JERUSALEM (AP) — Uri Avnery, a trailblazing Israeli journalist and peace activist and one of the first to openly advocate for a Palestinian state, died Monday at the age of 94.
Avnery passed away at a Tel Aviv hospital after suffering a stroke.
For decades, he was a symbol of the Israeli peace camp, easily recognized by his thick white beard and white hair. A member of Israel’s founding generation, he fought in the pre-state Irgun underground militia. After independence, he became a publisher, member of parliament, author and activist.
In the 1982 Lebanon War, Avnery famously sneaked into besieged Beirut to talk to Israel’s then-nemesis, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
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Avnery challenged successive Israeli governments in arguing that a Palestinian state was the only way to secure peace for a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority.
“I feel we are on the Titanic, sailing straight toward an iceberg,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in 2013. “We have the chance to change the course any moment, but if we are stupid, if we go on sailing, we shall meet the iceberg, inevitably.”
Born into a wealthy family in Germany, Avnery grew up poor in Tel Aviv after he and his parents fled following the rise of the Nazis in 1933. As a 10-year-old immigrant, he eagerly embraced Hebrew language and culture but remained fluent in German and acknowledged being shaped by the humanist traditions of pre-Nazi Germany.
As a journalist, he shook the establishment with his tabloid weekly, Haolam Hazeh, or “This World” — a mix of hard-hitting exposes, gossip and photos of nude women.
A generation of aggressive Israeli journalists trained under his tutelage, even as his politics mostly kept him on the fringes of Israeli society. His stances, far outside the mainstream, won him several international awards but plenty of scorn at home where he was relentlessly attacked, sometimes even physically.
Still, his unwavering convictions won him respect from political rivals, even those who advocated for Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a state.
President Reuven Rivlin said Avnery “adopted the challenge of his special status as an eternal opposition.”
“We had fierce differences, but they paled in the face of the ambition to build a strong and free society here,” Rivlin wrote.
After his newspaper folded following a 40-year run, Avnery founded Gush Shalom, or “Peace Bloc,” a group of several hundred activists who stage street protests, often side by side with Palestinian activists. He remained a strong supporter of Arafat long after most of Israel gave up on him as a peace partner following the eruption of Palestinian violence in the early 2000s.
Israel’s peace camp has increasingly fractured and become politically sidelined since the 1990s when the Labor Party under then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin led talks with the Palestinians on interim peace deals. Peace efforts were slowed by Rabin’s 1995 assassination and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister.
Avnery’s wife, Rachel, died in 2011. They had no children.