We can have peace in the Holy Land

2009 Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award acceptance speech
By Jimmy Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, visited the JMU campus to accept the 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, visited the JMU campus to accept the 2009 Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award.

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

It's been a great life for me and Rosalynn to have a chance to get to know many champions of peace. A lot of people ask me how does it feel to be no longer be president of the United States, and I remember the cartoon I saw in The New Yorker magazine last year. This little boy is looking up at his father, and he says, "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a former president." Well, I know what it means to be a former president.

First of all, we've had a chance to drive through the Shenandoah Valley every year since we've been out of the White House to go fishing further north. And I can tell you that we've been in 125 or more countries since we left the White House; there is no place on Earth more beautiful than where you live. And I can tell you we've had a good time coming up here and having a wonderful supper and that sort of thing, but it was worth the trip and the preparation for this ceremony just to hear the beautiful performance of a Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir.

Well, there are many nice things about having been president and no longer being president. I've got Secret Service protection, I'm never going to run for another office in life, so I can say just about anything I want to and get away with it with one exception. I've been married 63 years to the same woman, and I can't say anything I want to around her; I have to be very careful.

Tonight I've been asked to discuss the prospects for ending a conflict in perhaps the most sensitive area on Earth, where continued violence sends tentacles of hatred and discord and disillusionment and terrorism far beyond its own boundaries. Many of us know and revere this place, because it was the home of the prince of peace. And it's good for us to remember as we contemplate the complexities of the peace efforts in this region that every one of us has an obligation to join those who strive for peace with our prayers and our commitment.

It may be difficult for the audience to remember what I inherited as a new president back 30 years or so ago. There was an oil embargo by the Arab OPEC nations against the United States of America and a secondary boycott against any corporation in America that did business with Israel. There had been four major wars in the preceding 25 years, all of them led by Egypt, which was the only Arab country that had Soviet military support back then that was a formidable challenger for Israel. There had been no concerted effort to have a peace process before I was elected president, and there were no demands on me after I was in office to initiate negotiations.

Strangely we lacked any site or place in America as a reminder of the despicable acts or facets of the Nazi regime in Germany. Also, the Soviet Union back in those days was not permitting Jews to leave Russia except just a handful each year.

As president, the first few weeks, I began to meet with the leaders of Israel, of Jordan, of Lebanon, of Syria, of Egypt to try to induce them to join with me in some effort, and I put maximum pressure on the Soviet Union to start granting human rights for its own citizens. This increased tension between me and President Brezhnev during the Cold War years when both sides had enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons. I mean we knew that we could not only destroy each other but could destroy the entire Earth if that should occur. But within two years with that pressure for human rights we were able to see a handful of Jews increase to 50,000 or more each year coming out of the Soviet Union.

We passed a law that prohibited any American corporation from honoring the secondary boycott and put heavy criminal penalties against any chief executive officer who complied and had a boycott against Israel.

In 1978 on the South Lawn of the White House, with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and several hundred Jewish rabbis present, I announced a commission to establish a memorial to victims of Hitler's atrocities with Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor as its chairman, and the Holocaust Museum in Washington now is the result of that good work.

That same year, I was able to negotiate with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat 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 West Bank and from Gaza. This was a difficult thing for Menachem Begin to agree to, but it was submitted to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, and it was approved by an 85 percent majority. Six months later after intense negotiation, we were able to sign a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has been violated now in more than 30 years. So, this really removed the only major military challenge that Israel had had up until that time, and they haven't had one since.

So I left office believing that Israel would soon realize its dream of peace with its neighbors -- a small nation that exemplified the finest ideals based on Hebrew Scriptures that I've taught in my local churches since I was 18 years old. It's interesting to note that in the Old Testament in the Hebrew text the word "justice" is mentioned 28 times and "righteousness" is mentioned 196 times. Since leaving the White House, I have traveled whenever possible in the Middle Eastern region to encourage peaceful relationships between Israel and all its neighbors, and I've led the Carter Center in monitoring three elections among the Palestinian people in Gaza, East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. This required a thorough knowledge on our part of every part of Palestine, every political candidate, all of their platform planks, every little village, we've had to visit them and get to know them.

I've been to the region three times in the last year including the Israeli village of Sderot, which is only three miles from the northern border of Gaza where a number of missiles and mortar shells fired from nearby Gaza have fallen and frightened the people. More recently, just in April, I visited Gaza where schools and hospitals and public buildings have been wiped out along with 50,000 Palestinian homes either completely destroyed or greatly damaged by the Israeli attacks on Gaza in January of this year.

