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What a Nobel Peace Prize Can Do

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Nadia Murad, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club, in Washington, October 8, 2018.
Nadia Murad, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club, in Washington, October 8, 2018. Credit: Andrew Harnki/AP Photo

For my interview with the impressive Nadia Murad during her only visit to Israel a little over a year ago, I wrote of her: “She looks sad, but also brave and strong – as if her happiness had been taken away from her, but not her spirit. On the one hand, you want to embrace her, and on the other be embraced by her. When she gazes at the world, it’s with a mixture of disappointment and hope. Her messages are clear, direct and strong, and when she speaks you immediately forget her fragile appearance. Nadia Murad Basee Taha has been through the worst hell imaginable, but she managed to escape and is now dedicating her life to helping others.” 

While she was here, there was a vote in the Knesset on a draft bill proposed MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), to the effect that Israeli would officially recognize the Yazidis as genocide victims. “The motto of our country is ‘Never Again.’ As a member of a family of Holocaust survivors, I interpret that as applying not only to Jews, but to other nations, too,” she explained at the time.

It’s not surprising that Svetlova’s proposal didn’t pass, because the Israeli government exploits the genocide of the Jews mainly for cynical domestic purposes, far removed from recognition of the suffering of another nation. Now Murad, the Yazidi, has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the entire world recognizes her suffering. Her co-winner was Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who assisted women who were rape victims related to fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The awarding of the prize inspires hope in both cases, for several reasons.

The granting of the award to Murad and Mukwege adds a crucial facet to the #MeToo movement. The movement is viewed at face value as a protest movement of women from developed countries, but the Nobel Peace Prize is an important reminder that the worst things happen to women in war zones.

We Western women must not forget this fact. We must come to their assistance while conducting our own local struggle. And if it seems as though Yazidi women who are systematically raped by ISIS members are too far away for us to help, we can lend a hand to many women here in Israel, who live in conservative cultures and are abused under the guise of the patriarchal society to which they belong.

After Murad managed to escape miraculously from one of her captors (she had no fewer than 12 of them), she and one of her sisters were accepted to a program for refugee rehabilitation, sponsored by the German government, at a secret shelter near Stuttgart. This eventually led her to a cross-continental journey to give voice to her people’s pain.

Murad’s Nobel Prize provides a vital shot in the arm to Germany’s program for absorbing and rehabilitating refugees, which saves lives but is subject to a great deal of criticism at home.

In December 2015, three months after arriving in Germany, Murad told her personal story to the UN Security Council. It was a formative moment, after which Murad became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for the issue of human trafficking. 

Murad thereby chalked up another achievement – if UN ambassadors before her were mainly celebrities using their fame to promote UN peace efforts (a welcome activity, of course), she opened a new channel for the UN to publicize survivors and their stories. This is a crucial expansion of the institution of goodwill ambassadors.

Murad and Amal Clooney, a human rights attorney, have been trying for the past two years to use legal channels as well. They brought a lawsuit in the International Criminal Court in The Hague on behalf of the Yazidis against ISIS, for crimes against humanity and genocide. They are also trying to engage the UN to join in on this task. To date no ISIS fighter has been prosecuted, but it’s possible that the legal action will now pick up speed as a result of the prize.

Finally, the choice of Murad and Mukwege restores the prize’s practical aspect, after the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won a surprising victory in 2017. Granting the prize to a campaign rather than to activists while Syrian President Bashar Assad bombed his citizens with chemical weapons and conventional weapons kill countless numbers of people in wars worldwide seems divorced from reality. This year, on the other hand, the prize is more relevant than ever, and goes hand in hand with one of the two most important trends in the world at the moment – women and refugees.

Recently I met Duzen Tekkal, a German journalist of Yazidi origin. When she was sent to cover the war in Iraq and Syria for German public television she was exposed to the Yazidi women’s story/ She left her work to devote her life to rescuing them. While making documentaries about them and recording the horrors they experienced, she also started an aid organization for them.

In June, we held a brainstorming session on how to keep on publicizing the fact that 1,000 Yazidi women and girls are still in ISIS captivity, because Tekkal felt the subject was no longer in the headlines. We couldn’t have imagined at the time that the Nobel Peace Prize would be one of the ways of doing so.

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