Kahlil Gibran "Spirit of Humanity" 2009 Award for International Commitment presented by the Arab American Institute Foundation

Acceptance Speech Delivered by Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Mr. Jean AbiNader, (Chair)

The Honorable George Salem

Mr. James Zogby, (Executive Director)

Distinguished guests:

I express sincere appreciation to the Arab American Institute for selecting UNRWA to receive this year’s Kahlil Gibran Award for International Commitment. Thank you for doing us this great honour.

It is gratifying to receive this award on behalf of UNRWA and the 29,000 staff in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and in the occupied Palestinian territory. In his celebrated book, "The Prophet," Kahlil Gibran, whose words are timeless for their beauty and wisdom, observed that "Work is love made visible". If he were right – and I am certain that he was right – then this award acknowledges the devotion of UNRWA staff, the sanitation workers, administrators, teachers, social workers, doctors and nurses. I am proud to say that that passion for service, most recently demonstrated during the conflict in Gaza, has been a hallmark of UNRWA for sixty years. As long as our services are required, that passion will continue to be a part of who we are.

To my mind, there is a deeper dimension to this award, a dimension that transcends UNRWA and its staff. I refer to the community of 4.6 million Palestine refugees we serve and whose protection and care are the reason for UNRWA’s existence. We would be remiss if we failed to proclaim that this award also recognizes the trials Palestinians and Palestine refugees endure, the anguish of their dispossession and the legitimacy of their aspirations for a normal life of security and prosperity in a State they can call their own.

From nine years of living in Gaza and working in the Middle East, I have learned that hope is inextinguishable in the hearts and minds of Palestinians. For them, the aspirations I referred to are more than mere dreams. They are realistic and attainable. As I accept this award on behalf of UNRWA, I ask that we bear in mind the reality of hope for a better future for the Palestinians UNRWA serves. Let us do more than simply believe, and work to ensure that their trials are not be in vain. Let us re-dedicate ourselves, in our respective spheres of life, to bringing to life their belief in a better tomorrow.