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 a
nd Palestinians, we will be here.