Gush Shalom Founder Uri Avnery Is Born
Avnery pictured with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in west Beirut. Photo: Anat Saragusti, courtesy of Uri Avnery

September 10, 1923

Journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery is born Helmut Ostermann in Beckum, Germany.

After Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, Uri’s father, an upper-class Zionist, moves the family to Haifa, then to Tel Aviv. In their move to Palestine, they lose their wealth, and Avnery grows up in extreme poverty and must leave school at age 14. He joins the Irgun underground in 1938 and remains with the militia until 1941. After fighting in the War of Independence, Avnery begins to focus on the necessity for peace between Jews and Arabs. The idea of a partnership between the Israeli and Arab national movements becomes the core of his worldview and writings.

Based on his war experiences, he writes “In the Fields of the Philistines, 1948,” which becomes a best-seller. His next book, “The Other Side of the Coin,” creates controversy because it describes the atrocities of the war and the expulsion of Palestinians.

Avnery buys the weekly newspaper HaOlam HaZeh with a friend in 1950 and uses it to promote his political views. He writes about corruption and censorship, attacks government policy, and exposes egregious security failures in the new state. HaOlam HaZeh argues for the separation of state and religion and for the equal rights of all, including Israel’s Arab minority. He expands the newspaper into a left-wing political movement, HaOlam HaZeh-Koah Hadash, with which he wins a seat in the sixth Knesset in 1965 and the seventh Knesset in 1969. He returns for the final two years of the ninth Knesset in 1979 as one of five people rotating through two seats held by the Left Camp of Israel.

HaOlam HaZeh shuts down in 1993, the same year that Avnery creates Gush Shalom, the Peace Bloc, a left-wing organization calling for the creation of a state of Palestine and equal rights for all in Israel. He writes a weekly column for Gush Shalom. In his final column in August 2018 — “Who the Hell Are We?” — Avnery solidifies his argument that Israel is a nation of Israelis, not of Jews.

Over the years he forms a relationship with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and he and his wife serve as human shields for Arafat at his besieged Ramallah compound in 2003 during the Second Intifada.

Avnery dies in Tel Aviv at age 94 on Aug. 20, 2018.