2010 Goldberg Prize recipients

Press Release

Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East Honors Bassam Aramin and Avner Wishnitzer for Their Work as Founders of Combatants for Peace

BEIT JALA, October 13, 2010—The Institute of International Education (IIE) will present Bassam Aramin and Avner Wishnitzer, two of the founders of the group Combatants for Peace (CFP), with the 2010 Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East. IIE Trustee Victor J. Goldberg created the prize to honor the outstanding contributions of two individuals, one Arab and one Israeli, working together to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, will be presented at a ceremony near Beit Jala on Wednesday, October 13.

The winners will be honored for their joint leadership of Combatants for Peace. The organization was established in 2005 by Palestinians and Israelis who had played active roles as combatants in the region and then committed themselves instead to non-violent activism. The objectives of CFP are to raise awareness and promote an understanding among Israelis and Palestinians regarding the hopes and suffering of the other side; create partners for dialogue; educate both sides towards reconciliation and non-violent struggle; and impose political pressure on both governments to stop the cycle of violence, end the occupation and resume a constructive dialogue.

Bassam Aramin, now 42, grew up in the Palestinian village of Sa’ir. As a youth Mr. Aramin spent almost ten years in an Israeli jail for his involvement in a group that staged an attack on an Israeli military patrol. His time in prison led him to consider non-violent activism and upon his release in 1994, he participated in many peace-building initiatives. In 2005, Mr. Aramin helped to establish CFP and has been a movement leader ever since, even after his ten-year-old daughter was killed by the gunfire of Israeli soldiers as she was leaving school in 2007. His mission is to prevent the death of more children, both Palestinian and Israeli. He is currently enrolled in a Masters of Peace Studies Program at Bradford University in England.

Avner Wishnitzer, now 33, grew up in Kibbutz Kvutsat Shiller and served as a combatant in Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. As a reserve soldier in that same unit, he refused to serve in the occupied territories, and in 2005, Mr. Wishnitzer, along with other Israelis, met with Mr. Aramin and other ex-combatants in Beit Jala, an area where most Israelis would not consider traveling at the time. This meeting led to the formation of CFP and Mr. Wishnitzer continues to be a core group leader.

According to Mr. Goldberg, "The intent of this award is to recognize innovation and reward those who are courageous and committed enough to work together to overcome the religious, cultural, ethnic, and political issues which divide the Middle East. We hope that the courage and imagination shown by our prize winners will inspire others to join together across these divides to advance the cause of peace in the coming years."

To be eligible for the Goldberg IIE Prize, at least one of the nominated individuals must be an alumnus/a of a program administered by IIE or any exchange program funded by IIE’s sponsors, such as the Department of State, USAID, and the Ford Foundation. Mr. Wishnitzer just completed a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Washington where he conducted research in Middle Eastern history. Mr. Aramin participated in the International Visitors Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in 2009. He was part of an 18-member international group who visited Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; South Bend, IN; and Tucson, AZ to explore issues related to U.S. perspectives on the use of preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution in both domestic and international spheres.

IIE, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1919 and headquartered in New York City, created the Goldberg IIE Prize with an endowment from IIE's Executive Committee member and former Vice Chairman, Victor J. Goldberg. The Selection Committee for the Prize includes leading experts from academia, the nonprofit sector, and government.

Mr. Goldberg and IIE’s Chief Operating Officer, Peggy Blumenthal, will present the 2010 winners with the $10,000 prize at a ceremony near Beit Jala on October 13. According to Ms. Blumenthal, "The Goldberg IIE Prize has honored six outstanding collaborations since the first award in 2005, which we hope will encourage other courageous professionals in the region to develop new initiatives which will advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The winners we celebrate each year exemplify the kinds of joint action needed to resolve conflicts in this region, and they embody Vic Goldberg's long-time commitment to bettering the world through international cooperation."

For more information about the Goldberg IIE prize, including information on the past winners, please visit the Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East award page.

About the Institute of International Education

The Institute of International Education is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. An independent, not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has network of 18 offices worldwide and over 1,000 member institutions. IIE designs and implements programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government agencies, foundations, and corporations. IIE also conducts policy research and program evaluations, and provides advising and counseling on international education and opportunities abroad.

About Victor J. Goldberg

Victor J. Goldberg retired from IBM in 1993 as a corporate vice president after a 34-year career at the company. Mr. Goldberg received both his undergraduate and his M.B.A. degrees from Northwestern University. He joined the Board of Trustees of the Institute of International Education in 1979, is a member of its Executive Committee and served for 13 years as vice chairman of the Board. He is a trustee of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, a Ford Foundation-funded initiative providing graduate training to leaders from underserved populations around the world, and also serves on the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee and the boards of Education Through Music and the Scarsdale Foundation.


Background: The Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East

About the 2010 Goldberg IIE Prize Recipients

Avner Wishnitzer, 33, grew up in Kibbutz Kvutsat Shiller and served as a combatant in Sayeret Matkal. When already a reserve soldier in that same unit, he refused to serve in the occupied territories. In 2005, Avner shared the table with Bassam and the other ex-combatants, in the first meetings in Beit Jala that eventually lead to the formation of CFP. At the time, most Israelis would not even consider traveling to Beit Jala, let alone meeting with Fatah members who only a few years ago were engaged in the armed struggle against Israel. Avner was one of the few who were willing to risk their lives, in order to establish some form of dialogue in the midst of the raging violence of the second Intifada. 

