Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech delivered by Aase Lionaes, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978, Oslo, December 10, 1978.


Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize for 1978 to Anwar al-Sadat, President of Egypt, and Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, for their contribution to the two frame agreements on peace in the Middle East, and on peace between Egypt and Israel, which were signed at Camp David on September 17, 1978.

Never previously in the history of the Peace Prize, stretching back over a period of almost eighty years, have we witnessed an award ceremony such as this in King Haukon V’s medieval castle of Akershus, with its memories of far-off times of war and unrest in the chronicles of our land.

Never has the Nobel Committee considered it apposite to award the Peace Prize to statesmen from the troubled and sadly devastated Middle East.

Never has the Prize been closely associated with agreements such as the two Camp David agreements, which provide the basis for the award to the two statesmen on whose shoulders such grave responsibilities have fallen.

Never has the Peace Prize expressed a greater or more audacious hope – a hope of peace for the people of Egypt, for the people of Israel, and for all the peoples of the strife-torn and war-ravaged Middle East.

The award of the Prize to the President of Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, is moreover historical in the wider sense, in that we only know of one previous peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. This, as Israeli scholars have revealed, took place some 3,000 years ago; it was the peace concluded between King David’s son, wise King Solomon, and the Egyptian Pharaoh.

It was in this part of the world that the cradle of our civilisation was to be found, more than 6,000 years ago. Here, communities with a high standard of culture, which were to exercise a profound influence on the development of human society in other parts of the world, grew up and flourished. Today, every single schoolchild knows from his or her history books that it was here that our written history first began; and adherents of three historically related religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity have turned their gaze with unflagging devotion to that part of the world from which their religion sprang.

The Middle East, situated as it is at the junction of Asia, Europe, and Africa, has been not only a meeting-place for cultures, but also a battleground for economic interests and foreign conquerors. Again and again cultural splendour and material prosperity have been rudely interrupted by wars, foreign domination, and internal schism.

In our own time the struggle of the Arabs to free themselves from alien domination was crowned with success when Egypt shook off the British yoke. In this struggle for national liberation Anwar al-Sadat played a leading part.

At the same time the national movement sprang up in the little Jewish communities that for two thousand years had been scattered around in various countries all over the world but holding fast at all times to memories and hopes of their historical homeland. The anti-Semitism which culminated with Hitler’s mass slaughter of Europe’s Jews drove them to seek security and rebirth in their own country of Israel. With the active participation of the United Nations, the state of Israel was established in 1948. The state and nation of Israel had now become a political and human fact.

The establishment of an Israeli state ushered in a new conflict throughout the Middle East. In the course of the last thirty years this dispute between the Jews and Arabs has unleashed four wars, which have not only caused tremendous material damage but also exacerbated hostility between them.

Side by side with war and destruction, however, the constructive forces of peace, too, have hewn out a path for themselves.

Over the years a great deal of goodwill has been harnessed to breach the psychological wall which has all too long constituted a bar to understanding and human contact between the Arab states and the Israelis. This is a wall of frightening dimensions, which President Anwar al-Sadat once compared to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Two men who played a vital role in paving the way for this peace deserve to be mentioned: former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.

Henry Kissinger’s peace mission in the Middle East was launched immediately after the conclusion of the fourth war between Israel on the one hand and Egypt and Syria on the other.

We recall his energetic attempts to get the belligerent parties in the so-called Jom Kippur War to come together for a peace conference in Geneva.

The conference did in fact materialise, in December 1973, and resulted in agreement between Egypt and Israel on a number of important points, such as the exchange of prisoners, the withdrawal of troops to delimited zones, security guarantees, and other measures aimed at consolidating the truce, and with a peace agreement as a long-term goal.

Henry Kissinger’s work in promoting the agreements concluded between the belligerents after the Jom Kippur War in 1973 provided the basis for President Jimmy Carter’s move in organising the meeting at Camp David in 1978.

The dramatic highlight in the efforts to arrive at a peaceful settlement was provided by President Anwar al-Sadat’s courageous journey to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977.

With his bold visit to the Israeli parliament, Knesset, President Sadat cut the Gordian knot at a single stroke.

The way was now open for the meetings at Camp David, where the first constructive steps were taken in the form of two agreements of fundamental importance:
The frame agreement for peace in the Middle East and;
The frame agreement for concluding peace between Egypt and Israel.

It is for their work in laying a foundation for future peace between these two one-time enemy countries that the President of Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, have been honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978.

