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Right Livelihood Awards

“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...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 well-being: Shalom, Salaam.”
—Uri Avnery, accepting a Right Livelihood Award from the Swedish Parliament in behalf of Gush Shalom

On December 7, 2001, a Right Livelihood Award (nicknamed “the Alternative Nobel Prize”) was presented to the Israeli peace organization Gush Shalom by the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm.

The Right Livelihood Award, founded in 1980, aims “to honor and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.” Jacob von Uexkull, a philatelic expert and descendant of a well-known Swedish-German aristocratic family, sold his valuable postage stamp collection to provide the original endowment for the award.

According to the Right Livelihood website:

“Gush Shalom is founded on three principles: Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied territories; recognition of the PLO as the Palestinians’ representatives; and recognition of the right of Palestinians to establish their own independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside Israel.

“Gush Shalom has organized hundreds of demonstrations, protests and actions in line with its three objectives. The actions include rebuilding the demolished houses of Palestinians, demonstrating against the expropriation of Palestinian land for the establishment or enlargement of settlements, and generally giving support to the Oslo peace process and moves towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“Other initiatives have included: boycott of the products of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; symbolic marking with green paint of all the points where roads cross the ‘Green Line’ between Israel and the occupied territories to signify to travellers that ‘At this point you are leaving your country and entering the country of your neighbors’; placing peace advertisements in the newspaper Ha’aretz. On one occasion, a published statement, signed by 500 prominent Israelis, supported the establishment of the State of Palestine in ‘All the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,’ with Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states, Israel and Palestine.

“Most importantly, Gush Shalom has been campaigning, along with other Israeli peace organizations, against the further extension of Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories and, in particular, against the continuing demolition of Arab houses that is intended to make that extension possible.”

Uri Avnery’s Acceptance

When he accepted the award in behalf of Gush Shalom, Uri Avnery told how, as a young Israeli soldier, his life was saved in battle. As he recovered, he said, “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.”

Nine years ago, he said he “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 Bedouin 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 [Avnery’s wife and a co-founder of Gush Shalom] 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...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 well-being:

“Shalom, Salaam.”

Other Honorees

Four Right Livelihood prizes are awarded annually. In 2001, Gush Shalom shared the honor with The three other laureates are the British anti-nuclear organization Trident Ploughshares; Leonardo Boff, Brazil, one of the founders of liberation theology in Latin America; and Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of Venezuela’s system of children’s orchestras. The awardees shared a prize of 2,000,000 Swedish kronor (approx. US $200,000).

Awardees for 2002 included: Martin Green (Australia) Honorary Award “...for his dedication and outstanding success in responding to the key technological challenge and moral imperative of our age: the harnessing of solar energy”; Centre Jeunes Kamenge (CJK) (Burundi) “...for their exemplary and indomitable courage and compassion, which have proved that, even after nine years of murderous civil war, young people from different ethnic groups can learn to live and build a future together in peace and harmony”; The Kvinna Till Kvinna Foundation (Sweden) “for its remarkable successes in healing the wounds of ethnic hatred and war, by helping women, often the prime victims, to be the major agents of reconciliation and “peace-building”; MartĚn Almada (Paraguay) “...for his outstanding courage and persistent efforts to expose and bring to account the torturers and to set his country on a new course of democracy, respect for human rights and sustainable development”.

[Web site reference.]

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This story was published on March 5, 2003.
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