Ever since, Avner has been a key member in Combatants for Peace, serving as a member of the movement's steering committee. In addition, he was in charge of the movement's international relations up until recently. In late 2008 he established and led a new branch of Combatants for Peace in the Jerusalem-Ramallah area. In 2009, Avner served as the general coordinator of the Israeli side in CFP, and in that capacity made a significant contribution to the expansion of the movement.

As a prominent member of CFP, Avner has given dozens of talks in schools, public venues and private homes in Israeli and Palestinian communities, sharing with the listeners his experience of transformation from a combatant to an activist in a non-violent movement. Avner has also played a leading role in promoting joint community projects. One such project was the construction of an ecological irrigation system near the village of Wallaje, in southern Jerusalem. In all his undertakings, Avner has been extremely resourceful, creative, and daring, demonstrating his leadership and commitment on countless occasions. In 2009-2010, he is in the United States through a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Washington, to continue his research in Middle Eastern history.

Bassam Aramin, 42, grew up in the Palestinian village of Sa’ir, not far from Hebron. As a youth Mr. Aramin spent almost ten years in an Israeli jail for his involvement in a group that staged an attack on an Israeli military patrol. It was in prison that he began to consider non-violence as a course of action and upon his release from prison in 1994 he became involved in several peace initiatives. In 2005, Bassam helped create Combatants for Peace and was part of its leadership ever since, serving as a member of the steering committee, leading various projects, and becoming the leading Palestinian speaker of the movement. He has taken part in more than a hundred in-house meetings, lectures and panels in Israel, and dozens of equivalent events in the Palestinian territories and overseas. In all his talks Bassam displayed an astonishing ability to communicate his experiences and thoughts across deep cultural and political divides, and generate empathy, even sympathy, even within the most hostile audiences.

In January 2007, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers as she was leaving her school in the village of Anata. Grief-stricken as he was, Bassam chose nevertheless to cling to his belief in non-violence. Rather than revenge, Bassam said time and again, he wanted to prevent the death of more children, be they Israelis or Palestinians. Determined and courageous, he continues to lead Combatants for Peace, now as the general coordinator of the Palestinian side of the movement.  He is a director at the Palestine National Archives in Ramallah, and is enrolled in a Masters of Peace Studies Program at Bradford University in England.

About the Prize

The Institute of International Education (IIE) awards the Victor J. Goldberg IIE Prize for Peace in the Middle East annually to recognize outstanding work being conducted jointly by two individuals, one Arab and one Israeli, working together to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The two individuals whose work is judged to be most successful in bringing people together and breaking down the barriers of hatred toward "the other" share a $10,000 prize.

The Selection Committee for the Prize includes leading experts from academia, the non-profit sector, and government. Chaired by Thomas S. Johnson, the Chairman of IIE's Board of Trustees and retired Chairman and CEO of GreenPoint Financial Corporation, the committee includes: David Arnold, President of the American University in Cairo; Susan Berresford, Former president of the Ford Foundation; Peter Edelman, Co-Director of the Joint Degree in Law and Public Policy and Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and past Board President of the New Israel Fund; Kenton Keith, Senior Vice President, Meridian International Center, Former Ambassador to Qatar and Director of USIA's Office of North African, Near Eastern, and South Asian Affairs; Maisa Galal, Director of Human Resources, General Motors Egypt; and Harold Tanner, a New York investment banker and former president of the American Jewish Committee and head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Goldberg IIE Prize was first awarded in 2005 to professors Dan Bar-On and Sami Adwan, for their shared history project, "Learning Each Other's Historical Narrative". Subsequent winners included: Ibrahim Abu Shindi and Hadas Kaplan, for their Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa (2006); Amin Khalaf and Lee Gordon, founders of Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel (2007); Aziz Abu Sarah and Lily Jaffe (2008) of Family Forum/The Parents Circle, for conducting educational activities that draw on the experiences of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members to the violence in the region; and (2009) to Nimrod Goren, Director of the Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation, and Hakam Jadallah, Director of the Palestinian Youth Forum for Cooperation for their initiative, Fresh Start.

About the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Government and has provided approximately 300,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.  For more than 60 years, the Fulbright Program has been a uniquely effective, global and flexible form of public diplomacy, enabling students and scholars from diverse cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds to create ties of understanding and respect between the U.S. and other countries. It is managed and funded through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. In Israel, the program is administered by the United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF). In the U.S., IIE has been honored to assist the U.S. Department of State in administering the Fulbright Program since the program’s creation in 1946. 

About the International Visitors Leadership Program

The IVLP is managed and funded through the Office of International Visitors of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and was launched in 1940 to build mutual understanding between the United States and other nations through carefully designed professional visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders. The visits reflect the visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the U.S. Government. Each year over 4,500 IVLP participants from all over the world are selected by U.S. embassies to travel to the U.S. to meet and confer with their professional counterparts.  Through these encounters, they gain a greater understanding of the cultural and political influences in U.S. society and enjoy a firsthand experience of the U.S., its people and its culture. IIE staff in Washington DC, San Francisco, Denver and Houston work closely with the U.S. Department of State to arrange programs for thousands of distinguished IVLP participants annually who visit the United States under this program.

About Combatants for Peace

Combatants for Peace (CFP) was founded in 2005 by Palestinians and Israelis who had taken an active part in the cycle of violence in previous years and later on, decided to put down their arms and work together in an attempt to promote peace. CFP is a bi-national movement committed to non-violent activism that relies solely on the energy and time of its members. CFP activists act upon the belief that only by joining Israeli and Palestinian forces will it be possible to realize the movement’s vision, that is, the ending of Israeli occupation and the establishing an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel. By working jointly, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi’s words, CFP members try to “be the change they want to bring to the world.”

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