Demolished Beit Arabiya, November 2012Beit Arabiya, located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem, is a living symbol of resistance to Occupation and the desire for justice and peace. As its name suggests, Beit Arabiya is a home belonging to Arabiya Shawamreh, her husband Salim and their seven children, a Palestinian family whose home has been demolished five times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by ICAHD’s Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists, before being demolished again this morning.
Beit Arabiya rebuilt for the sixth time, July 2012
UN Humanitarian Coordinator visit to Beit Arabiya, January 2012
Geneva Conventions Conference of Parties, April 2011
Demolishing Beit Arabiya, January 2012
As Long As Our Voice Is Needed
By Dr. Jeff Halper
Like many overtly political organizations in the age of NGOs (not to mention a critical, “radical” organization which can envision a single democratic state in Palestine/Israel), ICAHD has its dizzying ups-and-downs, sometimes at the same time. Thus, after Itay’s successful trip to the UK where he met with top political leaders, and my month-long tour of the US (with a speech in Paris on the way back) in which I met with activists from Portland (OR) to Portland (ME), we both returned to financial collapse, including eviction from our office, due to over-dependency on a few major donors who, if they withhold funding or delay it, endangers the very existence of a small (if important) organization like ICAHD. Though we are aware of the dangers of such dependency, we often have little choice given the limited pool of funders willing to step out and support such an outspoken group.
As a result, we are shifting back to our original financial base, you, the grassroots. True, we will not raise the large sums we have succeeded in raising in the past; with the regrettable departure of Itay and Michael, we will be just two and a half positions (Salim and I at full-time, Hibat half-time, together with our tour guides Chaska, Inbar, Ruth and Mohammad). But we intend to be “lean and mean” – even if no one can actually accuse the three of us of being “lean.” That means we will continue our resistance work on the ground (ICAHD has built 186 homes in the past 15 years, the vast majority still standing), we will still run our popular tours, we will endeavor to work as closely as we have with diplomats, journalists and activists, and we will continue to impart our analysis and work with our partner organizations. This integration of fund-raising with advocacy suits us better than applying to large and bureaucratic donors, since it builds our relationship with our activists even as we pursue our advocacy efforts.
And so…I took off on my Portland-to-Portland tour partly to reconnect with supporters and activists we have not met for a year or two, and partly to help reorganize ICAHD USA as both an effective advocacy and fund-raising arm of ICAHD under the leadership of Salena Tramel, helped in her fund-raising efforts by Ann Franklin. Beginning in Portland, Oregon, which has always been very supportive of our work, and speaking in a Jewish deli in Olympia, Washington, sponsored by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, I continued to Albuquerque, where I was the keynote speaker at a Sabeel Conference. It provided an opportunity to talk to some of our Palestinian counterparts about the difficulties of moving from a two-state to a one-state solution.
Then off to New York City where, over a week, I met with a large number of potential donors, introduced Salena to some key people and helped lay the foundations for ICAHD USA’s move there – and I attended the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. Philadelphia, where I spoke at several universities and returned to Mishkan Shalom synagogue where Salim and I first appeared more than a decade ago; Boston, where I spoke at the Harvard Law School and Tufts University, plus participated in several successful house-parties for ICAHD; and finally Portland, Maine, where I met with possible funders. I wish I could mention all the people who hosted me and worked so hard to make my trip successful; you know who you are. On another level, I feel that we indeed began our strategic shift to grassroots fund-raising while sharing our analysis. (In Paris I spoke at the American Cathedral.)
I must also say that I am proud and grateful at how our supporters, and especially our ICAHD chapters in the US, UK, Norway, Finland, Poland and Australia, pulled together to support us in these difficult times. The solidarity our worldwide network displays has a lot to do with our successful and moving work camp this summer, when we joined to rebuild Beit Arabiya – which we have now lost once again. More on that and our plans for both Beit Arabiya and ICAHD in our next newsletter.
I cannot end this – obviously – without addressing Itay and Michael’s leaving us. Both performed key tasks – Itay as Co-Director, Michael as our Tour Coordinator – and both will be sorely missed. In his time with us, Itay indeed opened new arenas to ICAHD, especially in his field of expertise of international law and human rights. He directed an EU and UNDP funded program that determined precisely how Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem violates international law. He drafted and submitted key documents to UN Bodies in Geneva and New York: a report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on the rights to self-determination, adequate housing and security from displacement of Palestinians; and a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on Israel’s failure to comply with the Convention on Racial Discrimination, among other reports to the UN Special Committee on Israeli Practices, Human Rights Council, Economic-Social Council and the UN General Assembly.
Itay worked closely with both the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967 and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, taking them, as he did with many diplomats, parliamentary delegations, journalists and study groups, to site visits in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Itay played a key role in formulating their reports to the UN, and has appeared before the UN Human Rights Council on various occasions advocating for human rights, rule of law, and peace.
Itay also played an instrumental role in restructuring ICAHD’s operations in the US, forging there relationships between the local ICAHD staff and many UN permanent missions. He traveled extensively on ICAHD speaking tours, in conjunction with global civil society partners, and spoke in national parliaments, university campuses, and professional associations across Europe.
Throughout his work with us Itay displayed the utmost professionalism and competency, as well as friendliness and camaraderie. So, too, did Michael, who interfaced with thousands of people who took ICAHD tours over the past two years. Linking ICAHD to the young activist community in Israel, where he continues to be active in the social justice movement, Michael added greatly to our efforts to make ICAHD a welcoming, cooperative organization open to a great variety of activists. He will continue to be involved on our activities, especially in developing tours.