Former President Jimmy Carter spoke to a packed audience at the JMU Convocation Center.

Former President Jimmy Carter spoke to a packed audience at the JMU Convocation Center.

One and a half million Palestinians now live and struggle to survive in an enormous ghetto area completely surrounded by a high wall and without any ability to visit the outside world by air or sea or land. Israelis so far have not permitted one sack of cement or one board of lumber to go into Gaza to be used to repair the damaged homes and other buildings.

Recently, a United Nations human rights committee made a report on this headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, who is a devout and practicing Jew, and he pointed out that both sides have been guilty; the Gazans firing missiles into civilian areas and Israel in its actions against Gaza. The report claims that Israelis deliberately targeted Christians and that this constitutes crimes against humanity. The Israeli leaders obviously condemned the report as biased.

Now, I guess among all Americans, you might say leaders, hardly nobody knows any better than I the harsh rhetoric and the acts of violence that have torn apart the Middle East. I'm familiar with the fear that has existed among Israelis because of terrorist attacks that came across their border from Palestine into downtown Jerusalem and other cities, and I know that crimes have been committed by both sides.

I've reiterated my own condemnation of any such acts against innocent people at any time or for any goal. Like many of you, I have prayed for and worked for peace for Israel and its neighbors based on justice for the Palestinians. During the past three years, I wrote two books. Rosalyn always likes for me to remark that they are still on sale. The last one was titled We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, and that's the main theme of my talk tonight; we can have peace in the Holy Land.

As President Barak Obama has made clear, the key factor that prevents peace is the continuing building of Israeli settlements inside Palestine determined by a minority of Israelis, not a majority but minority, who desire to occupy and colonize East Jerusalem and the West Bank. And because of this intrusion on their own land, of course Palestinians have committed acts of violence against Israelis for the cycle continues.

As you probably know, these two areas—Israel and Palestine—comprise the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These two areas, East Jerusalem and West Bank, just make up 22 percent, about one-fifth of the total. Israel makes up 77 percent and Gaza just 1 percent.

Now the choice hilltops, the vital water resources and the productive rich bottom land have been taken by Israeli settlers, and like a spider web these settlers are connected to one another by major highways, many of which are prohibited from use by the Palestinians. In a number of cases, Palestinians are not even permitted to cross the highways to get from one part of their farm or grazing lands to another.

So what this does is divide up what's left of the West Bank into little tiny compartments or cantonments. There are more than 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and more than 500 roadblocks that prevent Palestinians from riding from one place to another. And there is a huge dividing wall mostly inside the West Bank and sometimes 40-feet high that obstructs it from passage and makes lives of Palestinians almost impossible. This harms Israel's reputation for justice and righteousness. It angers the world, the Arab world as well, and it makes peace impossible. It would be an intriguing experience for any of you—students, professors or just other citizens— to visit the West Bank and Gaza, talk to the people there and to see if I've exaggerated or whether I've incorrectly described what's going on there.

I understand that much of our nation's support -- yours and mine -- for the existence and security of Israel, which is paramount, comes from among Christians like me who've been taught since childhood to honor and respect and protect God's chosen people from whom came our own Savior Jesus Christ. An additional powerful factor is a political organization called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, which exercises its legitimate goal to defend and protect whatever policies the Israeli government has at any time. And in this country there are practically no voices that speak out on the other side, and there is no debate at all within the U.S. Congress or among people who seek public office.

I'm convinced that the withdrawal of Israel occupying forces from Palestine, Syria and also the West Bank will dramatically reduce the threats that exist in Israel. All 22 Arab countries have offered full diplomatic recognition to Israel, and full trade and commerce just like they have with each other if Israel will withdraw from occupied territories and comply with other United Nations resolutions, which the Israeli's themselves have supported in the past. The Arabs have left open the opportunity for the pre-1967 I borders to be modified by good faith talks between Israel and the Palestinians For six months later after intense negotiation we were able to sign a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has been violated now in 30 years. So this really removed the only major military challenge that Israel had had up until that time, and they haven't had one since. So I left office believing that Israel would soon realize its dream of peace with its neighbors. I have reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts against innocent people, at any time or for any goal.

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

As you probably know, these two areas—Israel and Palestine—comprise the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These two areas—East Jerusalem and West Bank—just make up 22 percent, about one-fifth of the total. Israel makes up 77 percent and Gaza just 1 percent.

