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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/3/11

RACHEL Avnery; a Memorium

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SHE HAD a purpose: to instill human values.

There was the story about Abraham and the burial site for Sarah. Ephron the Hittite refuses money. Abraham insists on paying. After a long and beautiful exchange, Ephron winds it up: "The land is worth four-hundred shekels of silver. What is that betwixt me and thee?" (Genesis 23). Rachel told the children that this is still the Bedouin way of doing business, leading up to the deal in a civilized manner.

After the lesson, Rachel asked the teacher of the parallel class how she explained this episode to her pupils. "I told them that this is typical Arab hypocrisy! They are all born liars! If he wanted money, why didn't he say so directly?"

I like to think that all of Rachel's children -- or almost all of them -- have turned out as better human beings.

I followed her experiments in education closely, and she my journalistic and political exploits. Basically we were attempting the same: she to educate individuals, I the public at large.

AFTER 28 YEARS, Rachel felt that she had lost her edge. She did not believe teachers should continue after their eagerness has been blunted.

The final push came when I crossed the lines in Beirut in 1982 and met Yasser Arafat. It was a world sensation. With me were two young women on my editorial staff: a correspondent and a photographer. Rachel felt left out of one of the most exciting events in my life, and decided to change direction.

Without telling me, she took a course in photography. Weeks later, pictures of an event were laid before me. I chose the best -- which just happened to be hers. The secret was out. She became an enthusiastic photographer, with a remarkable creative talent -- always focused on people.

IN EARLY 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin deported 215 Islamic activists across the Lebanese border, protest tents were erected opposite his office. We camped out for 45 wintry days and nights. Rachel, the only woman who was there the whole time, struck up a beautiful friendship with the most extreme Islamic sheikh, Ra'ed Salah. He really respected her. They joked together.

In these tents, we founded Gush Shalom. For her, the injustice done to the Palestinians was intolerable.

She was the photographer at all our events. She took pictures of hundreds of demonstrations, rushing around, taking shots in front and behind, sometimes in clouds of tear gas -- despite her doctor's warnings. Twice she collapsed in the burning sun, crossing harsh terrain to protest against the Wall.

When the Gush needed a financial manager, she volunteered. Although it was completely against her nature, she became a meticulous administrator, with a Prussian sense of duty, working on the kitchen table late into the night. She much preferred her unofficial function -- maintaining human contact with activists, listening to their problems. She was the soul of the movement.

SHE COULD be very abrasive, too. Far from being a starry-eyed do-gooder, she detested liars, hypocrites and people who did wrong.

She never liked Ariel Sharon, even during the years when we visited each other's homes to talk about the 1973 War.

Lili Sharon loved her, Arik liked her too. There is a photo of him spoon-feeding her with his favorite dish (food was unimportant for her). Rachel did not let me show anyone the picture. After the 1982 Lebanon invasion, we broke contact.

Once, Sharon's confidant, Dov Weisglas, whom she could not forgive his nasty remarks about the Palestinians, spotted me in a restaurant, came over and shook my hand. But Rachel left his hand dangling in the air. Embarrassing.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)

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