It’s customary to claim that the cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people. But the body of Uri Avnery, who died Monday at the age of 94, will not be buried in a cemetery, as per his request, and he is indeed an irreplaceable personality. No substitute has yet emerged for this man, whose life was long and full of struggles and achievements. The Israeli left, which is at a low point in its history, is now even more orphaned than before.
It’s hard to think of an Israeli biography richer and more complex than his: The child of German immigrants who joined the Irgun and in 1948 fought in the Shimshon Foxes elite unit. The legendary editor of Haolam Hazeh, which was a pioneer in aggressive investigative journalism in Israel, a mentor to generations of journalists who has left his mark to this day. The journalist, MK and citizen who fought corruption, religious coercion, ethnic discrimination and crony capitalism long before others did. And of course, the eternal warrior for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, one of the pioneering visionaries of the two-state solution, an Israeli and Zionist patriot, optimistic and hopeful until his final days.
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Avnery was a soldier, journalist and politician, but more than anything he is worthy of being called a prophet. Like the biblical prophets of Israel, he saw beyond the immediate; like them, few listened to him and like them, he was persecuted. He was a prophet in his city; he never left the country or the front line of battle.
It’s hard to think of a fighter for peace more determined and hopeful than he. He believed with all his heart in the two-state vision and was one of the first to meet with the PLO, including in the midst of war. He saw Israel seemingly change its attitude toward the Palestinians, and the discourse that changed because of him and a handful of left-wing pioneers, but Israel’s policy never fundamentally changed. Israel chose to close its eyes to the vision of its prophets, and not just continue the occupation, but to intensify it.
Avnery’s spirit never fell. He believed in his vision to the end and remained devoted to the struggle to achieve it. He believed that peace with the Palestinians was not only possible, but would be achieved, even when reality seemed to be racing in the other direction. He also never renounced Zionism nor abandoned its principles as he saw them. As the editor of an influential weekly, as a prominent member of the Knesset or as an ordinary demonstrator, the leader of the tiny Gush Shalom movement, his spirit of struggle remained unchanged. Israel did not listen to Avnery. Nor did it give him the respect he deserved. This says more about Israel that it does about him.
Avnery concluded his two-volume monumental autobiography, “Optimistic,” by writing, “Life goes on. The struggle continues. Tomorrow is a new day.” Now his life no longer goes on but tomorrow is indeed a new day, and the struggle must continue.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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