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Egyptian armed forces – a formidable foe


'Not even a fraction of a fraction'
Uri Avnery Social activist
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And the [Florence] conference was held in the palace of the municipality which is a palace that dates back to the 12th or 13th or 14th century? From the period of the Renaissance, the 15th century, with all the grand walls and with paintings from the Renaissance period. The meeting began and lined up along the wall were Italian soldiers in Renaissance uniforms, with trumpets from the time of the Renaissance and the audience was one of the most exalted in Europe and I was the voice of Israel at these conferences, except for the first one. This continued every year until 1973, I think. Under the leadership of Joe Golan, a consensus was created between the Arabs and us, the Israeli delegation. Finally in 1973, the Israeli government said, 'This is not right, it is impossible to boycott this conference, it is too important'. So they sent David Hacohen who was a very important person in Mapai, the head of Solel Boneh. However, he was in fact the head of Mapai in Haifa. They sent him not as a representative of the Israeli government – they found some other title and he came there. He was there for only one purpose: to depose me. Then a very strange constellation was created at the conference: all of the Arabs were with me. We sat and formulated resolutions, the Arabs and I and Joe Golan, which were deeply resented by the Israeli government. And I remember at the last meeting that there was going to be a vote on our proposal for a resolution and David Hacohen got up. David Hacohen was a tall man, I would say that he had an 'amiable crudeness' about him. He was actually quite a sympathetic person, crude, really, no manners, noisy and given to shouting. Before they received our resolution he said, 'Don't you know that Uri Avnery doesn't represent anything. In Israel he is not even a fraction of a fraction'. I remember this phrase. But he was defeated, of course. Our resolution was accepted, and that was the last conference before the Yom Kippur War. So I spent the decade at such conferences; Rome and Bologna were one line, Florence was the other line. La Pira also came to Israel, by the way, and met the mayor, al-Jabari, in the Cave of the Patriarchs. There's a picture of the three of us visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs. We had a very positive relationship.

והוועידה הייתה בארמון של העירייה, שזה ארמון מהמאה ה-12-13-14, אני יודע? מתקופת הרנסנס, המאה ה-15, עם כל הקירות ועם תמונות מתקופות הרנסנס. הישיבה נפתחה, לאורך הקיר עמדו חיילים איטלקיים במדים של ימי הרנסנס, תקעו בחצוצרות מימי הרנסנס וישב קהל מהמעולים באירופה ואני הייתי קול ישראל בוועידות האלה, חוץ מהוועידה הראשונה. וזה הלך כל שנה עד ל-73' אני חושב. ובהנהגת ג'ו גולן נוצר איזה קונצנזוס בין הערבים ובינינו, המשלחת הישראלית. ובפעם האחרונה, ב-73' ממשלת ישראל אמרה: "זה לא בסדר, אי-אפשר להחרים את זה, זה יותר מדי חשוב”. אז שלחו את דוד הכהן, שהיה איש מאוד חשוב במפא"י, ראש "סולל בונה" אבל למעשה ראש מפא"י בחיפה, שלחו אותו לא בתור נציג ממשלת ישראל, מצאו איזשהו תואר אחר והוא בא לשם. הוא בא לשם במטרה יחידה: לדחוק אותי משם. ואז נוצרה בוועידה קונסטלציה מאוד מוזרה: כל הערבים היו אתי. ישבנו וניסחנו החלטות, הערבים ואני וג'ו גולן, שהיו לגמרי למורת רוחה של ממשלת ישראל. ואני זוכר בישיבה האחרונה שהלכה להיות הצבעה להצעת ההחלטה שלנו, קם דוד הכהן. דוד הכהן היה איש גבוה כזה, הייתה לו הייתי אומר גסות רוח חביבה. הוא היה דווקא איש די סימפטי, גס רוח, ממש, בלי שום נימוסים, רועש וצועק. ולפני שקיבלו את ההחלטה שלנו הוא אמר: "אתם לא יודעים. ואורי אבנרי לא מייצג שום דבר, בישראל הוא אפילו לא חלקיק של חלקיק", אני זוכר את הפסוק הזה. אבל הוא הובס כמובן. ההחלטה שלנו התקבלה, וזו הייתה הוועידה האחרונה לפני מלחמת יום הכיפורים. אז אני ביליתי את העשור בוועידות כאלה, גם ברומא, בולוניה קו אחד, פירנצה קו אחר. הוא גם בא לארץ, אגב, לה פירה נפגש במערת המכפלה עם ג'עברי ראש העיר ואתי. יש איזה תמונה של שלושתנו מבקרים במערת המכפלה. היו בינינו יחסים מאוד חיוביים.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Joe Golan, David Hacohen, Giorgio La Pira

Duration: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 11 May 2017