The four wars in the Middle East merely foreshadowed fresh conflicts, new material destruction, and human tragedy.

Amid this darkness we glimpsed a sudden light, and a victory is won without a war, as President Sadat sets off on his journey to “the City of Peace”, as he called Jerusalem in his historic speech in the Knesset.

His outstretched hand and offer of peace, friendship, and cooperation sets the spirit of the frame agreement, pointing the way to realities in a final peace agreement based on normal diplomatic, economic, and cultural links.

The masterbuilder responsible for the bridge that had to be built between Egypt and Israel in order that these two one-time enemy nations should have any opportunity of coming together to frame an agreement, was the president of the USA, Jimmy Carter.

President Sadat has described the importance of this vital step in the work of pioneering a peace in the following words: “Jimmy Carter was the Unknown Soldier”.

With regard to the second frame agreement from Camp David for peace in the Middle East important and apparently time-consuming negotiations on the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights still remain to be completed.

The future alone can provide an answer to these questions. Meanwhile, the world must be allowed to share in the happiness of the people of Egypt and Israel, that, for the first time since the re-establishrment of the state of Israel in 1948, an agreement has successfully been reached which, on a long-term basis, provides a genuine opportunity for peace in an area over which the shadow of war had hovered so long.

Without speculating on conflicting theories on the actual driving forces at work in history, there is surely general agreement that two men, the president of Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat, and the prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, have played key roles in the quest for peace between two former enemies which today is such a source of gratification to true friends of peace the world over.

These two men have a great deal in common: they were born in a century marked by global wars and gigantic revolutions, of racial problems and foreign domination.

Both of them have been active in the mainstream of history, in its political and social conflicts. From their earliest years they have identified themselves with the fate of their countries, they have fought and suffered, in prison and in labour camp, for the sovereignty of their native land and for the freedom of man.

Their lives and paths have crossed in an act of peace that may well usher in a new era, a future of material renewal and peace, not only for their two respective countries, but for the entire Middle East.

President Anwar al-Sadat was born on December 25, 1918. He spent the early years of childhood in the little village of Mit Abul-Kum on the banks of the Nile. His memoirs are deeply imbued with his intense feeling of kinship with the earth and the life of the village in which he was born.

His childhood is summed up in one lyrical phrase: “Everything I experienced in Mit Abul-Kum made me happy”. This included his sense of oneness with Nature, his participation in the collective work of the peasants, and not least, life in a family which included a paternal grandmother who, though unlettered, was noted for her wisdom.

Today, whenever he speaks of his grandmother, President Sadat does so with such warmth and devotion that we immediately sense how love for her still lives on in his heart.

He still recalls her simple words: “Nothing is of such great importance as the fact that you are a child of this earth. The earth can never die – in it lies the mystery of creation.”

President Sadat defines his faith thus: “I shall never go astray, because I know with such certainty that I have my roots in the village, deep down in the soil from which I, like the trees and other growing things, have sprung.”

Throughout his turbulent life Sadat has felt a need for the inner harmony and balance which affinity with the soil has given him.

During his childhood and adolescent years Egypt was under British domination.

Early on Sadat determined to fight for the independence of his country. For this reason he chose the profession of army officer, and together with Gamal Abdel Nasser, a friend from his school days, he founded in 1939, at the age of 21, a secret group of officers whose aim it was to free Egypt from foreign rule. In the course of this struggle he was arrested in 1942 and stripped of his officer’s rank. After a successful escape from prison, he remained in hiding until he was arrested in 1946 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

In 1950 he was reinstated in the Army. In 1952 Sadat was one of the leading spirits in the Egyptian revolution which led to the fall of King Farouk.

In 1969 he was appointed Vice-Presidernt of Egypt by President Nasser, and on Nasser’s death in 1970 he was elected President of Egypt.

President Sadat has piloted his country through a difficult period, involving war as well as far-reaching economic problems.

It is to President Sadat’s credit that he realised that the solution to important social and economic problems in his own country demanded too the conclusion of a peace settlement with Israel.

All in all, President Sadat’s policy during all these years has reflected a willingness to re-think old problems and courage to break away from traditional diplomatic methods.

During the thirty preceding years, the peoples of the Middle East have on four separate occasions been the victims of warfare, and there seemed no prospect of peace. President Sadat’s great contribution to peace was that he had sufficient courage and foresight to break away from this vicious circle.

His decision to accept Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s invitation of November 17, 1977, to attend a meeting of the Israeli parliament on November 19 was an act of great courage, both from a personal and from a political point of view. This was a dramatic break with the past and a courageous step forward into a new age.

