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Going underground


Leave it to the Brits
Uri Avnery Social activist
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I began to learn English because I remained at the first law office for about half a year, and then I was invited to join the office of a lawyer who was much more important, much more well known, and who was primarily an English lawyer. A Jew who had been born in Baghdad − the famous Sassoon family − but he only spoke English and was treated by the British in Israel as one of their own. British clients came to the office, government officials, and I had to learn English quickly. So I went to Berlitz where I learned English quickly, and from the age of 15 or 16 I read almost only in English. I think I know English quite well. Today, when I have to decide how to write my articles, I often prefer to write them in English since somehow my English writing is more sophisticated than my Hebrew writing. So I studied English and worked for a lawyer and they were happy with me and I received a high salary for my age and my status. Meanwhile, there were the incidents. When I was still in school - I remember the first day of the incidents in April 1936 - my father did something very unusual: he came to collect me from school, something which he never did. The parents came to take the children, there was terrible fear in Tel Aviv; people were killed in Jaffa. Since then the incidents have continued more or less. And I had some pamphlets, someone pushed leaflets at me, against the restraint. 'Restraint' was one of the most important words of that period. Restraint was the official policy of the Zionist institutions: not to respond to the killings by the Arabs, to leave it to the British and we would show restraint. We would be good children and let the British handle it.

 והתחלתי ללמוד אנגלית, מפני שאצל העורך-דין הראשון הייתי איזה חצי שנה ואז הוזמנתי לעורך-דין הרבה יותר חשוב, הרבה יותר מפורסם, ובעיקר עורך-דין אנגלי.יהודי בגדדי בלידה, משפחת ששון המפורסמת, אבל הוא היה דובר אנגלית רק, והיה מקובל אצל האנגלים בארץ כאחד משלהם. הסתובבו במשרד לקוחות אנגליים,פקידים של הממשל, והייתי מוכרח ללמוד אנגלית מהר. אז הלכתי לברליץ, למדתי אנגלית מהר, ומגיל 15-16 אני כמעט קורא רק אנגלית, ספרים ודברים כאלה. אני חושב שאני יודע אנגלית די טוב. היום, כשאני צריך לבחור לכתוב את המאמרים שלי, אני לא פעם מעדיף לכתוב אותם באנגלית שאיכשהו יש לי יותר סופיסטיקציה בכתיבה האנגלית שלי מאשר בכתיבה העברית שלי. אז למדתי אנגלית ועבדתי אצל עורך-הדין והיו מרוצים ממני מפני שקיבלתי משכורת גבוהה לפי גילי ומעמדי.בינתיים היו המאורעות, כשהייתי עוד בבית-ספר, אני זוכר את היום הראשון של המאורעות[- באפריל 36' שאבא שלי עשה דבר מאוד לא רגיל, הוא בא לקחת אותי מבית-הספר, מה שהוא אף פעם לא עשה. ההורים באו לקחת את הילדים, היה פחד נוראי בתל אביב, ביפו הרגו אנשים. מאז היו מאורעות פחות או יותר. ואני קיבלתי עלונים, מישהו דחף לי עלונים נגד ההבלגה. ההבלגה הייתה אחת המילים החשובות של התקופה. ההבלגה הייתה המדיניות הרשמית של המוסדות הציוניים – לא להגיב על מעשי ההרג של הערבים, להשאיר את זה לאנגלים ואנחנו מבליגים. נהיה ילדים טובים וניתן לאנגלים לטפל בעניין.‏


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: English, lawyer, salary, Restraint, Arab revolt

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 10 March 2017