The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker humanitarian service organization, has nominated two candidates for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize: Jeff Halper from Israel and Ghassan Andoni from the West Bank and Gaza.
In a region torn apart by conflict, these grassroots peace activists have been committed to 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 the Separation Wall that blinds people to one another’s existence. They have instead tried to build bridges to recognition and celebration of a common humanity.
Ghassan Andoni is a physics professor at Birzeit University who has combined his teaching with peace activism since 1988. He is best known for co-founding the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People, but his peace activities began much earlier. While a college student in Iraq, Andoni dropped out to work in refugee camps in Lebanon during the civil war there. Returning home from Lebanon he was arrested and jailed for two years for his supposed involvement in the military conflict. His Israeli judge refused to believe that he was a hospital worker and sentenced him for alleged membership in the PLO.
During the First Intifada, 1987-1993, Andoni was an active participant in Beit Sahour’s tax resistance. He expanded his understanding of nonviolence from being a personal position to a public one, which if successfully employed could lead to a mass movement of liberation. In 1988, after another jail term for his participation in the tax revolt, he co-founded the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between People. The Center’s aim was to allow those in conflict to acknowledge each other’s humanity and to work together for a world in which they could peacefully coexist. It did this through 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), coordinating international volunteers with Palestinians and Israelis in nonviolent actions that called attention to the oppression created by years of Occupation. In working with ISM he has insisted that all international participants commit themselves to nonviolence, both physical and verbal.
As he continued his peace work and organizing among Palestinian youth, Andoni demonstrated an ability to think strategically and tactically. He realized that a nonviolent movement must always be creative and experimental, not staying with patterns of behavior that once may have been successful but that, if made routine, run the risk of becoming rigid and mechanical. His creative, proactive responses contributed to growing prominence within the peace community, even as he turned from international work back toward a focus on Palestinian civil society.
Jeff Halper is also an academic — a professor of Anthropology. His discipline convinced him early on of the importance of trust in human relationships and the need never to treat humans as the ‘other.’ Jeff is an American who went to Israel in 1973 after attending rabbinical school and becoming a Vietnam War resister. 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 Halper co-founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD) in 1997, which was among the first Israeli peace groups to work inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. ICAHD stressed working in coalition and often partnered with other Israeli groups, such as Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Tayyush and Gush Shalom, as well as with Palestinian organizations such as the Land Defense Committee and Rapprochement. ICAHD resists the demolition of Palestinian homes, actions in which Jeff often displayed immense courage, sitting in front of bulldozers and confronting Israeli soldiers. He and ICAHD also organize Palestinians, Israelis and internationals to rebuild demolished homes 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 importance of international civil society in bringing about change, just as Ghassan Andoni had 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 Halper calls the ‘matrix of control’ employed by Israel in its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — the framework created by strategic settlements, settler-only highways and the Separation Wall. In ways that parallel the development of Rapprochement, ICAHD has come to see that dialogue groups, while often having an important role in opening communication and challenging stereotypes, may put reconciliation 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 counter mainstream media information about the “realities on the ground,” and has established ICAHD chapters in the USA, Europe and elsewhere. His travels have added to his international stature. While Ghassan Andoni has turned more towards work in Palestinian society, that he and Jeff have been asked to co-author a book on nonviolent resistance in the Occupied Territories shows their affinity and their common 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 unheard voices of critical advocates of peace and non-violence - are acknowledged in this nomination.
The American Friends Service Committee is a faith-based organization working for peace, justice and reconciliation. With national headquarters in Philadelphia and offices in 22 countries of the world, AFSC emphasizes people, not politics or ideology - upholding the dignity and promise of every person.