In Jerusalem Sadat frankly submitted his demands, but in return offered recognition of Israel as a state, as well as conciliation and peace.

Sadat’s outstretched hand was accepted by Israel’s prime minister, Menachem Begin, the other main protagonist in the Camp David agreement.

The political situation into which Menachem Begin was born, in 1913, in the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk provided a starting-point and a decisive guideline for his turbulent career.

The impression made on him by the violent and increasing anti-Semitism nourished in him at an early age the yearning and the determination to return to the ancient home of the Jews in Israel.

While studying law he joined the Jewish Youth Movement. In May 1939 he was imprisoned for participation in a demonstration in favour of the right of the persecuted European Jews to emigrate to Palestine. After a brief spell in prison he fled to Lithuania, in the hope that from this country he and his family might make their way to Palestine. The Soviet Russian occupation of Lithuania in 1939, however, effectively prevented this. He was arrested and sentenced to eight years’ forced labour in a Siberian prison camp.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union he was released, in company with thousands of other political prisoners, as the authorities hoped in this way to be able to provide sufficient recruits for a Polish army to be deployed in the struggle against Nazism. Begin now joined the Polish forces which were being trained on Soviet soil and despatched to Transjordan. In 1942 he made his way from that country to Palestine, which at that time was being administered as a British mandated territory.

At this time the British authorities imposed very severe restrictions on immigration permits for Jews who during the war were under the threat of extermination in the German gas chambers.

Menachem Begin deployed all his energy to circumvent these rigorous regulations. He joined the national combatant organisation Irgun Zvai Leumi, and soon rose to be its leader.

During the first few years Irgun collaborated with the British authorities in the struggle against German Nazism.

However, when the British, despite systematic Nazi extermination of the European Jews, persisted in maintaining their immigration policy for Palestine, Irgun adopted a more obdurate line under Begin’s leadership, demanding now not only an open door for Jewish refugees, but also the right to the establishment of an independent Jewish state.

From then and up to 1947 Begin and the underground movement Irgun waged a relentless struggle against the British administration. At one time the British authorities set a price of £30,000 on his head.

In 1947, when fighting broke out between Arabs and Jews, Irgun was finally recognised by the Jewish authorities, and integrated as a regular unit in the Jewish military organisation Haganah.

When the state of Israel became a reality in 1948 Begin founded his own political party, Herut, which was radically opposed to the Israeli Labour Party, Mapai, led by Ben Gurion.

At the 1977 elections the Conservative alliance known as Likud won a major political victory, and on June 21, 1977, Menachem Begin became prime minister of Israel, and it was he who, on behalf of the state of Israel, accepted President Sadat’s outstretched hand.

Egypt and Israel now enjoy the prospect of an end to thirty years of hostility interrupted merely by brief intervals of truce.

Complex problems of international law – as well as military and economic problems – must be solved and old suspicions and prejudices swept aside.

It is easy to state the nature of this formidable task. But can it be solved, can entirely new relations be created between people in an area where for decades the shadow of war has eclipsed all hope?

In his historic speech to the Knesset, today’s Peace Prize laureate Anwar al-Sadat answered this question with the following words:

“I truly tell you: we have before us today an opportunity for peace which time will never repeat and we must seize it if we are really serious in struggling for peace. If we weaken or fritter away this opportunity we shall end in a new blood-bath; he who has conspired to lose it will have the curse of humanity and history on his head.”

On the same occasion today’s other Prize-winner, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, expressed his own views on the potentialities of peace:

“We believe that if we achieve peace, true peace, we shall be able to assist one another in all realms of life, and a new era will be opened in the Middle East: an era of flourishing and growth, of development and progress and advancement, as in ancient times …”

Men of good will all over the world will now follow in their thoughts these two prize-winners in their endeavours to solve this great task of establishing peace.

This is a wish that has been expressed in the Camp David agreement:

“The people of the Middle East yearn for peace, so that the vast human and natural resources of the region can be turned to the pursuits of peace and so that this area can become a model for coexistence and cooperation among nations.”

Today, throughout the world, we are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

May I express the hope that this Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, enacted in our small and wintry country, tucked away near the Arctic Circle, may provide an enduring reminder to the world that it was here that representatives of Egypt and Israel shook hands as they celebrated the greatest of all victories – conciliation and lasting peace based on respect for human rights and human dignity.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1978, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1979


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1978

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