31/12/1984

Acceptance speech – Imane Khalifeh

I was not introducing an original thought - it was not a new idea. But it was the cry of the "silent majority" voiced aloud by a people that suffered and endured nine years of ugly war...

On behalf of the people of Lebanon and myself, I would like at the onset of this talk, to thank Mr. Jakob von Uexkull for having converted his stamp collection into “an everlasting message for peace.”

As you can see from the posters depicting Lebanon – this ancient land of beauty, love and peace. I have also here with me a book illustrating the capital of Lebanon, Beirut. Beirut before and after the war. Beirut the city that refuses to die.

The photographs in this book picture a beautiful city, a happy city – a city of peace. I would have liked to have several copies of this book to distribute it to those who never knew Beirut except in terms of destruction and violence, and how it became the arena of an ugly war which has now lasted nine years.

During these nine years the world knows Beirut as a city full of fear and fury synonymous with war and death.

This book was published during the war. Beirut has always been the cultural nerve center of the Middle East and remained so in spite of the war. It is a meeting point for ideas from all over the Arab World and a spring-board for Western discoveries and innovations.

My generation and I did not enjoy Beirut – the city of light and peace – described in the book I mentioned. My Father was born in South Lebanon and I in the capital Beirut. I have spent my childhood in an environment full of goodwill and love. However, since my awareness of the world, I have only known Beirut and my country Lebanon – north and south, east and west – in a never ending strife for reasons I cannot comprehend and cannot find legitimate to shake my belief in peace.

I entered university at the beginning of the war. A girl from a middle class family, trying to escape the horrors around me by focusing on fields that would satisfy my personality and help me reach my goal. At the university where I studied I used to look at a playground within the larger campus grounds where children played: innocently, completely unaware of the violence surrounding them. It was then I decided to major in Child Psychology. And since that time, I live in conflict. Conflict between the innocence of the children I teach and the continuous war around me and around them – against them and against me.

I saw them running away from fear to their own world of innocence and back again; I saw their fathers and mothers rushing to this small playground to take their children away to safety, looking for peace and security; I saw the unconscious struggle these children lived through in a war torn country, trying to maintain their innocence in the face of horror and the sound of guns, rockets and bombs.

I saw this scene repeating itself every-day, and at night – in my mind – the roots of alarm began to take hold at the danger the future might be reserving for these children, forgetting in my concern for them my own fears for my own future.

The war robbed these children their childhood as it robbed many others like myself the chance to plan for a future.

Based on these feelings and thoughts stemmed the idea of the “6th of May Peace March”: This was my call: Nine years have elapsed of this war and we have been receiving all the solutions in vain, resigned in our shelters … eating, drinking … sleeping. Hasn’t the time come to ask ourselves where to? Until when? Are we going to let the 10th year of (civil) war do us in?

Are we afraid and what is left to be afraid of? Let us all go out and join our voices to the other silent voices so it may become a resounding scream. Let us go out. Men, Women and Children. Let us walk out of our silence and scream in one voice… No to the war – No to the 10th year. You might say what for? And who will listen? Let’s try together and see… Isn’t the trying worth the effort?
Who did not loose during these bitter years, souls, properties, liberties and nerves. Do you still care if you loose this experience? We won’t loose it. Haven’t we heard, haven’t we read about people’s revolutions throughout history? Let us walk out of our fear and march together asking to stop our tragedy and comedy at the same time.
We don’t want cannons and shellings.
We don’t want a distorted country.
We don’t want a displaced homeless people.

We want simply to live in peace.
We want to raise up our children
and save our brothers and sisters.
We want our families to remain whole.
Let us walk out of our isolation and join one another and march on May 6 from the Barbir and Palace of Justice to the Museum at 12 noon, where we will meet our brothers and sisters everywhere … from far or near.

For all those who still have a grain of conscience, a little hope and attachment for the future Let us walk out of our tears and screams of pain. And hold together our only Slogan:
No to the war!
No to the 10th year!
Yes to life!

