On receiving the Right Livelihood Prize
Honorable Members of Parliament,
Jacob von Uexkull,
Honorable Ambassador of Palestine.
(I would have liked to greet also my own
ambassador, but he did not see fit to attend,)
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me start on a
On this day, the seventh of December, exactly fifty-three years ago, I was
hit in the belly by a burst of machine-gun bullets. After many months of
bitter fighting, I knew that I had little chance of surviving.
It was broad daylight and I was lying in
full view of the enemy machine-guns. But four of my soldiers, new
immigrants from Morocco, ran up to me and under fierce fire carried me
to safety. After a long and bumpy journey on a jeep, without morphine, I
reached the army hospital, just in time for the doctors to operate on me
and save my life.
I lay there for many days, unable to sleep
or eat, connected to pipes and instruments, surrounded by soldiers in
agony, some dying, some losing limbs, and thinking, thinking, thinking.
- Thinking about my comrades, who had lost
their lives or become invalids.
- Thinking about the unseen inhabitants of
the Palestinian villages that my company had conquered. After all, we
had often entered houses where the oven was still hot and the uneaten
meal was still on the table, left behind by the families who had escaped
only a few minutes before and become refugees. Refugees to this very
- Thinking about the tragedy of the war
between these two peoples, we, the new Israelis, they, the Palestinians.
I was 25 years old and had to decide what
to do with the rest of my life, a life – I felt – that had been given to
me as a gift by those four young men who risked theirs to save mine.
Lying in bed, sleepless and forever thirsty, I decided that my life must
have a purpose, and that the only purpose worth living for was to bring
an end to this tragic war, to make peace between our peoples, the
Israelis and the Palestinians. My goal became making peace, saving lives
and being part of the march of humanity towards a civilized world order
without war and hunger and oppression.
Since then, for 53 years, I have tried hard to live up to that commitment.
I created a magazine, and as its editor, for 40 years, I battled against
the demagogues preaching national and religious hatred. As a member of
the Knesset for ten years. I strove for a democratic, liberal, secular,
multi-ethnic, civil society in Israel, based on equality and social
justice, living in close partnership with a free, sovereign State of
I was never alone in this fight. Throughout it, I was lucky to be in the
company of courageous men and women, who had embraced the cause of peace
and justice. In the beginning we were few, a mere handful, but in the
course of the struggle our numbers grew.
To many it seems that our cause is a labor of Sisyphus. And indeed, the
disappointments on the way have been many and heart-breaking. But the
victories gained are far more important.
When we set out, more than 50 years ago, there was hardly an Israeli who
was ready to admit that a Palestinian people even exists, let alone that
it had any rights. Only 30 years ago, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of
Israel, declared that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people”.
Today, there is hardly an Israeli who denies the existence of the
When we said, 40 years ago, that there must be a State of Palestine
alongside the State of Israel, it sounded mad. Today, the vast majority
of Israelis believe that there will be no peace without it.
When we said, 30 years ago, that we must negotiate with the Palestinian
Liberation Organization, it sounded like treason. Indeed, when I first
met Yasser Arafat during the battle of Beirut, several Israeli cabinet
ministers demanded that I be put on trial for high treason. Today,
Israeli cabinet ministers stand in line at Yasser Arafat’s door.
When, six years ago, we coined the slogan “Jerusalem – Capital of Two
States”, we were accused of breaking the national consensus. But last
year, when the Israeli delegation at Camp David suggested turning over
several Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the future Palestinian
state, hardly any protest was heard in Israel.
The road in front of us is hard and dangerous. Let us not underestimate
the force of hatred, fear and prejudice, bred by 120 years of conflict.
But when we look back at the long road we have traveled, we can say with
confidence that the end is already in sight. Dark as the night may be,
we know that the dawn of a new day will come.
Nine years ago Rachel and I took part in a
protest against the decision of the Rabin government to expel 415
Islamic activists from the country. We put up a tent in Jerusalem,
opposite the Prime Minister’s office, and lived there, Jews and Arabs,
for 45 days and nights. It was an almost Scandinavian winter. For
several days Jerusalem was covered with snow and we either shivered in
the freezing cold or were choked by the open Beduin fire, and we talked
about the failure of the old peace movement, which was unwilling to
protest against a Labor party government.
There and then we decided to set up a new peace movement – independent,
militant, uncorrupted by a craving for popularity, determined to stick
to the truth even when faced with hatred. Thus Gush Shalom, the Peace
Bloc, was born.
Rachel and I accept this prize first of all
as a salute to the hundreds of activists of Gush Shalom: the women and
men, old and young, who give their all – time, energy, money and, most
important of all, their faith – to the cause of peace and justice; who
go out in pouring rain and the scorching sun to demonstrate against
injustice and oppression, braving the hatred and threats and violence of
self-appointed patriots. They have remained true to their convictions
even when despair and resignation seemed to gain the upper hand, when
all around them other peace groups collapsed and gave up.
To all of these, and to all other peace
activists in Israel, I send from here, this beautiful city, a message of
good cheer and hope: Let us keep our heads up high, for our cause will
prevail. Whatever the odds, however difficult the road, even when the
forces of evil and ignorance seem to be winning – the future belongs to
us, the forces of peace and conciliation, the true patriots of Israel
and Palestine, two peoples, two states, but with one common future.
This prize is a tremendous encouragement to
all of us. We accept it with gratitude and humility. It reminds us that
ours is but a small part in a world-wide struggle for peace, justice and
equality between human beings and between nations, for the preservation
of our planet. This struggle is symbolized by Jacob von Uexkull, a truly
admirable man. I wish to thanks him and all his associates from the
bottom of my heart.
It can all be summed up in one word, which
both in Hebrew and in Arabic means not only peace, but also wholeness,
security and wellbeing:
(While applauding this speech, the whole
audience spontaneously rose to its feet – a demonstration without
precedent in the history of the Alternative Nobel Prize award
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haGalil onLine 20-11-2001