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Abu Sitta’s solution for resettling refugees


Adventure in Paris
Uri Avnery Social activist
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In 2000 a conference was held in Paris on the refugee problem and I was invited to participate on the Israeli side. The conference was held in the UNESCO Building, not far from the Eiffel Tower − a large building, luxurious, in a big hall − and I was introduced to the man who was supposed to open the conference with me, a man named Salman Abu Sitta, whom I had not met previously. We were polite to each other, and he delivered the first speech, the first opening speech. I immediately realised that this man knew everything about the creation of the refugee problem. When my turn came to speak after him I was faced with a choice: I had a lot of comments that I wanted to make about Mr Abu Sitta's remarks, but I had prepared in advance the things I wanted to say. So I decided that I would talk from my prepared speech and I would invite Mr Abu Sitta to lunch and tell him what I had to say about his lecture. So it was. He spoke and I spoke. During the interval Yasser Arafat, who was in town, came in to greet us. And I have a picture of me standing at the podium and he is at its foot, and he's hugging and kissing me, as usual, and that's it. At noon, Rachel and I and Abu Sitta went to eat at a very good restaurant. We spoke first of all about ourselves, and I realised that Abu Sitta is a Bedouin who was a child of about eight or something during the War of Independence, and he fled to Gaza together with his older brother. His Bedouin tribe lived near to the Gaza Strip and he studied and grew up, I think, in Iraq. He became extremely rich as an international building contractor and while we exchanged ideas I became more and more impressed with his knowledge, to the extent that he corrected me about details of the battles in which I had participated in 1948, and he corrected my memories for me.

בשנת 2000 נערכה בפאריז ועידה על בעיית הפליטים ואני הוזמנתי מהצד הישראלי להשתתף בה. הוועידה התקיימה בבניין "יונסקו", לא הרחק ממגדל אייפל, בניין גדול, מפואר, באולם גדול, והציגו בפניי את האיש שאמור היה יחד אתי לפתוח את הוועידה, אדם בשם סלמן אבו סיטא, שלא הכרתי אותו קודם לכן. היינו מנומסים אחד לשני והוא נאם את הנאום הראשון, נאום הפתיחה הראשון. מיד ראיתי שזה איש שיודע את הכל על היווצרות בעיית הפליטים. וכשבא תורי אחריו אמרתי שאני עומד בפני ברירה, יש לי הרבה מה להעיר על דבריו של מר אבו סיטא, אבל הכנתי הרצאה מראש של הדברים שאני רוצה להגיד. אז אני מציע שאני אנאם את הנאום שלי ואני אזמין את מר אבו סיטא לארוחת צהריים ואגיד לו מה שיש לי להגיד על ההרצאה שלו. כך היה. הוא נאם, אני נאמתי, בהפסקה נכנס יאסר ערפאת שהיה בעיר לברך אותנו. ויש תמונה שאני עומד על הדוכן והוא למטה, והוא מחבק אותי ומנשק אותי, כרגיל, וזהו. בצהריים רחל ואני ואבו סיטא הלכנו לאכול במסעדה טובה מאוד. דיברנו קודם כל על עצמנו, והבנתי שאבו סיטא הוא ילד בדואי שהיה כבן שמונה או משהו במלחמת העצמאות, יחד עם אחיו הבכור הוא ברח לעזה. השבט הבדואי שלו היה סמוך לרצועת עזה והוא למד וגדל נדמה לי בעיראק, הפך לעשיר מופלג, בינלאומי, כקבלן בניין, ותוך כדי שאנחנו מחליפים דעות, התרשמתי יותר ויותר מהידע שלו, עד כדי כך שהוא תיקן לי פרטים על הקרבות שאני השתתפתי בהם ב-48', והוא תיקן לי את הזכרונות שלי.

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: UNESCO, Salman Abu Sitta, Yasser Arafat

Duration: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017