From national hero to ‘most-hated Israeli'

What came next was a fascinating transformation. Avnery wrote a patriotic book about his experiences and became a kind of national hero. But with the second book about the dark side of the war, as well as with his work for the government-critical news magazine haOlam haZeh, enthusiasm for Avnery began to flag in some segments of the population. Several observers even say he was sometimes the "most-hated Israeli."

Both in his work as a journalist and during the years as a member of the Knesset, Avnery supported an ambitious project: peace with the Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state. In the course of his efforts to bring these things about, he sought contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and in 1982 became the first Israeli to meet its leader, Yasser Arafat. Avnery did not allow himself to be deterred by the criticism this aroused; there was even another meeting and a book with the title "My Friend, the Enemy".

His decades-long efforts to bring about reconciliation brought him international recognition and awards, including the Aachen Peace Prize and the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize". Avnery, who also founded the peace movement Gush Shalom, worked for many years together with his wife Rachel, until she died in 2011.

And even if he was sometimes decried by the Israeli right wing as a "radical leftist" or "enemy of the state", Avnery just kept on. To the very last, he remained in demand as a go-to person on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both at home and abroad. Some years ago, he said in interview: "It's always good when Israelis and Palestinians sit down across from each other and negotiate together." He himself preferred the role of an independent observer who called for compromises from all sides. This made it possible for him to criticise both the Israeli "occupying regime" in the Palestinian territories and violence toward Israel in one and the same breath.

No pessimism

But Avnery saw no allies in the current Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu. "You can basically forget about the words 'two-state solution.' This current government doesn't want a two-state solution," he said. But even this was no reason for resignation as far as this tireless peace activist was concerned. "Pessimism means nothing to me. I am never pessimistic." This may have been the only way Avnery could fight for a peace that is seemingly ever more remote.

Christian Wolf

© Deutsche Welle 2018

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