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Addresses by Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres upon Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

Oslo, (December 10, 1994)

In a solemn ceremony broadcast to all corners of the earth, the prime minister and foreign minister of Israel, as well as the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the first time that three leaders shared in this prestigious prize. In their addresses, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres expressed the hopes of all Israelis for a better future for all the people of the region. Both said they were standing in Oslo also as representatives of countless generations of the Jewish people whose sacrifice and efforts made Israel a reality. Texts:

PRIME MINISTER RABIN

Your Majesties,

Esteemed Chairman and Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,

The Honorable Prime Minister of Norway,

My Fellow Laureates, Chairman Arafat and the Foreign Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres,

Distinguished Guests,

Since I don't believe that there was any precedent that one person got the Nobel Prize twice, allow me this opportunity to attach to this prestigious award, a personal touch.

At an age when most youngsters are struggling to unravel the secrets of mathematics and the mysteries of the Bible; at an age when first love blooms; at the tender age of sixteen, I was handed a rifle so that I could defend myself.

That was not my dream. I wanted to be a water engineer. I studied in an agricultural school and I thought being a water engineer was an important profession in the parched Middle East. I still think so today. However, I was compelled to resort to the gun.

I served in the military for decades. Under my responsibility, young men and women who wanted to live, wanted to love, went to their deaths instead. They fell in the defense of our lives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my current position, I have ample opportunity to fly over the State of Israel, and lately over other parts of the Middle East as well. The view from the plane is breathtaking' deep-blue seas and lakes, dark-green fields, dune-colored deserts, stone-gray mountains, and the entire countryside peppered with white-washed, red-roofed houses.

And also cemeteries. Graves as far as the eye can see.

Hundreds of cemeteries in our part of the world, in the Middle East - in our home in Israel - but also in Egypt, in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon. From the plane's window, from the thousands of feet above them, the countless tombstones are silent. But the sound of their outcry has carried from the Middle East throughout the world for decades.

Standing here today, I wish to salute our loved ones - and past foes. I wish to salute all of them - the fallen of all the countries in all the wars; the members of their families who bear the enduring burden of bereavement; the disabled whose scars will never heal. Tonight, I wish to pay tribute to each and every one of them, for this important prize is theirs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was a young man who has now grown fully in years. In Hebrew, we say Naar hayiti, vegam zakanti ("I was a young man, who has grown fully in years').

And of all the memories I have stored up in my seventy-two years, what I shall remember most, to my last day, are the silences:

The heavy silence of the moment after, and the terrifying silence of the moment before.

As a military man, as a commander, as a minister of defense, I ordered to carry out many military operations. And together with the joy of victory and the grief of bereavement, I shall always remember the moment just after taking such decisions: the hush as senior officers or cabinet ministers slowly rise from their seats; the sight of their receding backs; the sound of the closing door; and then the silence in which I remain alone.

That is the moment you grasp that as a result of the decision just made, people might go to their deaths. People from my nation, people from other nations. And they still don't know it.

At that hour, they are still laughing and weeping; still weaving plans and dreaming about love; still musing about planting a garden or building a house - and they have no idea these are their last hours on earth. Which of them is fated to die? Whose picture will appear in the black frame in tomorrow's newspaper? Whose mother will soon be in mourning? Whose world will crumble under the weight of the loss?

As a former military man, I will also forever remember the silence of the moment before; the hush when the hands of the clock seem to be spinning forward, when time is running out and in another hour, another minute, the inferno will erupt.

In that moment of great tension just before the finger pulls the trigger, just before the fuse begins to burn; in the terrible quiet of the moment, there is still time to wonder, alone: Is it really imperative to act? Is there no other choice? No other way?

"God takes pity on kindergartners," wrote the poet Yehuda Amichai, who is here with us this evening - and I quote:

"God takes pity on kindergartners,

Less so on the schoolchildren,

And will no longer pity their elders,

Leaving them to their own,

And sometimes they will have to crawl on all fours,

Through the burning sand,

To reach the casualty station,

Bleeding."

For decades, God has not taken pity on the kindergartners in the Middle East, or the schoolchildren, or their elders. There has been no pity in the Middle East for generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was a young man who has grown fully in years. And of all the memories I have stored up in my seventy-two years, I now recall the hopes.