Now the choice hilltops, the vital water resources and the productive rich bottomland have been taken by Israeli settlers. Like a spider web, these settlers are connected to one another by major highways, many of which are prohibited from use by the Palestinians. In a number of cases, Palestinians are not even permitted to cross the highways to get from one part of their farm or grazing lands to another.

So what this does is divide up what's left of the West Bank into little tiny compartments or cantonments. There are more than 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and more than 500 roadblocks that prevent Palestinians from riding from one place to another. And there's a huge dividing wall mostly inside the West Bank, sometimes 40-feet-high, that obstructs it for passage and makes the lives of Palestinians almost impossible. This harms Israel's reputation for justice and righteousness. It angers the world, the Arab world as well, and it makes peace impossible. It would be an intriguing experience for any of you, students, professors or citizens, to visit the West Bank and Gaza, and to talk to the people there and to see if I've exaggerated or incorrectly described what's going on there.

I understand that much of our nation's support, yours and mine, for the existence of Israel comes from ordinary citizens like you and me. Connecting roads, often for the exclusive use of Israelis, divide what is left of the West Bank into little tiny compartments or cantonments. There are more than 200 settlements in the West Bank and more than 500 roadblocks that prevent Palestinians from riding from one place to another. And there is a huge dividing wall mostly inside the West Bank, sometimes 40-feet high that obstructs passage and makes the lives of Palestinians almost impossible. This harms Israel's reputation for justice and righteousness, it angers the world, the Arab world as well, and it makes peace impossible.

It would be an intriguing experience for any of you—students, professors or just other citizens—to visit the West Bank and Gaza to talk to the people there to see if I have exaggerated or whether I've incorrectly described what's going on there.

I understand that much of our nation's support—yours and mine—for the existence and the security of Israel, which is paramount, comes from among Christians like me who've been taught since childhood to honor and respect and protect God's chosen people, from whom came our own Savior Jesus Christ. An additional powerful factor is a political organization called the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, which exercises its legitimate goal to defend and protect whatever policy the Israeli government has at any time. In this country there is practically no voices that speak out on the other side, and there is no debate at all within the U.S. Congress or among people who seek public office.

I'm convinced that the withdrawal of Israel occupying forces from Palestine, Syria and also the West Bank will dramatically reduce the threats that exist to Israel. All 22 Arab countries have offered full diplomatic recognition to Israel and full trade and commerce just like they have with each other if Israel will withdraw from occupied territories and comply with other United Nations resolutions, which the Israeli's themselves have supported in the past.

The Arabs have left open the opportunity for the pre-1967 borders to be modified by good faith talks between Israel and the Palestinians that would permit as many as half of the Israeli settlers to stay in Palestine and to swap an equal amount of land to the Palestinians from Israel. And this could provide a corridor that connects Gaza from the West Bank, which is about 27 miles, as you probably know.

This offer of two states living in peace between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is supported by the United States of America. It is supported by all the agreements that have been approved by Israel, particularly those of 1978 and again in 1993. It is also supported by the so-called road map of the international quartet that comprises the United States, the European Union, United Nations and the Soviet Union or Russia. The alternative to two states is one state or one nation between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Where Jews and Arabs live together in the same country. But in just a few years there will be a majority of Arabs living in that region, and this means that the Arabs can out vote the Jews and do away with the Jewish state of Israel or either they would be deprived of their civil rights as subjugated in the same country. You can see that this is the only alternative to the two-state solution, and the two-state solution is one that is endorsed by all those that I just mentioned, and there is a goal that President Obama is now pursuing. He'll be meeting with the leaders of Israel and Palestine at the United Nations tomorrow.

President Obama has made this a high priority for his administration, and he deserves the support of all Americans, whether Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives it doesn't matter. The bottom line is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors' land and permit the Palestinians living side by side in peace to exercise their basic rights.

This promise of peace in exchange for Palestine territory adequate for a viable and antiguous nation has been acceptable for several decades to a substantial majority of Israelis. These same premises of Israel's peaceful existence honoring former agreements and the rejection of violence will have to be accepted by any government that represents the Palestinians as well. So both sides have responsibilities to carry out, and they are very clear-cut. In fact, last year a poll that was conducted by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found that 81 percent of all the citizens living in the occupied territory, including Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem favored this kind of peace agreement along with 63 percent of all the Israeli citizens.

Well, what I've 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, and this warrants your prayers and your help. We can have peace in the Holy Land.