The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace and social justice organization, has nominated two candidates for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize: Jeff Halper from Israel and Ghassan Andoni from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In a region torn by conflict, these grassroots peace activists have resolutely followed nonviolence as the path to justice, peace and reconciliation. For decades they have worked to liberate both the Palestinian and the Israeli people from the yoke of structural violence — symbolized most clearly by the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. They have opposed every element of the Occupation, including settlements and the Separation Barrier, striving for equality between their peoples within the framework of sovereign and democratic states.
Ghassan Andoni is a Palestinian, a physics professor at Birzeit University and a resident of the Christian town of Beit Sahour, next to Bethlehem. He already began his peace activities while a college student in Iraq, leaving his studies in order to work in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon during that country’s civil war. That experience convinced him that violence never settled anything, and he has never carried a weapon. Returning home to Palestine from Lebanon, he was arrested by the Israeli authorities and jailed for two years for his membership in the PLO. He subsequently traveled to the UK where, at Reading University in 1983, he earned his Ph.D. in Physics.
Once more back in Palestine, Ghassan was one of the main initiators of the famous Beit Sahour’s tax revolt against the Israeli Occupation during the first Intifada (1987-1993), perhaps the most effective broad-based community resistance to have been organized since the start of the Occupation in 1967. Ghassan understood the power that nonviolence has in leading a mass movement of liberation and utilized it effectively. After serving another jail term for his participation in the tax revolt, he co-founded in 1988 The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between Peoples, which sponsored dialogue and joint activities between Israelis and Palestinians. As the Occupation wore on, Ghassan and Rapprochement moved from dialogue to direct nonviolent action intended to end the Occupation. In this connection he co-founded the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), in which international volunteers and Palestinians initiated grassroots nonviolent actions of resistance to the oppression created by years of occupation. In working with ISM, Ghassan has insisted that all international participants commit themselves to nonviolence, both physical and verbal.
As he continued his peace work, Ghassan proceeded strategically. He realized that a nonviolent movement must always be able to respond creatively and effectively to ongoing developments. His creative, brave and proactive responses have made him one of the leading figures of the Palestinian peace movement.
Jeff Halper is an Israeli professor of Anthropology. A Vietnam War resister in America, he emigrated to Israel in 1973. Although he insists that Jews have a legitimate place in Israel/Palestine, he has always rejected the exclusivity of Jewish claims to the country that has led to the displacement of Palestinian refugees and to the Occupation. As an Israeli citizen he has refused to bear arms even during his military service, and refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. Two of his children have been imprisoned as conscientious objectors.
Jeff co-founded The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) in 1997, which was among the first Israeli peace groups to work with Palestinians inside the Occupied Territories. ICAHD works closely with other critical Israeli groups such as Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom and the Alternative Information Center, as well as with Palestinian partners such as the Land Defense Committee, Rapprochement and the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC). ICAHD resists the demolition of Palestinian homes, actions in which Jeff often displayed immense courage, sitting in front of bulldozers, confronting Israeli soldiers and suffering arrest. He and ICAHD also organize Israelis and internationals to rebuild demolished homes with Palestinians as acts of political resistance to the Occupation. Through resistance to Israel’s house demolition policy, ICAHD exposes the injustice of the Occupation and asserts the crucial role of the international civil society in bringing about change, just as Ghassan Andoni has done with the founding of the International Solidarity Movement.
ICAHD has been well ahead of other peace organizations in its appeal to the international community, disseminating information and networking, analyzing what Jeff calls the “matrix of control” employed by Israel in its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — the framework created by strategic settlement blocs, settler-only highways and the Separation Wall. In ways that parallel the development of Rapprochement, ICAHD has come to see that reconciliation cannot be placed ahead of the restoration of justice — a justice to be brought about through nonviolent direct action and adherence to human rights.
Jeff Halper has in recent years spent a great deal of time traveling abroad to inform the public about the “realities on the ground,” and has established ICAHD chapters in the US, the UK and elsewhere. His travels and writings have added to his international stature. Ghassan and Jeff are currently working on a book about nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. They share a fundamental belief that Palestinians and Israelis who stand for human rights, international law, peace, justice and reconciliation are on the same “side.” This is what makes their message relevant and universal, and why their voices – the seldom heard voices of critical advocates of peace and non-violence – are acknowledged in this nomination.
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. It was the 1947 co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The AFSC’s national headquarters is in Philadelphia. It has nine regional and 34 area offices in the US and is active in 22 countries around the world. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.