Text size

It was a Saturday afternoon in the late 1980s. We entered The Voice of Peace's rickety Subaru truck and drove to Gaza to Mahmoud Zahar's house. Afternoon coffee with the Hamasnik, just imagine. Imagine that once it was possible to visit Zahar on a Saturday afternoon. Just think - there once was a man here who dreamed of peace.

Picture a pilot who never drove a car. All those things sound like hallucinations now, even more than they used to.

Abie Nathan was perhaps the only Israeli who felt guilty about 1948. As a volunteer pilot from overseas he had bombed Palestinian villages and then wanted to make up for it. He didn't shoot and whine about it but actually tried to make amends.

Today that sounds like science fiction. Israeli? Very doubtful. He lived among us for decades, but Abie dreamed in English and thought in Hindi. He helped Palestinian children, but also hastened to every disaster area in the world. In that, too, he was perhaps the last Israeli who saw compassion and aid as global notions. Our Mother Teresa.

Like another central figure in the Israeli peace movement, Uri Avneri (may he live long), he was both a bohemian and an ideologist. No party was comparable to Nathan's roof parties in north Tel Aviv's Zirelson Street. Nobody could be as treacherous as us, who lived it up at his parties and then abandoned him after he became sick and wheelchair-ridden many years ago. There are dozens of people around town who should feel deeply guilty today for neglecting him so criminally, including this writer.

In the footnotes of history, Abie will be remembered as the man from California, the city's first hamburger joint; as the man who took the peace flight to Cairo and was erroneously reported to have crashed. And of course, as the man from "Twilight Time," the unforgettable program on the Voice of Peace, with its daily moment of silence - perhaps the last time we heard silence here, not just incessant intolerable noise.

When the Peace Boat was sunk by its founder, Abie and all his charm sank with it in the public awareness.

Indeed, he had charm. A rare combination of naivete and organization skills, an Israeli yet a man of the world, a bomber and a fighter for peace. When they lay him to rest I'll remember all those spectacular contradictions. Above all, I'll remember the other days, when you could drive to meet Zahar on a Saturday afternoon, bring him toys for Gaza's children (in the trunk of the jalopy that kept pulling to the left), and dream of peace. None of this is possible anymore, perhaps because Abie is no longer with us. He hasn't been for a long time.

See also on Haaretz.com:

Peace pioneer Abie Nathan, 81

More Jewish World news and features