We received word early this morning that Israeli human rights activist and long-time CounterPunch contributor Uri Avnery died in Tel Aviv, following a heart attack.
Avnery, who was one of the first Israelis to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, was 94. He lived a sprawling life. He was born in Germany in 1923 and his family fled to British Palestine a few months after Hitler came to power. As a young man he was dispersed leaflets for the Irgun, a terrorist Zionist organization, and it haunted him for most of his life. Avnery would later play chess with Yasser Arafat and become one of the PLO’s most ardent Israeli defenders.
Avnery began sending us his column in 2002, only a few months after CounterPunch went online. And they came, usually on a Friday night, with a faithful regularity. The first column Avnery sent us was “The Ship is on the Way,” on the blockade of Gaza. The final one, a scathing indictment of Israel’s new “Basic Law,” was published on August 6, under the title “Who the Hell are we.”
Alexander Cockburn was one of Uri’s most faithful readers. Even though Cockburn disagreed with Avnery about the two-state solution and other political matters, he admired the high quality and fluidity of Avnery’s prose. Cockburn once told me that Avnery reminded him of his father Claud. Alex marveled at his ability to churn out original and compelling columns even while struggling with illness, age or the loss of his wife.
But most of all we admired Avnery’s optimism in the face of despair, which never wavered even in the darkest hours.