UNESCO prize for peace education awarded to Fr. Emil Shufani (Israel)Paris – UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura has awarded the Organization’s 2003 Prize for Peace Education to Father Emil Shufani, the Arab-Israeli principal of the Greek-Catholic St Joseph’s College, in Nazareth, on the recommendation of the prize’s international jury.
The jury, which met on May 26 and 27 declared that: “his personal attitude and action have always been marked by dialogue, peace and tolerance, and his constant desire to bring Arabs and Jews together.”
Fr. Shufani, born in 1947, conceived project in 1988 for Education for peace, democracy and coexistence, which he implemented at his school, where he has been the principal since 1976. He has tried to bring Arabs and Jews together, for example, by twinning St Joseph’s with the Jewish Lyada School in Jerusalem and organizing pupil exchanges between them. He believes that cultural and religious diversity, far from being an obstacle, should be considered a way to peace. Fr. Shufani’s thoughts and work are broadly outlined in a compilation of interviews published in France in two volumes, The Curé of Nazareth (1998) and Comme un veilleur attend la paix (2002).
At the end of 2002, he launched a project called Memory for Peace in Israel and France which involved a joint Jewish-Arab pilgrimage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. At the launch he said: “I appeal to my Arab brothers to join me so we can together make a strong, free and very bold gesture. At the place that incarnates the atrocity of genocide, Auschwitz-Birkenau, we will show our brotherhood towards the millions of victims by proclaiming our solidarity with their sons and daughters. (…) This act of remembrance will indicate our deep rejection of such inhuman behaviour and our ability to understand the wounds of others. (…) I call on my brother Jews to join this march, which will be preceded by meetings and discussions. I appeal to my Jewish and Arab brothers to do all they can before, during and after this joint action, to give it its full meaning as a first step towards building confidence in each other.”
The jury also awarded an Honourable Mention to Yolande Mukagasana, a Rwandan-Belgian woman born in Rwanda in 1954. During the 1994 genocide, Mukagasana lost her husband and three children and saw the health centre she had founded destroyed. She went on to build an orphanage and adopted 17 children. Since 1995, she has been a refugee in Belgium, where in 1999 she set up Nyarimambo Point d’Appui, a foundation for remembrance of the Rwanda genocide and for reconstruction, which tries to raise the public’s (especially young people’s) awareness of the tragedy, using literature, theatre and lectures. An exhibition called Les blessures du silence (The Wounds of Silence) has been shown in schools in Rwanda, Canada and many European countries.
Members of the Prize jury were Lucy Smith (Norway), Arjun Appadurai (India), Mohammed Arkoun (Algeria), Javier Perez de Cuellar (Peru) and Cassam Uteem (Mauritius).
Funded by the Nippon Foundation, the $30,000 UNESCO Prize for Peace Education has been warded since 1981 to encourage efforts to raise public awareness and convince people of the need for peace. Last year, it went to the City Montessori School (India). Winners in previous years include the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace in Givat Haviva (Israel), Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng (Uganda), the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Argentina), Prayudh Payutto (Thailand), Mother Teresa (India), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Guatemala) and Paulo Freire (Brazil).
The prize will be presented to the winners on September 8 at UNESCO Headquarters.