10/10/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
Commemorating what would have been John Lennon's 62nd birthday, Yoko Ono on Wednesday invoked his song "Give Peace a Chance" to initiate a new peace prize, the Associated Press reports.
Speaking before a crowd of 300 United Nations ambassadors, government officials and artists at U.N. headquarters in New York, Ono, 69, presented $50,000 checks to the obviously symbolic first winners: Palestinian artist Khalil Rabah and Israeli artist Zvi Goldstein.
She also thanked them "for being so creative and inspirational despite the intense political situation we all live in."
Congratulating Ono and the winners, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed out that the prizes demonstrated that "peace is everybody's business -- not just an issue for governments."
Ono said she was inspired to set up the LennonOno Grant for Peace in 1997, after having simultaneous art exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian town of Um Al-Fahem. She discovered then, she said, that Palestinians and Israelis are "peace-loving people."
Lennon was killed in 1980 outside the couple's Manhattan apartment. By some eerie coincidence, his killer, Mark David Chapman, was denied parole on Wednesday for a second time. The New York state parole board said that the timing was unintentional, while Ono, speaking to AP, called it "uncanny."