Once again, the Nobel Prize committee surprised us all with its choice of Nobel
Peace Prize recipient for this year. The decision to award it to the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was a surprising
one, to say the least. Had the OPCW had some tangible successes behind it, there
would have been sense in the decision, but it is clear to all that the recent
use of chemical weapons in Syria, which brought the topic to global attention,
was the reason behind this decision – despite the fact that absolutely nothing
has yet been achieved.
Many of the Nobel Committee’s past decisions
concerning the Peace Prize have been the subject of much criticism. The decision
to award the prize in 2009 to US President Barack Obama, who has yet to
demonstrate any significant activity or success in the realm of world peace, was
perhaps one of the most surprising of all.
Other awards, such as that
given to the European Union last year or to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and
Yasser Arafat 20 years ago following the signing of the Oslo Accords, have also
been criticized, but at least in those cases there was some logic – in both
cases, the recipients could point to some tangible past achievements.
the case of the EU, European and global politics has changed for the better as a
result of the emergence of a semi-federal Europe out of the ashes of World War
II – regardless of whether the economic union is facing a crisis at the moment.
Sixty-five years ago, no one could have dreamed a Europe at peace with itself as
is the case today – and for that, the EU was a worthy recipient of the Nobel
In the case of Rabin, Peres and Arafat, the Oslo Accords
were, at the time, a major achievement and signified a structural change in the
relations between Israel and the Palestinians. At the time, we believed that
there was a real window of opportunity leading to conflict resolution and an end
to violence – even if the greater objectives of regional peace were still a long
way off. The peace spoilers on both sides did their utmost to ensure that Oslo
would fail and, unfortunately, had it their way.
But even today, when the
chances of reaching a solution in the short term are as far away as they ever
were at the time of the Oslo negotiations, the structural change that involved
the mutual recognition and legitimation of the existence of the “other,”
creating a framework for discussions and negotiations when necessary, remains an
important achievement, albeit not enough. There does not, unfortunately, appear
to be any future peace prize recipients on the horizon who will be so honored
for bringing the Israel-Palestine conflict to an end.
And no one can
protest the awarding of the prize to Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy
Carter for reaching, and implementing, the peace agreement between Israel and
Egypt. It may be a cold peace, but it has held steadfast for 35 years – a
situation no one could have imagined just a few years earlier at the time of the
Yom Kippur War.
Other individual statesmen and politicians have deserved
the prize for their work toward peace and reconciliation.
spring to mind include Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa (this has nothing
to do with his views concerning Israel), John Hume and David Trimble for their
role in bringing greater stability to Northern Ireland, or Finnish diplomat
Martti Ahtisaari for his role in bringing an end to the bloody conflicts in the
Balkans, especially in Kosovo. These are all people who have something tangible
to show for their efforts – and have been directly responsible for bringing an
end to violence and injustice in different regions of the world.
year, there was another name – unknown to most people – on the table. The name
of Nicholas Winton was submitted to the Nobel Prize Committee in a petition
signed by tens of thousands of people throughout the world.
Winton, now 104 years old, organized the rescue of 669 mostly Jewish children
from German-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II in an operation
later known as the Czech Kindertransport. He single-handedly established an
organization to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. He set
up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Wenceslas Square and
arranged for the exit of children below the age of 17 to the UK. He found homes
for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. His humanitarian work
only came to light following his retirement, when members of his family found
documents relating to his wartime activity hidden away in the attic of his
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Winton would not just
have been a worthy recognition of a unique individual, but would have given
credit to the committee for recognizing that the saving of an individual life,
and particularly that of a helpless child, is akin to saving the entire world.
Winton was not Jewish and was not involved in any formal anti-Nazi or
He simply had a deep sense of morality and an
inherent understanding that children must not be allowed to suffer under the
bestiality of the Nazi regime.
And so he went to work, at great danger to
himself, without any headlines or prizes or recognition until, by chance, his
activities came to light almost 60 years later.
To hear Winton speak is a
revelation in itself. He doesn’t get involved in complex analyses of global
politics of the time. He simply puts the moral issues on the table, the value of
life and the dignity of the individual. The chances that the global petition on
his behalf would succeed was never top of the list. Whether it was even
seriously considered by the committee is unknown. But he would have been a
worthy recipient – a recipient who would have reminded the world that peace is
far more than the signing of a document on the lawn of the White House or in a
Winton did not receive the prize, but his name and
achievements will probably live on in the memory of those he saved and their
descendants as a true champion of peace, when the OPCW may have be all but
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.