|Directed by:||Yair Lev||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2002||Running Time:||75 mins|
|Language:||Hebrew (English Subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Wikipedia Page on Uri Avnery||Category:||Israel|
The living embodiment of Israel’s radical left, Uri Avnery has spent the past 50 years fighting ideological battles against foreign occupiers, national icons and the status quo. Uri Avnery: Warrior For Peace follows the man whose often-controversial presence in his country’s history has earned him both celebrity and the notorious title of “Public Enemy #1.”
“I was a fighting man my entire life,” he reasons at one point. “I was never a quiet man.”
Making his voice heard, one way or another, has always been a specialty of the man now known as Uri Avnery. Born Helmut Ostermann in Germany, we learn how his Hebrew identity first came to Israeli attention, from bylines for nationalist newspaper articles critical of the English Mandate. During stints as both an Irgun member and a commando in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Avnery developed a journalistic side that would eventually result in a best-selling memoir (In The Fields Of The Philistines), its controversially evenhanded follow-up (The Other Side Of The Coin), and 40 years as co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the Haolam Hazeh weekly news magazine. Despite the fiery destruction of his publication offices, surviving would-be assassins, and even being declared Public Enemy #1 by the head of the Israeli General Security Services, Avnery has stubbornly fought on.
In 2001, filmmaker Yair Lev followed Avnery around in his latest incarnation, as the activist leader of the Gush Shalom movement, advocating Palestinian sovereignty. With his wife Rachel, we see him lead protests, bullhorn in hand, and work alongside Palestinians to rebuild their destroyed homes, all the while ignoring the passing jeers of Jewish settlers. Watching the film’s impressive array of archival footage, we get an extensive sampling of the anger Avnery has managed to spark from a long line of detractors. One of them is Israeli founding father David Ben Gurion, who once became so incensed over Avnery’s political muckraking that he commissioned a disparaging play about his journalistic antagonist. It was called “Throw Him to the Dogs.”
Despite such efforts to cut him down to size, keeping a high profile has been Avnery’s biggest weapon against powerful critics who wish he would simply fade into obscurity. Whether by luring in magazine readers with sensational headlines and racy back-cover photos, or by defiantly winning a seat in the Knesset, he has consistently found a way around the barriers of public apathy and critical suppression. As he tells one of his former Irgun comrades, “What’s the point of being a hero if no one knows about it?”
Avnery’s inflated awareness of his own legend provides insight into what compelled him to risk his life for a face-to-face interview with Yasser Arafat in Beirut in 1982. Watching footage of Avnery cordially engaging Israel’s greatest enemy while the IDF besieges the surrounding city, and of the duo’s later public embrace at Arafat’s 1995 return to Israeli soil, we are left to wonder if his primary motivation was journalistic integrity or personal politics. For the aggressively opinionated Avnery, there seems to be no boundary between the two.
The evolving nature of Avnery’s ideals has certainly come at a personal cost, alienating him even from those who once fought alongside him. When he tours a 1948 battlefield site with old commando comrades, Avnery questions the righteousness of the unit’s killing of Arabs, while also downplaying his own role in that killing. Annoyed, a fellow vet declares to director Lev, “The 1948 Uri isn’t the 2001 Uri.”
Now in his mid-80’s, Avnery may be in the twilight of his various public efforts, but the energy of his ideals remains just as healthy as their ability to divide public opinion. The true nature of his character, at least as Avnery would probably conceive of himself, may just be found in the four words of Haolam Hazeh’s motto: “No fear, No favoritism.”