Our peoples have chosen us to give them life. Terrible as it is to say, their lives are in our hands. Tonight, their eyes are upon us and their hearts are asking: How is the power vested in these men and women being used? What will they decide? Into what kind of morning will we rise tomorrow? A day of peace? Of war? Of laughter? Of tears?

A child is born into an utterly undemocratic world. He cannot choose his father and mother. He cannot pick his sex or color, his religion, nationality or homeland. Whether he is born in a manor or a manger; whether he lives under a despotic or democratic regime is not his choice. From the moment he comes, close-fisted, into the world, his fate -to a large extent - is decided by his nation's leaders. It is they who will decide whether he lives in comfort or in despair, in security or in fear. His fate is given to us to resolve - to the governments of countries, democratic or otherwise.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just as no two fingerprints are identical, so no two people are alike, and every country has its own laws and culture, traditions and leaders. But there is one universal message which can embrace the entire world, one precept which can be common to different regimes, to races which bear no resemblance, to cultures that are alien to each other.

it is a message which the Jewish people has carried for thousands of years, the message found in the Book of Books: Vanishmartem me'od l'enafshoteichem, it is - "Therefore take good heed of yourselves" - or, in contemporary terms, the message of the sanctity of life.

The leaders of nations must provide their peoples with the conditions - the "infrastructure," if you will - which enables them to enjoy life: freedom of speech and movement; food and shelter; and most important of all: life itself. A man cannot enjoy his rights if he is not alive. And so every country must protect and preserve the key element in its national ethos: the lives of its citizens.

Only to defend those lives, we can call upon our citizens to enlist in the army. And to defend the lives of our citizens serving in the army, we invest huge sums in planes, and tanks, and other means. Yet despite it all, we fail to protect the lives of our citizens and soldiers. Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life.

There is only one radical means for sanctifying human lives.

The one radical solution is a real peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The profession of soldiering embraces a certain paradox. We take the best and the bravest of our young men into the army. We supply them with equipment which costs a virtual fortune. We rigorously train them for the day when they must do their duty - and we expect them to do it well. Yet we fervently pray that that day will never come - that the planes will never take off, the tanks will never move forward, the soldiers will never mount the attacks for which they have been trained so well.

We pray that it will never happen because of the sanctity of life.

History as a whole, and modem history in particular, has known harrowing times when national leaders turned their citizens into cannon fodder in the name of wicked doctrines: vicious fascism, terrible Nazism. Pictures of children marching to slaughter, photos of terrified women at the gates of the crematoria must loom before the eyes of every leader in our generation, and the generations to come. They must serve as a warning to all who wield power.

Almost all regimes which did not place the sanctity of life at the heart of their world view, all those regimes have collapsed and are no more. You can see it for yourselves in our own time.

Yet this is not the whole picture. To preserve the sanctity of life, we must sometimes risk it. Sometimes there is no other way to defend our citizens than to fight for their lives, for their safety and freedom. This is the creed of every democratic state.

In the State of Israel, from which I come today; in the Israel Defense Forces, which I have had the privilege to serve, we have always viewed the Sanctity of Life as a supreme value. We have never gone to war unless a war was enforced on us.

The history of the State of Israel, the annals of the Israel Defense Forces, are filled with thousands of stories of soldiers who sacrificed themselves - who died while trying to save wounded comrades; who gave their lives to avoid causing harm to innocent people on their enemy's side.

In the coming days, a special commission of the Israel Defense Forces will finish drafting a Code of Conduct for our soldiers. The formulation regarding human life will read as follows, and I quote:

"In recognition of its supreme importance, the soldier will preserve human life in every way possible and endanger himself, or others, only to the extent deemed necessary to fulfill this mission.

The sanctity of life, in the point of view of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, will find expression in all their actions." End of quote.

For many years ahead - even if wars come to an end, after peace comes to our land - these words will remain a pillar of fire which goes before out camp, a guiding light for our people. And we take pride in that.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are in the midst of building the peace. The architects and the engineers of this enterprise are engaged in their work even as we gather here tonight, building the peace layer by layer, brick by brick, The job is difficult, complex, trying. Mistakes could topple the whole structure and bring disaster down upon us.

