Rejecting NATO’s Peace Prize: Palestinian NGOs are True Nobel Laureates

The Nobel Peace Prize 2022. (illustration: Niklas Elmehed, via The Nobel Prize Website)

By Ilan Pappe

One person and two organizations received the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I respect all of them. Like so many others, I cannot feel but admiration for the brave Ales Bialiatski, struggling against human rights violations by the Belarus government, and similarly, I salute Memorial’s work for human rights in Russia. I am somewhat doubtful about the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, founded in 2007 to promote civil rights in a society where antisemitism, homophobia, Russophobia, and Roma-phobia were rampant. It was nominated, so we are told, for recording the present crimes in Ukraine. Well, hopefully, the rights of those who were discriminated against before the war in Ukraine would be respected after the war.

They all deserve recognition and prizes, although it seems the Ukrainian government does not agree. It announced that it does not wish to share the prize with brave people from Russia or Belarus – claiming one cannot compare the sacrifices to that of the Ukrainians. This reaction also fitted the timing of the announcement, on Vladimir Putin’s birthday. The prize, this year, seems to be employed as a weapon in the war between NATO, Ukraine, and Russia.

These 2022 prizes have nothing to do with peace in the world or working for it. This is the Nobel committee being recruited to the Anglo-American desire to be involved in another war to justify increased budgets for their militaries, instead of joining Turkiye and similar states in mediating between the two sides, rather than fomenting the fire.

However, the NATO Peace Prize exposes a far deeper problem. Europe is not made only of white people struggling for rights: it is full of deserving human rights organizations fighting for immigrants, life seekers, and minorities, which are still finding it difficult to be recognized as equals in our multi-ethnic and multicultural Europe; a continent in which the rising extreme right-wing political stars, from Sweden to Italy, and from Hungary to France, enjoy wide support for their fascist ideologies and their promises to whiten and purify the European “race”.

We probably needed a long time ago to have an alternative peace prize – one which is not run by the western elites but reflects the world at large: its agenda, concerns, and respect. This year, I would not hesitate to give a prize for peace to six human rights organizations, which just recently have been outlawed by Israel and their offices raided and vandalized. These actions took place while the Biden administration, Britain, and the EU, mumbled words of unease and concern and no more than that. Let me tell you about them, although I am sure most of our readers know quite a lot about their blessed activities.

Al-Haq, based in Ramallah, was established in 1979 and ever since has protected and promoted the human rights of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Its sacred work includes documenting violations of the basic human rights of the Palestinians, by whoever violates them, realizing that only through international advocacy there is hope for defending the victims of these violations. While still putting its faith in international law, also like so many of us, al-Haq fully acknowledges the international law’s limitations when it comes to protecting the Palestinians.

ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience) was founded in 1991 and cares for the many Palestinian political prisoners, arrested without trial, children and women included. It offers them free legal aid, advocates their rights in the international community, and alerts the world to the torture and abuse they suffer.

The Bisan Centre for Research and Development was established in 1989 and encourages the development of democratic NGOs and other outfits in the Palestinian civil society. It is also an academic center of knowledge production. Recently, it focused its attention and research on the affairs of the Palestinian youth in the occupied territories.

The Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) focuses on child rights in Palestine (I write this essay amid news that Israeli soldiers killed several young boys last week alone). Its campaign covers both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Since its inception in 1991, it is one of the only NGOs recording the violations of children’s rights under occupation. Like all the other NGOs, they protect people from any violation be it by Israel or the Palestinian Authority. It is important to stress that this is the local section of the internationally acclaimed organization, the Defense for Children International (DCI), established in 1979.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) was established in 1986 by a group of agronomists and focuses on agricultural development under occupation. Israel is systematically destroying Palestinian agriculture through policies of ethnic cleansing in various parts of the West Bank, while the farmers are harassed daily by the settlers, who enjoy the protection of the Israeli army, while they uproot trees and burn fields. This is sacred existential work. For years, the occupation limits the farmers’ access to their fields, restricts their ability to live off their produce, and prevents them from sustaining ecologically rural Palestine.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) is a leading feminist organization in the West Bank founded in 1980, which contributes significantly to the building of a democratic and progressive Palestinian civil society. Its struggle for gender equality is as committed as its struggle against the occupation. It is strongly associated with similar feminist movements worldwide, and in particular, in the Arab world, playing a crucial role in the advancement of women’s rights in the whole region.

All six organizations have been active for thirty years, maintaining their commitment to universal human rights, working under impossible circumstances. They have now been outrageously outlawed and shut down by the occupier and their offices were raided. We do not expect, unfortunately, at this stage western governments to deviate from their silence or desist their continued immunity to the occupation and its evils. But we do anticipate civil society and its institutions to be less cynical or timid about the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

When the representatives of these six organizations would give their speech, it would not be a repeat of Barack Obama’s call for war when he received the prize, neither would it be the speech of Yasser Arafat who was misled to believe that he was signing a genuine peace treaty, only to find out, few months after he received the prize, that he was signing for a new kind of occupation and oppression. The representatives will tell the world that with such recognition and support, there is a hope to bring justice to a homeland that for more than a century had been unjustly colonized, ethnically cleansed, and destroyed with western blessing and aid.

If these organizations are Nobel laureates, this will send a message to the Arab world. As has been abundantly clear for many years, to rectify the ongoing and brutal violation of human rights in so many parts of the Arab world, you have to start with Palestine. There will never be a constructive conversation, in which the West is involved, that would lead to a region free of abuses of the kind we see today if Israel continues to be exempted from this conversation. If such recognition cannot be obtained in Oslo or Stockholm, let’s find another place, where the most urgent struggle for peace is recognized and hailed. This is the least we can do in the West.

- Ilan Pappé is a professor at the University of Exeter. He was formerly a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Modern Middle East, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, and Ten Myths about Israel. Pappé is described as one of Israel’s 'New Historians' who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been rewriting the history of Israel’s creation in 1948. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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