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Summoned to meet Yasser Arafat


Our introduction to the Maronites of Lebanon
Uri Avnery Social activist
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There were two friends from the newspaper with me – the reporter Sarit Yishai and the photographer Anat Saragusti, and we decided to go out for the evening. Where? There was nothing much to do in Beirut, but north of Beirut, a few miles away, there is the town of Jounieh that was in Christian hands and we went there. It resembles Haifa and Acre, a bay and then the northern part of the bay. So we went there. It was a nice port filled with yachts, we met a lot of rich Lebanese. Who can maintain a yacht? Only rich men. We walked around, and when they heard that we were Israelis, we became a tourist attraction and everyone wanted to meet us and invite us in. Everyone wanted to take us to his boat, his ship. We had coffee on this boat and on that boat. And then, when we walked down the street… yes, I had my car, I brought my car from Israel. We were on the main street, a bourgeois Lebanese man approached us, a rich Lebanese, who heard that we were Israelis − we must come with him, he has a family celebration and we have to come with him. Okay, we went with him. We met a large group of rich Lebanese Maronites, eating and drinking, and I talked with the men who were in the room separately, of course, and I saw and talked with them. They had no idea who I was, except that I was an Israeli. Someone asked me: 'Well, what are you going to do in West Beirut?' I said: 'I don't know, I don't think we will go into West Beirut'. He said: 'What? You have to go in'.

[Q] When they said 'you', they meant the Israeli Army?

Yes, yes, Israel. So I asked him: 'And what will we do in West Beirut?' He says: 'Kill them all'. For a moment I thought he was joking. No, it was most absolutely serious. That was the first time I got the impression of the murderous hatred that led where it led to in the end.

היו אתי שתי חברות מערכת – הכתבת שרית ישי והצלמת ענת סרגוסטי, והחלטנו לבלות את הערב. איפה? בביירות לא היה מה לבלות, אבל מצפון לביירות, כמה קילומטרים, יש עיירה בשם ג'וניה שהייתה בידי הנוצרים ונסענו לשם. זה דומה לחיפה ועכו, מפרץ כזה וזה החלק הצפוני של המפרץ. אז הלכנו לשמה. זה היה נמל נחמד מלא יאכטות, פגשנו הרבה לבנונים עשירים. מי יכול להחזיק יאכטה? רק איש עשיר. והסתובבנו, וכששמעו שאנחנו ישראלים, הפכנו לאתר תיירות וכולם רצו לפגוש אותנו ולהזמין אותנו. כל אחד רצה למשוך אותנו לסירה שלו, לספינה שלו. שתינו קפה בסירה זאת ובסירה זאת. ואז, כשאנחנו הולכים ברחוב, כן, היה לי האוטו שלי, הבאתי את האוטו מהארץ. והיינו ברחוב הראשי, ניגש אלינו בורגני לבנוני, גביר לבנוני, שמע שאנחנו ישראלים – אנחנו מוכרחים להילוות אליו, יש לו חגיגה משפחתית ואני מוכרח לבוא אליו. טוב, הלכנו אליו. פוגשים חבורה גדולה של לבנונים מרונים עשירים, אוכלים ושותים, ואני משוחח עם הגברים שהיו בחדר לחוד כמובן ויושב ומדבר אתם. לא היה להם מושג מי אני, חוץ מזה שאני ישראלי. שואלים: "נו, מה אתם הולכים לעשות במערב ביירות?" אמרתי: "אני לא יודע, אני לא חושב שאנחנו ניכנס למערב ביירות". הוא אומר: "מה? אתם חייבים להיכנס.‏"

מראיינתכשהם אמרו "אתםזה הצבא הישראלי?‏

כן, כן, ישראל. אז אני שואל אותו: "ומה נעשה שם במערב ביירות?" הוא אומר: "להרוג את כולם". אני לרגע אחד חשבתי שהוא מתבדח כזה. לא, זה היה ברצינות הכי גמורה. ואז פעם ראשונה קיבלתי רושם על השנאה הרצחנית שהובילה לאן שהובילה בסוף.‏

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: Jounieh, Haifa, Acre, Anat Saragusti, Sarit Yishai

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017