An Israeli life

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Longtime Israeli politician and educator, Lova Eliav, passed away this week at the age of 89. Eliav was one of the early leaders of Israel's Labor Party. Correspondent Linda Gradstein looks back on his life and his influence on what the state of Israel has become today.

MARCO WERMAN: The Israeli raid on those aid ships bound for Gaza eclipsed another major news story in Israel; that's the passing of a key figure in Israel's founding. Lova Eliav died this week at age 89. Ironically, a ship, also figured prominently in his life as Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: It was 1947 and the British controlled Palestine. Lova Eliav was the Captain of a ship bearing Holocaust survivors and trying to break the British blockade on immigration. The British stopped the ship just off the coast of Haifa and the passengers were sent to an internment camp in Cyprus. This is from an interview with Eliav for the Steve Spielberg archives.

ANNOUNCER: Here in Bat Galim, 50 meters from shore, four British destroyers lie in wait for him and battle is unavoidable.

MALE VOICE 1: And the Captain said, the British Captain, said over the loudspeaker, who is the commander of this ship? Who is the Captain of this ship? And we had a boy, a very nice looking boy of about 10 and I told him you go on deck and stand alone on the deck and I gave him my binoculars. And he stood alone on the deck. And I told the British Officer over a loudspeaker, this is our Captain. He is an orphan. He is a survivor of the Holocaust, so are all the people aboard this boat.

GRADSTEIN: Eliav cared not only about Jews, he cared about Arabs as well. In 1967 after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he spent months wandering through refugee camps, cities and villages talking to Palestinians. It led him to become one of Israel's first advocates of an independent Palestinian state. Decades later, that has become mainstream Israeli policy, even endorsed by Israel's current hard line Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But Eliav was vilified for these ideas then. He was pushed out of the Labor Party that he helped found. For his entire life, Eliav remained an ardent Zionist, believing in the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

LOVA ELIAV: [recording] I was born at an age where you had great expectations and great expectations carry with them a certain amount of adventure. So it's an adventure. Zionism was an adventure. The creation of the state was an adventure. Making the desert bloom is an adventure.

GRADSTEIN: Gershom Gorenberg, a journalist and author of a book about the Jewish settlements says that until the end of his life, Eliav remained outspoken in his dovish ideas.

GERSHOM GORENBERG: I see Eliav's passing as a warning. He embodied, in my mind, and I also knew him personally, he embodied the humanistic Zionism. Zionism is a liberal philosophy that sought self-determination for the Jews but recognized it for the Palestinians as well. It sought a humanistic state here.

GRADSTEIN: Gorenberg says it's time for all Israelis to learn to see the other.

GORENBERG: Nobody lives forever. He lived to be 89 years old. He passed on that heritage and whether it dies with him or becomes the spirit of the state of Israel is really dependent on those of us who are still here.

GRADSTEIN: For The World I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.