More Links in News & Events

Address by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award

By Jimmy Carter

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter were named recipients of the 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award in recognition of the couple's humanitarian efforts worldwide. The full transcript of President Carter's speech during the presentation ceremony at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., follows.

President Rose, Director Mittal, and distinguished guests who share the honor of associating ourselves with Mahatma Gandhi, a quiet but courageous champion of peace.

(New Yorker Cartoon)

I have been asked to discuss prospects for an end to conflict in perhaps the most sensitive area on earth, where continued violence extends tentacles of hatred, distrust, and terrorism far beyond its own boundaries. Many of us know and revere this land as the home of the prince of peace.

It may be difficult for the audience to remember what I inherited as a new president concerning the Holy Land. There was an oil embargo by Arab OPEC nations, with a secondary boycott of any American corporation doing business with Israel. There had been four major wars in 25 years led by Egypt, the only Arab country (with Soviet military support) that was a formidable challenger. There had been no concerted efforts to bring peace to the region, and there were no demands on me to initiate negotiations.

We lacked any site in America as a reminder of the most despicable facets of the Nazi regime. Also, the Soviet Union permitted only a handful of Jews to leave Russia each year.

As president, I met with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and put maximum pressure on the Soviet Union to respect human rights of its own citizens. This increased tension between me and President Brezhnev, but within two years, annual Jewish emigration from Russia increased from a handful to more than 50,000.

We supported a law that prohibited secondary boycotts against Israel, with severe penalties against any U.S. corporation that violated the new law.

In 1978, on Israel's 30th birthday, I announced a commission to establish a memorial to victims of Hitler's atrocities, with Elie Wiesel as its chairman. The Holocaust Museum in Washington is the result of their good work.

That same year, I negotiated the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. In exchange for peace, Israel agreed to grant full autonomy to the Palestinians and to withdraw Israeli military and political forces from the Egyptian Sinai and Palestine. This agreement was ratified by an 85 percent majority in the Israeli Knesset.

Six months later, we signed a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has been violated for more than 30 years. This removed from Israel its major Arab military threat.

I left office believing that Israel would soon realize its dream of peace with its other neighbors – a small nation that exemplified the finest ideals based on Hebrew scriptures I have taught since I was 18 years old. In the English language version, "justice" is mentioned 28 times and "righteousness" 196 times.

Since leaving the White House, I have traveled throughout the Middle East at every opportunity, to encourage peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have led The Carter Center in monitoring Palestinian elections in 1996, 2005, and 2006, which required a thorough and intimate involvement with Israeli leaders and with candidates and Palestinian citizens throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

I have been to the region three times this past year, including the Israeli village of Sderot, hit by a number of missiles and mortar shells fired from nearby Gaza. More recently, I visited Gaza, where schools, hospitals, public buildings, and almost every small commercial establishment has been wiped out, with 50,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks in January of this year.

1.5 million Palestinians are now struggling to survive in an enormous ghetto, surrounded by a high wall, unable to visit the outside world. Israelis have not permitted a bag of concrete or a board of lumber to enter through the controlled gates to repair the damage.

A U.N. human rights committee headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, a devout Jew, recently condemned both the firing of missiles into Israel and Israeli actions against Gaza. The report claims that Israel deliberately targeted civilians, and that this constitutes crimes against humanity. Predictably, Israeli leaders condemned the report as biased.

I am familiar with the harsh rhetoric and acts of violence in the Middle East, perpetrated by both sides against civilians. I have seen the fear among Israelis that a terrorist's bomb would explode in a Jerusalem bus. I have reiterated my strong condemnation of such acts against innocent people, at any time or for any goal.

Like many of you, I have tried to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors, based on justice for the Palestinians. During the past three years I wrote two books about the region, the last entitled, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land." Today, I reiterate that simple statement.

As President Barack Obama has made clear, the key factor that prevents peace is the continuing building of Israeli settlements in Palestine, driven by a determined minority of Israelis who desire to occupy and colonize East Jerusalem and the West Bank. At the same time, some Palestinians commit acts of violence and refuse to accept the existence of Israel.

As you know, these two areas comprise just 22 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with Israel having 77 percent and Gaza 1 percent. Now the choice hilltops, vital water resources, and productive land have been taken by Israeli settlers. Like a spider web, connecting roads, often for the exclusive use of Israelis, divide what is left of the West Bank into isolated cantonments. More than 200 settlements, more than 500 checkpoints, and a huge dividing wall and fence inside the West Bank make the lives of Palestinians almost intolerable. This harms Israel's reputation for justice and righteousness, angers the Arab world, and makes peace impossible.

It would be an intriguing experience for any of you to visit the Occupied Territories for a few days, meet with leaders and private citizens, and determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians.

I understand that much of our nation's support for the existence and security of Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since childhood to honor and protect God's chosen people, from among whom came our own savior, Jesus Christ.

An additional factor is the powerful influence of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which exercises its legitimate goal of arousing maximum support for the policies of Israel's government, whatever they might be. There are few significant countervailing voices in the public arena, and any debate is still practically nonexistent within the U.S. Congress or among those seeking public office.

I am convinced that the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Palestine, Syria, and the West Bank will dramatically reduce any threats to Israel. All 22 Arab countries have offered diplomatic recognition and full trade and commerce if Israel will withdraw from occupied territories and comply with other pertinent U.N. resolutions.

They have left open the opportunity for the pre-1967 borders to be modified through Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, that could leave as many as one-half the settlers in Palestine with an equivalent swap of land.

This offer of two states is compatible with official U.S. policy, key U.N. resolutions supported by the United States and Israel, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 and 1993, and the "Road Map" for peace developed by the "Quartet" (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations).

The alternative to two states is one nation in the same area, within which Arabs will soon comprise a clear majority. This will mean the end of a Jewish state or else an apartheid system within which Palestinians are dominated and deprived of equal rights.

President Obama has made peace in the Holy Land a high priority for his administration, and special envoy George Mitchell has called for an end to Israeli settlement activity and easing of restrictions on Palestinian travel.

The bottom line is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors' land and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights. This premise of peace in exchange for Palestinian territory adequate for a viable and contiguous state has been acceptable for several decades to a substantial majority of Israelis.

These same premises, of Israel's peaceful existence, honoring former agreements, and rejection of violence, will have to be accepted by any government that represents the Palestinians. In fact, a poll last year by Hebrew University in Jerusalem found 81 percent approval among citizens in the Occupied Territories and 63 percent approval among Israelis.

What I have described in these few minutes is a clear but difficult pathway – the only one – to what all of us want: a secure Israel living within its own borders, in harmony with its neighbors.

In closing, let me say again: "We can have peace in the Holy Land."

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top