Gush Shalom activist Uri Avnery to act as human shield for Arafat

Arafat’s destroyed compound in Ramallah following Israel’s April 2002 “Operation Defensive Shield”. The Muqata’ as the compound is known, is the Ramallah district headquarters of several Palestinian Authority offices and security forces. (Ronald de Hommel)


“I am willing to put myself at risk and serve as a human shield, in order to foil Prime Minster Sharon’s intention to murder the leader of the Palestinian People. So are many of my my fellows in the Israeli peace movement” declared the veteran peace activist Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) upon his arrival at the Presidential Compound in Ramallah.

“Sharon does not intend to ‘deport’ Yasser Arafat. That word is a mere euphemism for murdering Arafat in cold blood. The murder of Arafat, by soldiers under the authority of the government of Israel, would be a terrible disaster for our country. It may precipitate an outbreak of hatred and bloodshed dwarfing everything we have seen in the past three years. Such a murder would also put an end to any chance of peace and reconciliation between the two peoples for many years, possibly for generations.

“To a person like me, who deeply cares about Israel’s future, there is nothing more important to do at this moment than do everything — and I do mean everything — in my power to prevent such a calamity. PM Sharon, Defence Minster Mofaz and their generals should know that if they send their soldiers in here, there will be Israeli peace activists here to bar their way” said Avnery, who mentioned that already last year, a group of Gush Shalom activists had spent the night at this compound, during a previous round of threats by Sharon against Arafat.

Avnery sharply condemned the so-called “experts” who on the Israeli media assert that “Arafat removal will pave the way for the emergence of moderate forces”. “Either these gentlemen are bare-faced liars, or they have not the slightest knowledge on the subject they comment about, no realisation of the obvious fact that the murder of Arafat would wipe out for a considerable time any sign of moderation in the Palestinian society.”

Uri Avnery at a 1997 protest against the confiscation of the land of Jebel Abu Ghnaim for the illegal Israeli settlement Har Homa. (Nigel Parry)

Avnery arrived at the Presidential Compound this afternoon, among a group of some thirty peace activists which also included Knesset Members Issam Mahoul and Ahamad Tibi, senior Meretz activist Latif Dori and the historian Teddy Katz. Together with them arrived a large group of Palestinian public figures, partners of the Israelis in the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Action Group for Peace.

When the activist arrived, the compound was full of thousands of Palestinian demonstrators, carrying photos of Arafat and flags of the various factions and organizations in Palestinian society, now united in strong opposition to Sharon’s threat against Arafat. The presidential bodyguards made room for the peace delegation among the crowd. In the corridor inside, the Israelis met with Arafat, who welcomed them warmly and invited Avnery and the two MKs to appear with his at the window. Their appearance was greeted by prolonged applause and cheers. Avnery handed to Arafat the Gush Shalom symbol, consisting of the linked flags of Israel and Palestine - which the Palestinian president immediately pinned on to his lapel.

Arafat invited the peace activists to dinner, which was joined also by the new Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala. During the dinner, Arafat spoke of the Oslo agreements, signed ten years ago to the day, and said “I was then, and I remain now, committed to the hope of a secure future, a future when the children of both our peoples could grow up without fear”. Abu Ala called for an immediate cease-fire, putting a complete end to both suicide bombings by Palestinians and “liquidations” by the Israeli armed forces.

Avnery advised the Palestinian PM to include in the presentation of his new cabinet, once it is formed, a direct appeal to the people of Israel. “Very many in Israel already understand the simple truth: assassinations and liquidations directly precipitate suicide bombings; whoever sends a helicopter gunship to assassinate a Palestinian leader is thereby also causing the death of the Israeli civilians in the subsequent suicide bombing. Sharon and many of his ministers and generals do not want a cease-fire, but rather a total war. But among the citizens of Israel, who have had enough and more than enough of living in fear, such a direct appeal for a cease-fire could find an echo”.

Those able and willing to be part of a volunteer group, which might be called up at short notice to come to the Ramallah Presidential Compound to face together with the Palestinians a possible invasion by the army, please contact Gush Shalom and/or leave a message with your name and phone number on the answering machine at the Tel-Aviv Gush Shalom office, 03-5221732. Thank you! Further info: Uri Avnery +972-50-306440