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Hunting for Said Hammami’s house


A meeting of minds
Uri Avnery Social activist
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בוועידה הזאת, ז'נבה, ועידה מיותרת לחלוטין, לא יצא ממנה שום דבר, לא היה לזה המשך. לדעתי מפני שהאמריקאים לא רצו להתחלק עם הסובייטים ביוזמה הזאת. האמריקאים רצו יוזמה אמריקאית בלעדית. ואסד החרים את הוועידה. ואז למעשה לא יצא ממנה כלום. אני חושב שרוב האנשים בכלל לא זוכרים שהייתה ועידה כזאת. אבל הייתה לזה תוצאה אחת חשובה מבחינתי: בוועידה הזאת אני פגשתי בעיתונאי אנגלי בשם מורטימר, של ה"טיימס הלונדוני", שהיה עיתון חשוב, והוא אומר לי: "תשמע, יש לאש"ף נציג בלונדון, נציג מוכר בשם סעיד חמאמי, והוא כתב מאמר ב’טיימס', שבו הוא רמז שאש"ף מוכן לנהל מו"מ עם ישראל”. שזה אז היה דבר מדהים לחלוטין! אז אמרתי לו: "אתה יודע מה? כשתחזור ללונדון תנסה לדבר אתו ותגיד לו שפגשת ישראלי בשם אורי אבנרי ושהוא היה רוצה להיפגש אתו”. ואכן, כעבור כמה שבועות קיבלתי ממורטימר הודעה שסעיד חמאמי היה מאוד רוצה להיפגש אתי ושאני אבוא ללונדון. צריכים לזכור שאש"ף אז היה השטן בהתגלמותו, שכל מגע אתו היה פשע חמור; אבל הוא קבע לנו פגישה בלונדון, במלון "מאונט רויאל" ברחוב אוקספורד, מקום מרכזי מאוד. ונסענו לשם רחל ואני. החלטנו שלא כדאי שרחל תהיה נוכחת. לונדון, בשביל רחל וגם בשבילי זה היה תיאטרון. אז כל ערב הלכנו לתיאטרון, ובאותו ערב קנינו שני כרטיסים והיינו מוכנים לצאת, כשפתאום מצלצל הטלפון הפנימי במלון והסתבר שחמאמי בא לפגישה. אז שלחתי את רחל לתיאטרון לבד וחיכיתי שיעלה. הפגישה הייתה מסוכנת לשני הצדדים. אל״ף, הוא לא יכול להיות בטוח שזה לא מלכודת של המוסד. אני לא יכולתי להיות בטוח שזה לא מלכודת של אש”ף. וחיכיתי בדריכות מסויימת שיעלה במעלית. הוא דפק בדלת. פתחתי את הדלת, היו לו כמה שומרי ראש שנשארו במסדרון, ונכנס אדם שממבט ראשון מצא חן בעיניי. ההיפך מכפי שמתארים לעצמם טרוריסט: בחור עדין, רך כזה. וישבנו, ואחרי קצת "סמול טוק" הוא אמר: "אני אפתח, אגיד לך את ההשקפה שלי”. והוא דיבר איזה רבע שעה, כשגמר אמרתי לו: "אין לי מה להגיד, אני מסכים לכל מילה שאמרת”. מסתבר שהשקפתנו הייתה זהה לחלוטין. והייתה לנו ידידות ממש מהשנייה הראשונה. ודיברנו. אחרי ההקדמה הזאת לא היה לנו מה לדבר על מטרות, היה מה לדבר איך לעשות את זה, מה לעשות.

This conference, the Geneva conference, was completely superfluous, nothing came of it; there was no follow-up. I think that was because the Americans didn't want to share this initiative with the Soviets. The Americans wanted it to be an exclusive American initiative. And Assad boycotted the conference so it resulted in nothing. I think most people do not even remember that there was such a conference. But there was one result that was important for me: at this conference I met a British journalist named [Edward] Mortimer, from The Times of London, a major newspaper, and he told me: 'Listen, the PLO has a representative in London, a well known representative called Said Hammami, and he wrote an article in The Times in which he hinted that the PLO is ready to negotiate with Israel'.  At that time, this was absolutely amazing! So I told him: 'You know what? When you go back to London try to talk to him and tell him that you met an Israeli named Uri Avnery and he'd like to meet with him'. Indeed, a few weeks later I received a message from Mortimer telling me that Said Hammami would very much like to meet me and that I should come to London. We need to remember that at that time the PLO was the devil incarnate and that any contact with them was a serious crime, but he scheduled a meeting in London, at the Mount Royal hotel on Oxford Street, a very central location. And Rachel and I went there. We decided that Rachel should not be present at the meeting. London, for Rachel and for me, meant theater. So we went to the theater every night, and that night we purchased two tickets and we were getting ready to leave, when suddenly the phone rang from inside of the hotel and it appeared that Hammami had come for the meeting. So I sent Rachel to the theater alone and I waited for him to come up. The meeting was risky for both sides. Firstly, he could not be sure that this was not a trap by the Mossad. I could not be sure that this was not a trap by the PLO. And I waited with a certain amount of anxiety for him to come up in the elevator. He knocked on the door. I opened the door; there were a few guards who remained in the corridor, and a person came in whom I liked at first sight. The opposite of what one imagined a terrorist to look like: a gentle person who had a certain gentleness about him. We sat down and after some small talk he said: 'I will start and I will tell you what I think'. He spoke for about a quarter of an hour and when he finished I said to him: 'I have nothing to add. I agree with every word you said'. It turns out that our viewpoints were absolutely identical. And we became very friendly from the very first moment. We talked. After this preliminary conversation we no longer needed to talk about the objectives, we only needed to talk about what we should do, how we could accomplish this.

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: Edward Morimer, Said Hammami

Duration: 5 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017