zondag 28 juni 2009

Remembering Amnon Kapéliouk

The first time I met Amnon Kapéliouk was in 1983 in the Congress Centre 20 kilometers outside Algiers where the PLO many times held it's meetings of the majlis al-watani al-filastini, the Palestinian National Council or parliament.
I was there for the newspaper Het Parool. On the first day, while walking amidst arriving delegates, guests and press people like myself, I was grabbed by the arm by Issam Sartawi, the man who was in charge of the PLO's policy of dialogue with Israeli's, and who had become a good friend. Issam presented me to someone: 'Do you know who this is?' It turned out to be Kapéliouk, whom I knew as a regular contributor to Le Monde diplomatique. 'He's an Israeli,' Sartawi said. 'With a French passport,'I answered. 'Yes, 'Sartawi said, 'but he's reporting from here for the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth.'
And that, of course was unusual. Those were the days that Arafat, during the Israeli siege of Beyrout in August 1982, had given interviews to Uri Avnery (and Kapéliouk as well, which I did not know at the time). And Arafat had , about a year later, also received the Israeli's Matti Peled, Uri Avnery and Yaacov Arnon in his headquarters in Tunis (including a photo op which made it to most of the world press). But a journalist reporting in Hebrew for an Israeli journal from a country as radical as Algeria used to be in those days, that was something. I had the opportunity to see Kapeliouk a few times during the session of the PNC and he told me that he had to telex his pieces in phonetic language to Paris from where they were transmitted further to Tel Aviv. Laughing he told me that once the operators took his text to the security people of the PLO with the question what kind of language that might be, but the PLO men told them that Arafat had okayed it.
During the sessions of the PNC there was a heated debate once about whether or not it was wise to continue the dialogue with Israeli's, after Israel's onslaught on Lebanon and the Palestinians in 1982 with it's 10.000 dead. During the debate the number two of the PLO, Abu Iyad, intervened and mentioned that the 'best book about the slaughter of Chabra and Chatila I've read, has been written by an Israeli, Amnon Kapéliouk, and he's sitting over there.'
Another remarkable moment was after the Algerian government took us journalists in a Hercules plane on a trip 600 kilometers southward to a deserted part of the gigantic Algerian plateau, where the Algerians had constructed a base for some PLO-troops that had been evacuated from Beyrout. After we had watched them perform some mock fights and hold a parade accompanied by a band which played the Palestinina national hymn hartbreakingly out of tune, we walked to a kind of village where the military were to live with their families. All of a sudden I heard someone speaking Hebrew. Turning around I saw Imad Shakour, Arafat's main adviser for Israeli affairs at the time, having a lively conversation with Kapéliouk. I said something about it and Kapéliouk answered that he spent six years learning Arabic but that it was quite comfortable from time to time to be able to speak his own langage. At that very moment an American woman journalist came to Shakour and asked what in fact we were heading to. 'Oh, a kind of Palestinian kibbutz,' Shakour answered without blinking an eye.
The last time I met Kapéliouk was a couple of years ago in Paris, at a meeting commemorating the murder, 20 years earlier, of Henri Curiel. Also this meeting was quite memorable. Curiel had been a colourful person. Descendant of a very well to do Egyptian Jewish family, he was one of the founders of the Egyptian Communist Party. Not long after the Egyptian revolution he went to Paris, where he started to work as a collector of funds and weapons, first for the Algerian revolutionairies of the FLN and lateron for the South-African ANC (which was the reason why he was murdered - presumably - by the South-African regime). In the meantime he was - what not everybody knows - the one who laid the foundation for contacts between Israeli's and Palestinians - contacts which first came into the open in 1974 after a meeting between the PLO-representative in Lonndon, Said Hammami, and the non-zionist Israeli marxist (Matzpen-member) Moshe Machover. Lateron the talks were to continue with contacts with important zionist Israeli's. It was that side of Curiel Kapéliouk (and me) were most familiar with as we both closely followed this dialogue.
Last sunday Kapéliouk died, 78 years old. He was one of the founders of B'tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, a fine journalist, a modest person, a fighter against injustice.

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