I was not introducing an original thought – it was not a new idea. But it was the cry of the “silent majority” voiced aloud by a people that suffered and endured nine years of ugly war and by a people who carried no arms to defend themselves but struggled to avoid death, violence and ruin in order to live, to build and to continue to be. Taking Ghandi’s motto:

“that the way to defeat tyranny is by using the weapons of non-violence.”

Many of the Lebanese left Lebanon in search of safety and peace but the moment they felt that some measure of security was attained, they returned to their country to rebuild, regardless of the fact that they did not know whether that peace was permanent or momentary.

Despite the war the people remained undefeated. I would like here to cite an example of a Lebanese businessman who gave a chance to thousands of young people to work with dignity and integrity by creating jobs to rebuild their country and to others by giving them loans and grants to study and continue their education in Lebanon and abroad.

I gave this as an example to emphasize the spirit that embodies Lebanon. These positive elements for reconstruction would not have occured in any other country in normal circumstances.

It was this spirit that responded to the call for the “6th of May Peace March.” The call for peace voiced the feelings of every single person who wanted to express his desire for the love for peace.

This call and its response took the world by surprise. It shook the international community. They had forgotten that there are people in Lebanon – people, whose cry for peace was over-shadowed by the sound of guns – people who form the silent majority and who have been undermined by the minority.

A committee of 20 people was formed. Members of this committee had not known each other before but their faith in hope for peace united them. Not many days after the call was made, every single Lebanese became a member in this committee.

“Peace with its silence has a louder ring and higher pitch than the war with its loud explosions.”

The response to this call was so great, so tremendous that the war itself was afraid of this loud cry, and the day before the peace march was to take place the most violent outburst of fighting erupted. The march was cancelled as it would have defeated its purpose; the purpose being to stop the killing not to have more victims.
Since that time and up to the present day and in spite of long months after the call was made for the “peace march”, I receive continuously and without cessation an appeal from the people of Lebanon urging the message for peace to continue.

As an alternative – bearing in mind the reason for canceling the peace march and to avoid bloodshed – a petition is being passed around the country and over 70 thousand signatures have been obtained.

Our movement is still informal and spontaneous. It meets to keep our voices heard and to find ways to erase the evil traces of war in the minds of the Lebanese people, particularly the children. We work under very difficult circumstances with little resources but we work each in his own capacity as Ghandi did by:

“finding always something constructive and positive to do whenever his protest and demonstrations were not workable.”

True peace is not only the silence of guns, the absence of violence or the end to the state of war. On this principle we act to pursue our goal.

Centuries ago, Spinoza said “Peace was not the absence of war but a disposition for benevolence, truth and justice”.

This definition shows how much the individual can achieve in his daily life in the name of peace.

South Lebanon lives under Israeli occupation, the reasons being to secure peace on Israel’s northern borders regardless of the measures taken.

As a result, to be able to visit my own family in South Lebanon, I have to obtain a pass and endure three days at the Israeli checking point. But many others much more unfortunate than myself suffer greater misfortunes. There are those who are refugees in their own country; not allowed back to their own land, to work their land, to gain their livelihood or to bury their dead.

All this and the humiliation and cruelty they suffer at the hands of the occupiers when trying to cross to their own villages in their own homeland.

This is done in the name of peace.

Other areas in Lebanon also suffer from the minority of oppressors who deny them their right for peace.

In the soul of every Lebanese, whether in the South under Israeli occupation or in other areas where he lives under the oppressors, suppressing his liberty as an individual, there is a true longing for peace.

I call on you and the world community to share with us and join us in our efforts to put an end to all occupation and oppression and help us to raise the voice of peace loud and clear.

Let us have peace, security, a restoration of confidence in humanity and a better world.

Once again I would like to thank you Mr. von Uexkull and all the members of the Right Livelihood Committee for your appreciation of the “6th of May Peace March” which rightfully belongs to the Lebanese Silent Majority, and therefore, this award goes to them.

Thank you.