"I define myself as a post-Zionist - I recognize Zionism and its importance but believe that that chapter in our history is over and we need to move forward."
This week we bring you a Carbonated.tv exclusive with the Uri Avnery – writer, former member of the Knesset and the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. During the 1982 Beirut War, he was the first man to cross over and meet with the then Palestinian Liberation Organization head, Yasser Arafat, to initiate peace talks. In this interview we get to know his views on peace, freedom of speech and the final solution for the Promised Land.
Uri Avnery was born as Helmut Ostermann in 1923 in Beckum, Westphalia. However, when Hitler rose to power in 1933, Uri’s family immigrated to Palestine. He got his education in Nahalal and then later on, in Tel-Aviv. Due to financial troubles, he dropped out of school and went through a host of jobs before settling in the business of journalism in 1947.
In 1946 he caused an uproar when he created a group called Eretz YIsrael Hatz’Ira (Young Palestine) which contended that the Jewish community constituted a ‘new’ Hebrew nation. Later, before the Israel-Palestine war of 1947, he published a booklet called “War or Peace in the Semitic Region”, thus coining the term “Semitic” to describe the Jews of Israel. After the war he started his own magazine Haolam Hazeh which was predominantly, anti establishment.
He won a seat in the Israeli Parliament; the Knesset in 1965 after his new party shocked everyone. Of his two terms in the Knesset, the first one had the lasting impact where he delivered over 1000 speeches and brought debate on every law and regulation. His second term was brief even though he was elected in 1979; he gave up his seat only two years later in 1981, for an Arab colleague. During the height of the Beirut war in 1982, he went and met with Yasser Arafat, the head of the enemy and the first Israeli to do so.
In 1988, Uri quit his magazine and politics. Protesting the ways of the Israeli leadership and reluctance to move for peace, he joined forces with other peace groups and created the Gush Shalom, Peace Bloc - and 60 years on, Uri still writes for peace.
Uri very kindly agreed to answer a few questions of ours regarding Israel and peace.
1. 28 years ago you crossed over to meet Yasser Arafat, in that moment what did you think could have been the culmination of the conflict?
I was convinced then - and still am now - that the culmination would be a peace agreement between a free State of Israel and a free State of Palestine, as well as a peace agreement including the whole Arab world.
2. You have been writing in and about Israel for close to 50 years. You even headed a magazine for the better part of a century - what is your take on the level of freedom of speech accorded in Israel? No-Go areas if any? Do the hawks drown out the doves?
In Israel - in its pre-1967 borders - there is as much freedom of speech as in any other democracy.
3. In your articles we are constantly updated on what the state of Israel is not doing or foregoing, what do you think the neighbors of Israel - the Muslim states, must do to consolidate peace in the region?
They must stick to the Arab League's peace proposal.
4.In your opinion what are Iran's objectives for acquiring nuclear weapons?
I think that they are defensive - to create deterrence.
5. What would you like your legacy to be?
My 60 years (until now) work for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
6. Can there ever exist a world where Israel and Palestinians live in harmony?
Most definitely. I am convinced that, once a peace agreement is achieved, actual reconciliation between the two peoples will progress very quickly.
7. Can you name the people on either side of the divide who you think were genuinely sincere about achieving peace?
There are on both sides too many to mention.
8. The voices of the doves are being drowned out by the hawks in Israel today do you think the tide will reverse? And if so how and when?
The tide will be reversed. The US can play a major role in this. The decisive battlefield is public opinion in Israel. That is our job.
9. There is a view held by many left wingers that Israel is doing to Palestine what was done to them by the Nazi's. Is there no sense of moral conflict within Israelis which would prevent them from subjecting a race to the monstrosities of which they themselves seek escape?
Any comparison with the Nazis is obscene and offensive. The Nazis killed 6 million human beings in death factories. All these comparisons are also stupid and counter-productive.
10. Realistically how do you see the future of Jerusalem? Will it become an entirely Jewish city with the passage of time? Will there be endless conflicts if that happens?
I hope that Jerusalem will be a united city under joint administration, the West capital of Israel, the East capital of Palestine.
At the end of the interview, things are clearer. There is a good degree of freedom of speech accorded in Israel, and public opinion is the final battleground to resolve this issue. The final solution for the Promised Land remains in a two-state solution with Jerusalem belonging to both Israel and Palestine. The US can and must play a critical role in the resolution of this issue, as must the Arab nations who should stick to the Arab League peace proposal.
Uri Avenry's Books: