Elena Bonner speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum..
Elena Bonner just recently passed away....
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
In his invitation to this conference, the president, Thor Halvorssen, asked me to talk about my life, the suffering I have endured, and how I was able to bear it all. But today all that seems to me quite unnecessary.
So I will say only a few words about myself.
At the age of 14, I was left without my parents. My father was executed, my mother was sent for 18 years to prison and exile. My grandmother raised me and my younger brother. The poet Vladimir Kornilov, who suffered the same fate, wrote: “And it turned out that in those years there were no mothers. There were grandmothers.” There were hundreds of thousands of such children. Ilya Ehrenburg called us “the strange orphans of 1937”.
Then the war came. My generation was cut off nearly at the roots by the war, but I was lucky. I came back from the war. I came back to an empty house. My grandmother had died in the blockade of Leningrad. Then came a communal apartment, six half-hungry years of medical school, falling in love, two children, and the poverty of a Soviet doctor. But I was not alone in this. Everyone lived this way. Then there was my dissident period followed by exile. But Andrei and I were together! And that was real happiness.
Today, summing up my life (at age 86, you think about this every day you’re still alive), I can sum up my life in three words. My life was typical, tragic, and beautiful. Whoever needs the details -- read my two books, Alone Together and Mothers and Daughters. They have been translated into many languages. Read Sakharov’s Memoirs. It’s a pity his Diaries haven’t been translated; they were published in Russia in 2006. Apparently, the West isn’t interested now in Sakharov.
The West isn’t very interested in Russia either. There are no real elections there, no independent courts, and no freedom of the press. Russia is a country where journalists, human rights activists and migrants are killed regularly, almost daily. And extreme corruption flourishes of a kind and extent that never existed earlier in Russia or anywhere else. So what do the Western mass media discuss mainly? Gas and oil -- of which Russia has a lot. Energy is its only political trump card, and Russia uses it as an instrument of pressure and blackmail. And there’s another topic that never disappears from the newspapers -- who rules Russia? Putin or Medvedev? But what difference does it make, if Russia has completely lost the impulse for democratic development that we thought we saw in the early 1990s. Russia will remain the way it is now for decades, unless there is some violent upheaval.
During the years since the fall of the Berlin wall, the world has experienced incredible changes in an exceptionally short period. But has the world become better, or more prosperous for the six billion 800 million people who live on our small planet? No one can answer that question unambiguously, despite all the achievements of science and technology and that process which we customarily call “progress”. It seems to me that the world has become more alarming, more unpredictable, and more fragile. This alarm, unpredictability, and fragility is felt to some extent by all countries and all individuals. And civic and political life becomes more and more virtual, like a picture on a computer screen.
Even so, the picture of life, formed by television, newspaper or radio remains the same as earlier -- there is no end to the conferences, summits, forums, various competitions -- from beauty contests to eating sandwiches. There is talk about people coming together -- but in reality, they are growing apart.
And that isn’t because an economic depression suddenly burst forth, and swine flu to boot. This began on September 11. At first, anger and horror was provoked by the terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and by their accomplices, the shahids, suicide bombers who blew themselves up together with discotheques, wedding parties, and many civilian targets in London, Madrid and other cities; their families were paid $25,000 by Saddam Hussein for these atrocities. Later, Bush was blamed for everything, and as always, the Jews -- that is, Israel. An example was the first Durban Conference, and the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe, noted several years ago in a speech by Romano Prodi. Then there was Durban-2; the main speaker was Ahmadinejad proposing to annihilate Israel.
So it is about Israel and the Jews that I will speak. And not only because I am Jewish, but above all because the Middle Eastern conflict since the end of World War II has been a platform for political games and gambling by the great powers, the Arab countries and individual politicians, striving, through the so-called “peace process,” to make a name for themselves, and perhaps win a Nobel Peace Prize. At one time, the Nobel Prize was the highest moral award of our civilization. But after December 1994, when Yasir Arafat became one of the three new laureates, its ethical value was undermined. I haven’t always greeted each selection of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting with joy, but that one shocked me. And to this day, I cannot understand and accept the fact that Andrei Sakharov and Yasir Arafat, now posthumously, share membership in the club of Nobel laureates.
In many of Sakharov’s publications (in his books Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom and My Country and the World, in his articles and in his interviews), Andrei Dmitrievich wrote and spoke about Israel. I have a collection of citations of his writing on this topic. If it were published in Norway, then many Norwegians would be surprised at how sharply their contemporary view on Israel differs from the view of Sakharov.
Here are several citations from Sakharov:
«Israel has an indisputable right to exist,”; “Israel has a right to existence within safe borders,” “all wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders,” “with all the money that has been invested in the problem of Palestinians, it would have been possible long ago to settle them and provide them with good lives in Arab countries.”
Throughout the years of Israel’s existence there has been war. Victorious wars, and also wars which Israel was not allowed to win. Each and every day -- literally every day -- there is the expectation of a terrorist act or a new war. We have seen the Oslo Peace Initiatives and the Camp-David Hand-shake and the Road-map and Land for Peace (there is not much land -- from one side of Israel on a clear day you can see the other side with your naked eye).
Now, a new motif is fashionable (in fact it’s an old one): “Two states for two peoples.” It sounds good. And there are no objections inside the peace-making Quartet, made up of the U.S., the UN, the EU, and Russia (some great peace-maker, with its Chechen war and its Abkhazian-Ossetian provocation). The Quartet, and the Arab countries, and the Palestinian leaders (both Hamas and Fatah) put additional demands to Israel. I will speak only of one demand: that Israel accept back the Palestinian refugees. And here a little history and demography are needed.
According to the UN’s official definition, refugees are considered those who fled from violence and wars, but not their descendants who are born in another land. At one time the Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees from Arab countries were about equal in number -- about 700-800,000. The newly-created state Israel took in Jews (about 600,000). The UN officially acknowledged them as refugees (Resolution 242), but did not help them. Palestinians, however, are considered refugees not only in the first generation, but the second, third, and now even the fourth generation. According to the UN Works and Relief Agency’s report, the number of registered Palestinian refugees has grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.6 million in 2008, and continues to rise due to natural population growth.
The entire population of Israel is about 7.5 million, of which there are about 2.5 million ethnic Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. Imagine Israel then, if another five million Arabs flood into it; Arabs would substantially outnumber the Jewish population. And adjacent to Israel a Palestinian state will be created, completely cleansed of Jews. In addition to the demand that Palestinian refugees return to Israel, there is also the demand that Israel give Judea and Samaria to Palestinians and cleanse the area of Jews -- today in Gaza, there is not a single Jew.
The result is both strange and terrifying, not only because Israel will essentially be destroyed – after all, it will be another time and other Jews. It is terrifying because it shows what a short memory the august peace-making Quartet, their leaders and their citizens will demonstrate if they let this happen. Because the plan “two states for two peoples” is the creation of one state, ethnically cleansed of Jews, and a second one where there will be the potential to do the same thing. A Judenfrei Holy Land. The dream of Adolph Hitler will at last be realized. So think again, those who are capable of objective thinking, who are the fascists today and where can they be found?
And another question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It’s a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit bother you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?
You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists, and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know the conditions of the prisoners, their lives, their food. You have met with those prisoners who have suffered torture. The result of your efforts has been a ban on torture and a law to close this prison. President Obama signed it in the first days of his coming to the White House. And although he, just like Bush before him, does not know what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, we can hope that the new Administration will think up something.
But during the two year Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and should fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross should be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about their rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Shalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the Geneva Conventions?
And yet I still think (and some will find this naïve) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Shalit. Release, and not his exchange for 1000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.
Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.
Thirty-four years have passed since I came to this city to represent my husband, Andrei Sakharov, at the 1975 Nobel Prize ceremony. I loved Norway. The reception I received filled me with joy. Today, I feel Alarm and Hope (the title Sakharov used for his 1977 essay written at the request of the Nobel Committee).
Alarm that anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment is growing throughout Europe and even further afield. Hope that countries, their leaders, and people everywhere will recall and adopt Sakharov’s ethical credo: “In the end, the moral choice turns out to be also the most pragmatic choice.”