ICAHD, then, is alive and well and living….around the world. As long as we have something to say, as long as we can resist the Occupation, as long as you and we feel we have role to play in forging a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, we will be here.
ICAHD Fall Tour of the UK and Norway
Eighty people, many new to ICAHD UK, attended the conference in Leeds on Saturday 13 October, where they heard from special guest speakers Itay Epshtain, Co-Director ICAHD, and Stephen Wilkinson, Legal Advisor Diakonia.
After the conference, Epshtain participated in a variety of meetings with faith groups, NGOs, and the Jewish community. Several meetings were also held with parliamentarians and their aids. Epshtain and ICAHD UK Director briefed the Minister for International Development Alan Duncan, and Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt.
The Briefing focused on Israel’s policies and practices of demolition, displacement and settlement expansion, part and parcel of prolonged occupation, and called the UK government to hold Israeli officials accountable. ICAHD’s Epshtain pointed at the fleeting prospects for a just two-state solution, a statement echoed in a statement made by Minister Burt following the meeting: “The UK has been clear that Israeli settlements are illegal and undermine the possibility of a two state solution. It is deeply worrying that despite repeatedly raising our concerns, Israel continues to press ahead with plans to expand them.”
Following his time in the UK, Epshtain visited with ICAHD Norway, headquartered in Tromso. While in Tromso he met with the Mayor, Jens Johan Hjort, and spoke at various seminars in conjunction with the University of Tromso and the UN Association.
Epshtain and ICAHD Norway Director Silje Ryvold
UN General Assembly Upholds Self-Determination, Accountability for International Crimes
Following a High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Rule of Law, the General Assembly adopted a Deceleration upholding the right to self-determination, and accountability for violations of international law.
The Declaration adopted by consensus following the September 24 High-Level Meeting, attended by ICAHD Co-Director Itay Epshtain and ICAHD USA Director Salena Tramel, calls on States to “uphold the resolution of disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, the right to self-determination of peoples which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation […] and the fulfillment in good faith of the obligations assumed in accordance with the Charter.”
The General Assembly further declared that “impunity is not tolerated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity or for violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights law, and that such violations are properly investigated and appropriately sanctioned, including by bringing the perpetrators of any crimes to justice, through domestic mechanisms or, where appropriate, regional or international mechanisms, in accordance with international law.”
Concluding a week long advocacy effort at the UN General Assembly, ICAHD’s Epshtain and Tramel met with UN Member States permanent missions to the UN, and partner NGOs and civil society organizations. The advocacy efforts were underlined by a Side Event titled “Rule of Law, Prolonged Occupation, and Self-Determination: The Case of the Palestinian People under Israeli Rule”. The Side Event was well attended by state delegations, UN staff, and members of civil society; and explored the legal nature, features, and impact of prolonged occupation. Permanent missions were on this occasion presented with a model GA Resolution, calling the International Court of Justice to explore the legal consequences arising from prolonged Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem, and prevalent Israeli policies and practices in the aforementioned territory, considering the fact that international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, does not distinguish temporary and legal occupation, from prolonged and possibly illegal occupation.
ICAHD to Brief International Fact-Finding Mission on Settlements
Last month ICAHD submitted information to the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate and report on the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people. ICAHD Co-Director Itay Epshtain will brief the Mission in Amman Jordan next week, to highlight the political program behind Israel’s settlement policies, and its ramifications under international law.
The submission focuses on Israel’s protracted failure to comply with fundamental principles of rule of law and human rights obligations related to (i) its occupation of the Palestinian territory, (ii) repercussions of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people stemming from illegal settlement expansion, and (iii) Israel’s responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill Palestinians’ human rights, in accordance with international law and standards. The submission highlights the connection between the wanton destruction of property, displacement of Palestinians’, land expropriation and settlement expansion, set against the background of prolonged occupation and persistent denial of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
In March 2012 the Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution entitled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan” by which the Council decided to “dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”
In July 2012, the President of the Human Rights Council appointed the following as members of the international fact-finding mission (FFM): Ms. Christine Chanet (chair), Judge of the Court of Cassation of France and member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee; Ms. Unity Dow, Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists and practicing lawyer in Bostwana, and Ms. Asma Jahangir, leading Pakistani human rights lawyer and Trustee of the Board of the UN Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. The FFM is expected to report to the Human Rights Council in March 2013.
Farewell from Itay Epshtain
Dear friends of ICAHD,
I wish to share with you that my term as ICAHD Co-Director will unfortunately come to an end in the next few weeks, due to funding difficulties. If it was not for the financial hardships we face, necessitating considerable downsizing, I would have stayed with ICAHD for many years on.
In the passing two years I had the privilege of spearheading ICAHD’s strategic human rights litigation efforts, and serving as a point of contact to governments, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs. In my capacity I have appeared before various UN bodies, including Treaty Bodies, the Human Rights Council, and the General Assembly. I delighted at the opportunity to brief diplomatic missions, parliamentary delegations, and other officials, either visiting or in their respective capitals, and truly believe we had an impact on promoting human rights, justice and peace in our part of the world. There was also the more mundane fundraising, financial stewardship and administration, but I never lost sight of the purpose that brought us all together, to end the occupation of Palestinian territory, subjection and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people.
As I leave ICAHD, I’m confident that my colleagues will remain committed and steadfast in their pursuit of justice and peace, and will carry on relentlessly advocating for an end to occupation, and the realization of human rights for all, Israeli and Palestinian alike.
I wish to thank each and every one of you for your support and camaraderie throughout my time with ICAHD.
In solidarity, Itay