Commemorating John Lennon's birthday, Yoko Ono yesterday (Oct. 9) invoked his song "Give Peace a Chance" to inaugurate a new peace prize.

Commemorating John Lennon's birthday, Yoko Ono yesterday (Oct. 9) invoked his song "Give Peace a Chance" to inaugurate a new peace prize. Before a crowd of 300 U.N. ambassadors, government officials, and artists, she presented $50,000 checks to the first winners, Palestinian artist Khalil Rabah and Israeli artist Zvi Goldstein, and thanked them "for being so creative and inspirational despite the intense political situation we all live in."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who congratulated Ono and the winners, said the prize showed that "peace is everybody's business -- not just an issue for governments."

"Individuals can make a difference, individuals can play a role, and she's out there making her difference and I think it's great," Annan said.

Ono said she was inspired to set up the LennonOno Grant for Peace after doing simultaneous art exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian town of Um Al-Fahem in 1997 and discovering that Palestinians and Israelis were "peace-loving people."

She chose Oct. 9, which would have been Lennon's 62nd birthday to inaugurate the award. Lennon was killed in 1980 outside his Manhattan apartment. Yesterday, his killer, Mark David Chapman, was denied parole yesterday for a second time, a coincidence of timing that Ono called "uncanny."

"John was a man of peace, and he was always working for it -- and he's still working for it, I think, through his songs and his statements. And I just wanted to honor that, and to remind people of what he was," Ono said before the awards ceremony. She said she didn't expect the first award to solve the Mideast problems but "I think maybe it will somehow add to taking the situation in a more positive direction."

Goldstein, an award-winning artist who lives in Jerusalem, accepted his prize "in memory of all those who died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Rabah, who lives and works in Ramallah and co-founded the first Palestinian institution dedicated to contemporary art, said it was very important "to continue this spirit of the possibility of peace."

Ono said the award will continue to honor artists. "Each time I would like to find a place that the healing is most needed," she said.

"More than ever," she told the crowd at the awards ceremony at the United Nations, "we now need to come together and acknowledge and celebrate what we share: the gift of life and joy of being. Imagine all the people living life in peace.

"Give peace a chance! Give peace a chance! Give peace a chance!," Ono said, as the crowd burst into loud applause.


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