘anti-Israeli’.
Yet when you read Avnery it is clear that he always felt, until the last moments of his life, that his views – his support, going back to 1949, for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel; his belief in the need for an ‘unequivocal apology’ on the part of Israel for the Nakba, and a ‘practical solution’ to the problem of Palestinian refugees; his desire to ‘get rid of the occupation, by any possible means and as quickly as possible’ – were driven by patriotism and a desire to see Israel thrive. But throughout his career, and especially in the McCarthyist Israel of the 21st century, there was little chance the regime would accept that anyone who ran through tear gas in Palestinian demonstrations in Bil’in village – let alone Uri Avnery – was a supporter of Israel.