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Our introduction to the Maronites of Lebanon


Arranging to meet Yasser Arafat
Uri Avnery Social activist
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כשפרצה מלחמת לבנון, אני חושב שאת ושרית הלכתם לבקר שמה בשטח של צה"ל ואני נסעתי אתך אני חושב, לבקר שמה ואז צה"ל הזמין אותנו, את כל עורכי העיתונים לבוא למשרד שצה"ל הקים בָּעבְּדֵה, שזה פרבר של ביירות. ונסעתי לשם, ובמשרד של דובר צה"ל בבָּעבְּדֵה ניגש אלי עיתונאי גרמני, איש טלוויזיה. ואנחנו משוחחים. והוא איש טלוויזיה שישב דרך קבע בביירות בשם הטלוויזיה הגרמנית. והוא שאל אם אני כבר דיברתי עם ערפאת. אני ממש נדהמתי, אמרתי לו: "איך אפשר לדבר עם ערפאת? יש מלחמה, יש חזית”. "כן, אבל רשת הטלפונים עובדת". למה היא עובדת? מפני שהמרכזייה היא בצד המערבי, בצד של אש"ף, ואש"ף לא ניתק. והוא יעץ לי: "תטלפן לו ותראה אם אתה יכול להיפגש". אני חוזר למלון, גרנו במלון "אלכסנדר" שהיה המלון היחידי במזרח העיר, שכל החלונות שלו היו מפוצצים, ואני מטלפן למספר שהוא נתן לי. עונה קול, מוכר לי איכשהו, ושואל אם אני רוצה לדבר ערבית, אנגלית או עברית; אמרתי: "אם אפשר – עברית". ואז מסתבר שבצד השני של הקו נמצא עימאד שאקור, ערבי אזרח ישראל שעבר את הגבול באיזשהו שלב והצטרף לאש"ף והוא המומחה לשפה העברית של אש”ף. והוא עבד אצלי ב"העולם הזה" במהדורה הערבית של "העולם הזה" שהוצאנו זמן מה. לימים גילה לי ערפאת שהוא קרא אותו בשקידה. היו מחליפים על גשר הירדן עיתונים והוא קיבל את "העולם הזה" בערבית וקרא. אמרתי: "פה אורי אבנרי ואני מאוד הייתי רוצה להיפגש עם הראיס”. לא, אני מבלבל. באותה שיחה ענה מישהו מהמשרד של ערפאת שלא ידעתי מי הוא, דיברנו אנגלית ואמרתי: "פה אורי אבנרי מתל אביב", ככה וככה "ואני בביירות והייתי רוצה להיפגש עם הראיס”. והוא עונה לי מאוד בקרירות: "בסדר. איפה אני נמצא?״ "אני נמצא במלון ‘אלכסנדר'". הוא יקבל תשובה מהראיס ויטלפן לי. לא האמנתי לרגע שייצא מזה משהו, זה נראה לי כל כך מטורף, והלכנו לבלות.‏

When war broke out in Lebanon, I think you and Sarit went to see the area where the army was stationed and I went with you, I think, to visit, and then the IDF invited us all, the newspaper editors, to come to the office that the IDF established at Ba'abda, a suburb of Beirut. I travelled there, to the office of the IDF spokesman in Ba'abda, and a German journalist, a TV personality, approached me. We were talking and this TV personality was permanently posted in Beirut on behalf of German television. He asked if I had already spoken with Arafat. I was really stunned and said to him: 'How can one talk with Arafat? There's a war, there is a front'. 'Yes, but the telephone network is working'. Why was it working? Because the switchboard was on the western side, the PLO site, and the PLO had not cut the connection. And he advised me: 'Call him and see if you can meet with him'. I went back to the hotel – we were staying at the Alexander which was the only hotel in the eastern part of the city, and all its windows had been shattered, and I phoned to the number he had given me. A voice answered, which seemed somehow familiar, and asked if I want to speak Arabic, English or Hebrew. I said: 'If it is possible – Hebrew'. It then turned out that the person on the other end of the line was Imad Shakur, an Arab Israeli citizen who had crossed the border at some point to join the PLO and he was the PLO expert in Hebrew. He had worked for me, at HaOlam HaZeh − the Arabic edition of HaOlam Hazeh that we published for a while. Arafat later told me that he read it diligently. They would exchange newspapers on the Jordan Bridge and he received HaOlam HaZeh in Arabic and read it. I said: 'This is Uri Avnery and I would like to meet with the Rais'. No, that's wrong. In that conversation someone from Arafat's office answered and I did not know who he was. We spoke in English and I said: 'This is Uri Avnery from Tel Aviv', and so on, 'and I am in Beirut and I want to meet with the Rais. And he answered me very coldly: 'All right'. Where am I? 'I'm at the hotel Alexander'. He will get an answer from the Rais and he will call me. I did not believe for a moment that anything would come of this − it seemed so crazy, and we went out.

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: Ba’abda, HaOlam HaZeh, Sarit Yashai, Yasser Arafat, Imad Shakur

Duration: 4 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017