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The different sides of Yasser Arafat


Covering Yasser Arafat’s first press conference in Gaza
Uri Avnery Social activist
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We made it through the gate and the guards let us in to the lobby or the meeting hall of the hotel, which overlooks the sea. It was packed full of Arabs. What was going on? It turned out that the Rais was going to give a press conference to the Arab media around the world. I, with my famous modesty, stood quietly in the corner. We waited and waited and I already knew, I had met with Arafat enough to know that he would wake up around midnight, and work at night. Indeed, after a lengthy wait, Arafat came out, dressed in his usual style, and without hesitating a second, just like a carrier pigeon, straight from the door, without stopping at the door, just went right up to me and started to hug me and to kiss me and to shake hands with Rachel. I said to myself, okay, well, it's a gesture, a nice gesture. No. He grabbed my arm and started pulling me. I said, okay, another nice gesture, in another minute he'll leave me. But he didn't leave me. He pulled me onto the stage, there were a few steps up to the stage. He pulled me up, pulled me onto the stage. In the middle of the stage was a table with two chairs. One chair was for the official spokesman of the PLO, Kanafani, the brother of the writer who had been killed by Israelis. Arafat waved Kanafani away, and sat me next to him. And Arafat and I were sitting, and in front of us − who knows − perhaps 100 or more Arab journalists from around the world, and he starts to talk, Arafat. He talks and talks, turning to me occasionally, asking: 'Mazbut? Shikh?' 'Am I right?' I didn't understand a word of what he was talking about, but I said: 'N'am', and that was how we gave a press conference to the Arab world. One result was that Kanafani hated me, and if he is still alive today then he hates me still. Channel 2, of course, got a news item out of it, and there was an article in Ha'Olam Hazeh, and relations were resumed with Arafat on Palestinian land, the Land of Israel. From then on we stayed in contact on a fairly regular basis. Every few weeks, we visited him. We, in the meantime, had become Gush Shalom, and whenever I asked, Arafat invited me.

אבל איכשהו עברנו את השער ומכניסים אותנו לאולם הקבלה או אולם האספות של המלון, שמשקיף על הים, והוא מלא, מלא, מלא ערבים. מה מסתבר? שה׳ראיס׳ עומד לתת מסיבת עיתונאים לעיתונות הערבית בכל העולם. ואני בצניעותי הידועה עמדתי בפינה בשקט. ומחכים ומחכים ואני ידעתי כבר, הכרתי את ערפאת מספיק בשביל לדעת שהוא בכלל מתעורר לחיים בחצות בערך, הוא עובד בלילה. ואכן, אחרי המתנה ממושכת יוצא ערפאת לבוש כרגיל, ובלי להסס שנייה, ממש כמו יונת דואר, ישר מהדלת, בלי להתמהמה בדלת, פשוט ישר ניגש אלי ומתחיל לחבק אותי ולנשק אותי ולתת את היד לרחל, וכו' וכו’. אמרתי: "בסדר, יפה, ג'סטה, מחווה יפה”. לא, תופס את היד שלי ומתחיל למשוך אותי. אמרתי "או קיי, עוד מחווה יפה, תכף הוא יעזוב אותי". לא עוזב אותי. מושך אותי אל הבמה, יש כמה מדרגות לבמה, מושך אותי למעלה, מושך אותי על הבמה, באמצע הבמה עמד שולחן עם שני כיסאות, על כיסא אחד יושב הדובר הרשמי של אש"ף, כנפאני, אחיו של סופר שישראל רצחה, ו"מנפנף" את כנפאני, ומושיב אותי לידו. ויושב ערפאת ואני ולפנינו, אני יודע? מאה פלוס עיתונאים ערבים מכל העולם, והוא מתחיל לדבר, ערפאת. מדבר, מדבר, מדי פעם פונה אלי, שואל: "מזבוט? סחיח?" "האם אני צודק?" ואני לא הבנתי מילה ממה שהוא מדבר, אבל אמרתי: "נעם", וכך נתנו מסיבת עיתונאים לעולם הערבי. ואחת התוצאות הייתה שכנפאני הזה שנא אותי, ואם הוא חי עדיין אז הוא שונא אותי גם עכשיו. יצאה מזה כתבה בערוץ 2 כמובן, וכתבה ב"העולם הזה", והתחדשו היחסים עם ערפאת על אדמת פלסטין, ארץ ישראל, ומשמה התחלנו במגעים די קבועים. כל כמה שבועות היינו מבקרים אותו. אנחנו בינתיים הפכנו ל"גוש שלום", ומתי שביקשתי הוא הזמין אותי.‏

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: HaOlam HaZeh, Yasser Arafat

Duration: 3 minutes, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017