And so we are determined to do the job well - despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite the fanatic and cruel enemies of peace.

We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all its enemies, because the alternative is grimmer for us all. And we will prevail.

We will prevail because we regard the building of peace as a great blessing for us, for our children after us. We regard it as a blessing for our neighbors on all sides, and for our partners in this enterprise - the United States, Russia, Norway - which did so much to bring the agreement that was signed here, later on in Washington, later on in Cairo, that wrote a beginning of the solution to the longest and most difficult part of the Arab-Israeli conflict; the Palestinian-Israeli one. We thank others who have contributed to it too.

We wake up every morning, now, as different people. Peace is possible. We see the hope in our children's eyes. We see the light in our soldiers' faces, in the streets, in the buses, in the fields. We must not let them down. We will not let them down.

I stand here not alone today, on this small rostrum in Oslo. I am here to speak in the name of generations of Israelis and Jews, of the shepherds of Israel - and you know that King David was a shepherd; he started to build Jerusalem about 3,000 years ago - the herdsmen and dressers of sycamore trees, as the Prophet Amos was; of the rebels against the establishment, as the Prophet Jeremiah was, and of men who went down to the sea, like the Prophet Jonah.

I am here to speak in the name of the poets and of those who dreamed of an end to war, like the Prophet Isaiah.

I am also here to speak in the names of sons of the Jewish people like Albert Einstein and Baruch Spinoza, like Maimonides, Sigmund Freud and Franz Kafka.

And I am the emissary of millions who perished in the Holocaust, among them were surely many Einsteins and Freuds who were lost to us, and to humanity, in the flames of the crematoria.

I am here as the emissary of Jerusalem, at whose gates I fought in the days of siege; Jerusalem which has always been, and is today, the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the heart of the Jewish people, who pray toward Jerusalem three times a day.

And I am also the emissary of the children who drew their visions of peace; and of the immigrant from St. Petersburg and Addis Ababa.

I stand here mainly for the generations to come, so that we may all be deemed worthy of the medal which you have bestowed on me and my colleagues today.

I stand here as the emissary today - if they will allow me - of our neighbors who were our enemies. I stand here as the emissary of the soaring hopes of a people which has endured the worst that history has to offer and nevertheless made its mark - not just on the chronicles of the Jewish people but on all mankind.

With me here are five millions citizens of Israel - Jews, Arabs, Druze and Circassians - five million hearts beating for peace - and five million pairs of eyes which look at us with such great expectations for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank, first and foremost, those citizens of the State of Israel, of all the generations, of all the political persuasions, whose sacrifices and relentless struggle for peace bring us steadily closer to our goal.

I wish to thank our partners - the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Palestinians, that are led by the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Mr. Yasser Arafat, with whom We share this Nobel Prize - who have chosen the path of peace and are writing a new page in the annals of the Middle East.

I wish to thank my family that supported me all the long way that I have passed.

And, of course, I wish to thank the chairman, the members of the Nobel Prize Committee and the courageous Norwegian people for bestowing this illustrious honor on my colleagues and myself.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to close by sharing with you a traditional Jewish blessing which has been recited by my people, in good times and bad ones, as a token of their deepest longing:

"The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless his people - and all of us - in peace."

 

FOREIGN MINISTER PERES

Your Majesties,

Members of the Nobel Committee,

Prime Minister Brundtland,

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,

Members of the Norwegian Government,

Distinguished Guests,

I thank the Nobel Prize Committee for its decision to name me among the laureates of the Peace Prize this year.

I am pleased to be receiving this prize together with Yitzhak Rabin, with whom I have labored for long years for the defense of our country and with whom I now labor together in the cause of peace in our region. This is a salute to his daring leadership.

I believe it is fitting that the prize has been awarded to Yasser Arafat. His quitting the path of confrontation in favor of the path of dialogue, has opened the way to peace between ourselves and the Palestinian people, a people that we wish all the best in the future.

We are leaving behind us the era of belligerency and are striding together toward peace. It all began here in Oslo, under the wise auspices and good will of the Norwegian people. It is a privilege for me to say thank you to the Norwegian people for these great auspices.

