Not many of the readers of this blog will recognize or remember who Andrei Sakharov was, or his widow Yelena Bonner. Or what they did for human rights and freedom in the Soviet Union. Many say that the Soviet Union would never had collapsed but for the tireless work of that remarkable couple.
In the field of human rights, Yelena Bonner is not only an expert, she is one of the leading authorities. She speaks with the voice of the oppressed, having lived through the horrors of Stalinism and Soviet repression. There are very few in the world that can truly speak with such moral authority. Recently she gave a speech at the three-day Oslo Freedom Forum, a gathering in response to the Durban II conference. Here is some of that speech:
…At the age of 14, I was left without my parents. My father was executed, my mother spent 18 years in prison and exile. My grandmother raised me and my younger brother. The poet Vladimir Kornilov, who suffered the same fate, wrote: ‘And it felt that in those years we had no mothers. We had grandmothers.’ There were hundreds of thousands of such children…It is time for the world to stop trying to appease the Arabs and listen to the truth. The true obstacle to peace in the region is not caused by Israel, but by the Arabs, who couldn't destroy Israel in battle and will attempt to destroy Israel through diplomatic means. And the world will let them. For it is acceptable to hate and despise the Jews. It is time for the world to listen to the voice of a woman who lived under some of the worst repression that humanity has imposed upon others. It is time to bring Gilad Shalit home.
…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, a country that no longer has real elections, independent courts, or 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... Russia will remain the way it is now for decades, unless there is some violent upheaval.
…They say people are 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. [It] began on September 11, 2001. 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 in London, Madrid and other cities, and by the shahids, suicide bombers who blew themselves up at public spaces like discotheques and wedding parties, whose families were rewarded $25,000 each by Saddam Hussein.
Later, Bush was blamed for everything, and as always, the Jews -- that is, Israel… So it is about Israel and the Jews that I will speak... At one time, the Nobel Peace Prize was the highest moral award of our civilization. But after December 1994, when Yasser 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… [he] 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 of Israel differs from the view of Sakharov. Here are several citations from Sakharov: …
“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 resettle them and provide them with good lives in Arab countries.”
…Now, a new motif is fashionable (in fact it’s an old one): ‘Two states for two peoples.’ It sounds good. And there is no controversy in 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). They were officially recognized as refugees by the UN Resolution 242, but not provided with any UN assistance. Palestinians, however, are considered refugees not only in the first generation, but in the second, third, and now even in 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. All these people have the rights of Palestinian refugees and are eligible to receive humanitarian aid.
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. Thus, created next to Israel will be a Palestinian state cleansed of Jews, because in addition to the demand that Palestinian refugees return to Israel, there is also the demand that Judea and Samaria are cleansed of Jews and turned over to Palestinians – while in Gaza today there is not a single Jew already.
The result is both strange and terrifying, not only because Israel will essentially be destroyed... Because the plan “two states for two peoples” is the creation of one state, ethnically cleansed of Jews, and a second one with the potential to do the same thing. A Judenrein Holy Land - the dream of Adolph Hitler come true at last. So think again, those who are still able, who has a fascist inside him today?
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 trouble 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 prison conditions, the prisoners’ everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to 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…
But during the two years Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Shalit’s 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 fundamental international rights documents?
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 1,000 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 the day when I came to this city to represent my husband, Andrei Sakharov, at the 1975 Nobel Prize ceremony. I was in love with Norway then. 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 because of the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment growing throughout Europe and even further afield. And yet, I 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."