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Covering Yasser Arafat’s first press conference in Gaza


Yasser Arafat arrives in Gaza
Uri Avnery Social activist
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I one day got a message from one of my many friends: 'Arafat is returning to Israel under the terms of the agreement'. It was already 1994, I think. He returned to Israel and the Fatah movement invited me to join the welcoming party. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Then Channel 2 TV, heard about it and said: 'Why not be our representative at the reception?' I said: 'Gladly'. We went to Gaza as emissaries of HaOlam HaZeh and Channel 2. We reached the border of Sinai, and it was well organized, with the welcoming party sitting in row upon row of chairs, and there was a stage. There was also an Arabic experience: Rachel and I were sitting in the first row, all the chairs were filled, then they set up a new row in front of us, then another row in front of them, and we − instead of sitting in the front row − were sitting in the tenth row or something. Then there was a big commotion and everyone leapt forward in 'Arab order' and the Rais came and they surrounded him and picked him up so there was no chance that he would come to where he was supposed to meet the welcoming party. Then they said: 'Arafat is going directly to Gaza and we are all following him'.

So we returned to our base. Channel 2 had rented a temporary office for the day, and on the roof a person that I really disliked was broadcasting. He also really disliked me, so it's OK − it's Roni Daniel. From there we found out where Arafat was staying – at the Palestine Hotel on the Gaza beach front. We drove there, Rachel and I, and the staff of Channel 2 headed by Saragusti. It was already quite late in the evening when we arrived, and the building was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people – a very dense crowd, with everyone pushing everyone else, everyone pushing towards the gate of the hotel.

The gates were being guarded by Palestinian guards, the first time I had seen people in Palestinian uniform. It was called the Palestine Liberation Army which had always existed as an official Palestinian army in Amman, Jordan. I was really uncertain about what to do and then I said: 'I have no choice', and I pushed and shoved hard until I managed to get through all of this and reached the gate. When I reached the gate I said to the Palestinian officer: 'My name is so-and-so, I am a friend of the Rais and I would like to go in and see him. This is my card, please bring it to him'. I wondered what would happen next. But he returned a few minutes later: 'The Rais asks you to come in'. I said: 'Yes, but my wife is also here with me'. He says: 'Please'. Then Rachel and the television crew had to go through that same torment of pushing through the excited, ecstatic crowd. I grabbed Rachel's arm and she told me later that she thought I was going to pull her arm out of her body.

ואני יום אחד מקבל הודעה מהחברים הרבים שלי – "ערפאת חוזר לארץ עפ"י ההסכם”. זה כבר היה 94' אני חושב. הוא חוזר לארץ ותנועת פת"ח מזמינה אותי להצטרף אל מקבלי הפנים. כמובן קפצתי על זה. ואז ערוץ 2, טלוויזיה, שמעה על זה ואמרה: "מדוע שלא תהיה הנציג שלנו בקבלת הפנים?" אמרתי: "בשמחה רבה”. ואז נסענו לעזה בתור שליחי "העולם הזה" וערוץ 2. הגענו לגבול של סיני, והיה שם מסודר יפה, מקבלי הפנים יושבים בשורות-שורות של כיסאות, והייתה במה. הייתה גם חווייה ערבית: רחל ואני יושבים בשורה הראשונה, וכל הכיסאות מתמלאים, ואז באים חדשים ומקימים שורה לפנינו, אח"כ שורה לפניהם, ואנחנו, במקום לשבת בשורה הראשונה, יושבים בשורה העשירית או  משהו. ואז יש המולה גדולה וכולם מזנקים קדימה ב״סדר ערבי״ והראיס בא ומקיפים אותו ומרימים אותו ואין שום סיכוי שהוא יבוא למקום שנועד למפגש עם מקבלי הפנים. אומרים: "הראיס נוסע ישר לעזה" ואנחנו כולנו אחריו, ערוץ 2, שכר איזה משרד זמני לאותו יום, ועל הגג שידר אדם שאני מאוד-מאוד לא אוהב אותו, והוא גם מאוד-מאוד לא אוהב אותי כך שזה בסדר, זה רוני דניאל. ומשמה נודע לנו איפה ערפאת משתכן, במלון "פלסטין" על חוף הים בעזה. ונסענו, רחל ואני, והצוות של ערוץ 2 בראשות סרגוסטי, ובאים לשם, זה כבר די מאוחר בערב, ושמה הבניין מוקף מאות אלפים, קהל צפוף, צפוף, צפוף, אחד דוחף את השני, כולם נדחפים לשער של המלון. בשער עומד משמר פלסטיני, פעם ראשונה שראיתי אנשים במדים פלסטיניים. "צבא השחרור הפלסטיני" זה נקרא, שהיה קיים כל הזמן. צבא פלסטיני רשמי שהיה קיים בעמאן, בירדן. ואני ממש מתלבט מה לעשות ובסוף אמרתי אין ברירה, ואני ממש נדחף בכוח, בכוח, בכוח, בכוח, עובר את כל זה ומגיע לשער. מגיע לשער, אומר לקצין הפלסטיני: "שמי כך וכך, אני ידיד של ה׳ראיס׳ ואני מבקש להיכנס ולהיפגש אתו, יש פה כרטיס ביקור, אנא תביא את זה אליו”. תמהתי מה יהיה ההמשך. אבל הוא חזר אחרי כמה דקות: "הראיס מבקש שתיכנס".  אמרתי: "כן, אבל יש אתי גם אשתי וזה", הוא אומר: "בבקשה". ואז גם רחל והצוות של הערוץ היו נאלצים לעבור דרך אותו נתיב יסורים בתוך ההמון הנלהב, המשולהב, המצטופף הזה. ואני תפסתי את הזרוע של רחל והיא אמרה לי אח"כ שהיא חשבה שאני מוציא לה את הזרוע מהגוף.‏

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: Sinai, Gaza, Yasser Arafat

Duration: 5 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017