Your Majesties, from my earliest youth, I have known that while obliged to plan with care the stages of our journey, we are entitled to dream, and keep dreaming, of its destination. A man may feel as old as his years, yet as young as his dreams. The laws of biology do not apply to the sanguine aspiration.

I was born in a small Jewish town in White Russia. Nothing Jewish remains of it. From my youngest childhood, I related to my place of birth as a mere way station. My family's dream, and my own, was to live in Israel, and our voyage to the port of Jaffa was a dream that came true. Had it not been for this dream and this voyage, I would probably have perished in the flames, as did so many of my people, among them most of my own family.

I went to school at an agricultural youth village in the heart of Israel. The village and its fields were enclosed by barbed wire which separated their greenness from the bleakness of the enmity all around the village. In the morning, we would go out to the fields with scythes on out backs to harvest the crop. In the evening, we went out with rifles on our shoulders to defend our lives. On Shabbat, we would go out to visit the Arab neighbors. On Shabbat, we would talk with them of peace, though the rest of the week we traded rifle fire across the darkness.

From the Ben Shemen youth village, my comrades and myself went to Kibbutz Alumot in the Lower Galilee. We had no houses, no electricity, no running water. But we had a magnificent view and a lofty dream to build a new, egalitarian society that would ennoble each of its members.

Not all of it came true, but not all of it went to waste. The part that came true created a new landscape. The part that did not come true resides in our hearts to this very day.

For two decades in the Ministry of Defense, I was privileged to work closely with a man who was and remains, to my mind, the greatest Jew of our time. From him I learned that the vision of the future should shape the agenda for the present; that you can overcome obstacles by dint of faith; that you may feel disappointed - but never despair. And above all, I learned that the wisest consideration is the moral one. David Ben-Gurion has passed away, yet his vision continues to flourish: to be a singular people, to live at peace with our neighbors.

The wars we fought were forced upon us. Thanks to the Israel Defense Forces, we won them all, but we didn't win the greatest victory that we aspired to: release from the need to win victories.

We proved that aggressors do not necessarily emerge as victors, but we learned that victors do not necessarily win peace.

It is no wonder that war, as a matter of conducting human affairs, is in the death throes and that the time has come to bury it.

The sword, as the Bible teaches us, consumes flesh but it cannot provide sustenance. It is not rifles but people who triumph, and the conclusion from all the wars is that we need better people - not better rifles - to win war, to avoid them, to win peace.

There was a time when war was fought for lack of choice. Today, it is peace that is the "no-choice" option for all of us. The reasons for this are profound and incontrovertible. The sources of material wealth and political power have changed. No longer are they determined by the size of territory won by war. Today, they are a consequence of intellectual potential, obtained principally by education.

Israel, essentially a desert country, has achieved remarkable agricultural yields by applying science to its fields, without expanding its territory or its water resources.

Science must be learned; it cannot be conquered. An army that can occupy knowledge has yet to be built. And that is why armies of occupation are passe. Indeed, even for the defense of the country, you cannot rely just on the army alone.

Territorial frontiers are no obstacle to ballistic missiles, and no weapon can shield a nation from a nuclear device. So today, the battle for survival must be based on political wisdom and moral vision, not less than on military might.

Science, technology, information are - for better or for worse - universal, not national. They are universally available. Their availability is not contingent on color of skin or place of birth. Past distinction between West and East, North and South, have lost their importance in the face of a new distinction between those who move ahead in pace with new opportunities and those who lag behind.

Countries used to divide the world into their friends and foes. No longer. The foes now are universal - poverty, famine, religious radicalization, desertification, drugs, proliferation of nuclear weapons, ecological devastation. They threaten all nations, just as science and information are the potential friend of all nations.

Classical diplomacy and strategy were aimed at identifying enemies and confronting them. Now they have to identify dangers, local and global, to tackle them before they become a disaster.

As we live in a world of enemies, as we enter a world of dangers, the future of wars that may break out will not be -probably - the wars of the strong against the weak for conquest, but the wars of the weak against the strong for protest.

The Middle East must never lose pride in having been the cradle of civilization. But though living in the cradle, we cannot remain infants forever. Time has come to mature.

Today, as in my youth, I carry dreams. I will mention two: the future of the Jewish people and the future of the Middle East.

