Obituary: Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery

Shoes that will be difficult to fill

Uri Avnery fought for decades for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This wish was not fulfilled in his lifetime. Avnery died, aged 94, in the early hours of Monday. An obituary by Christian Wolf

Uri Avnery was never one for sitting still. Even just a year ago, at the age of 93, the Israeli peace activist was still full of zest. "We need a new political power and I am absolutely ready to take part," he said in an interview. After all, it was a "key duty" to drive out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and "the whole crew." He was still the same: an indefatigable fighter who was not afraid of those with power.

Avnery was unable to carry out his plan: He died overnight Monday in Ichilov General Hospital in Tel Aviv at the age of 94 following a stroke. But even if this last goal remains unfulfilled, Avnery has left his mark on the history of his country – and shoes that will be difficult to fill.

Avnery was involved in political work for some 70 years. He advocated reconciliation with the Palestinians over the past five decades. And for 10 years, he served in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. An exceptional phenomenon, as the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called him on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Avnery met Yasser Arafat several times, such as here in Ramallah in 2004 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
A life of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence: Uri Avnery worked all his life for the implementation of the two-state solution in the Middle East and founded the human rights group Gusch Shalom ("Peace Block") in 1993. Most recently, Avnery protested against the recently passed Jewish nation-state law. He was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize for his peace work

Escape from the Nazi regime

Avnery's eventful life began in 1923 in the small city of Beckum, in the north-western Westphalia region of Germany. He was born under the name of Helmut Osterman and grew up in a liberal, middle-class, secular family. After Adolf Hitler seized power, the family emigrated to Palestine in 1933. Looking back, he called this the "beginning of a second life" and a "salvation."

Helmut Ostermann became Uri Avnery. In his younger years, he joined the terrorist and ultranationalist organisation "Irgun", which carried out attacks on the British Mandatory power. Even years later, he did not regret this decision. "At the time, it was the best thing I could have done … I thought it was my duty to fight so that the country was liberated." This is probably also the reason why Avnery fought in the 1948 Palestine war, in which he was badly injured.

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