In history, Judaism has been far more successful than the Jews themselves. The Jewish people remained small but the spirit of Jerusalem - the capital of Jewish life, the city holy and open to all religions - the spirit of Jerusalem went from strength to strength. The Bible is to be found in hundreds of millions of homes. The moral majesty of the Book of Books has been undefeated by the ups and downs of history.

Moreover, time and again, history has succumbed to the Bible's immortal ideas. The message that the one, invisible God created Man in His image, and hence there are no higher or lower orders of man, has fused with the realization that morality is the highest form of wisdom and, perhaps, of beauty and courage too.

Slings, arrows, gas chambers can annihilate man, but they cannot destroy human values, the dignity and the freedom of a human being.

Jewish history presents an encouraging lesson for mankind. For nearly four thousand years, a small nation carried a great message. Initially, the nation dwelt in its own land; later, it wandered in exile. This small nation swam against the tide and was repeatedly persecuted, banished, downtrodden.

There is no other example in all history, neither among the great empires nor among their colonies and dependencies - of a nation, after so long a saga of tragedy and misfortune, rising up again, shaking itself free, gathering together its dispersed remnants, and setting out anew on its national adventure. Defeating doubters within and enemies without. Reviving its land and its language. Rebuilding its identity, and reaching toward new heights of distinction and excellence.

The message of the Jewish people to mankind is that faith and moral vision can triumph over all adversity.

The conflicts shaping up as our century nears its close, will be over the content of civilization, not over territory. Jewish culture has lived over many centuries, now it has taken root again in its own soil. For the first time in our history, some five million people speak Hebrew as their native, language. That is both a lot and a little: a lot, because there have never been so many Hebrew-speaking people; but a little, because culture based on five million people can hardly withstand the pervasive, corrosive effect of the global television culture.

In the five decades of Israel's existence, our efforts have focused on re-establishing our territorial center. In the future, we shall have to devote our main effort to strengthen our spiritual center. Judaism - or Jewishness - is a fusion of belief, history, land and language. Being Jewish means to belong to a people that is both unique and universal. My greatest hope is that our children, like our forefathers, will not make do with the transient and the sham, but will continue to plow the historic Jewish furrow in the fields of human spirit; that Israel will become the center of our heritage, not merely a homeland for our people; that the Jewish people will be inspired by others, but at the same [time) be to them a source of inspiration.

And the second dream is about the Middle East.

In the Middle East, most people are impoverished and wretched. A new scale of priority is needed, with weapons on the bottom and regional market economy on the top. Most inhabitants of the region - more than 60% - are under the age of eighteen. The Middle East is a huge kindergarten, a huge school. A new future can be and should be offered to them. Israel has computerized its education and has achieved excellent results. Education can be computerized throughout the Middle East, allowing young people, Arabs and others, to progress not just from grade to grade, but from generation to generation.

Israel's role in the Middle East should -be to contribute to a great, sustained regional revival. A Middle East without wars, without enemies, without ballistic missiles, without nuclear weapons. A Middle East in which men, goods and services can move freely, without the need for customs clearance or police licenses.

A Middle East in which every believer will be free to pray in his own language - Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, or whatever language he chooses - and in which the prayers will reach their destination without censorship, without interference, without offending anyone.

A Middle East in which nations strive for economic equality and encourage cultural pluralism.

A Middle East where young men and women can attain university education.

A Middle East where living standards are in no way inferior to those in the world's most advanced countries.

Your Majesties, may I say, a Middle East very much like Scandinavia, like your own region.

A Middle East where waters flow to slake thirst, to make crops grow and deserts bloom, in which no hostile borders bring death, hunger, despair, or shame.

A Middle East of competition, not of domination. A Middle East in which men are each other's hosts, not hostages.

A Middle East that is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth.

A Middle East that honors so much its history that it strives to add to it new noble chapters.

A Middle East which will serve as a spiritual and cultural focal point for the entire world.

While thanking you for the prize, thanking the many people in uniform and in civil dress in many nations, for arriving to this moment of happiness and hope, I believe that all of us remain committed to the process. I thank my family that stood behind me for such a long journey, and are convinced as I am that this is the best option. We have reached the age where dialogue is really the only way to run the world correctly.

Your Majesties,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I wish all of you a happy new year, a year of hope and peace.


Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs