Haifa International Conference For A WMD-Free Middle East

The first international anti-nuclear, anti-WMD conference on Israeli soil occurred December 5 and 6, 2013 in Haifa. It was organized in response to seemingly interminable delays in scheduling an official governmental conference on this topic called for by resolutions of the UN General Assembly and a Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Evaluation Conference.

Many in the U S Congress are following Israel’s lead in strongly opposing U S-Iran nuclear talks Israel not only boasts one of the best equipped armies in the world, it also has a nuclear reactor at Dimona quite capable of starting a nuclear holocaust <!-- @page { margin: 1in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; direction: ltr; color: #000000; widows: 2; orphans: 2 } P.western { font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; font-size: 11pt; so-language: en-US } P.cjk { font-family: "Times New Roman", serif; font-size: 11pt; so-language: zh-CN } P.ctl { font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; font-size: 11pt; so-language: ar-SA } P.sdendnote-western { margin-left: 0.24in; text-indent: -0.24in; margin-bottom: 0in; direction: inherit; font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; font-size: 10pt; so-language: en-US; widows: 0; orphans: 0 } P.sdendnote-cjk { margin-left: 0.24in; text-indent: -0.24in; margin-bottom: 0in; direction: inherit; font-family: "Times New Roman", serif; font-size: 10pt; so-language: zh-CN; widows: 0; orphans: 0 } P.sdendnote-ctl { margin-left: 0.24in; text-indent: -0.24in; margin-bottom: 0in; direction: inherit; font-family: "Arial", sans-serif; font-size: 10pt; so-language: ar-SA; widows: 0; orphans: 0 } A:link { color: #0000ff } A:visited { color: #800080 } A.sdfootnoteanc { font-size: 57% } -->

Haifa International Conference For A WMD-FreeMiddle East

Betsy Wolf-Graves


Haifa was the unlikely setting for the first multinational conference on Israeli soil for the purpose of planning for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The conference was held on December 5-6, 2013. On December 7, Arab group participants held a companion symposium in Ramallah, Occupied West Bank, to give Palestinians a greater voice and achieve a clearer view of group goals for a more peaceful region.

Formally entitled, "For a Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East" the significance of this conference cannot be overemphasized. This was the first time that these issues were publicly discussed in Israel by men and women from various countries who want a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. Coverage of the proceedings by news sources in Israel appears to have been minimal. I found the conference covered in only two English language publications: Haaretz1 and Times of Israel.2

This was not the first time Israel’s nuclear capability had been discussed in Israel. In 2000 two Knesset members, Issam Makhoul and Avraham Berg, the co-conveners of the current conference, asked for a discussion by Knesset members of Israel’s Dimona reactor. In response, an estimated two dozen members walked out. The remaining members ultimately engaged in a shouting match. This first venture to publicize Dimona lasted about one hour. Thirteen years later, the same intrepid anti-nuclear activists successfully convened a conference on Israeli soil.3

Adding to the timeliness of such a conference were current disturbances in the region. Syria was in the process of eliminating its stockpile of chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN, even as it remained entangled in a deadly civil war; In addition, Iran’s nuclear research activities were of great concern and suspicion by other nuclear powers. All the involved parties were currently engaged in intense negotiations over them. Adding to the tension was Israel’s rejection of negotiation in favor of a more aggressive response.

The remainder of this paper covers two important areas: (1) How Israel’s positions impact U S politics. (2); Concerns expressed by selected delegates to the conference. (Reports of attendees, like Odile Hugonot Haber,4 provide a description of the overall conference.)

Political, Military and Moral Issues

The United States has long had a partnering relationship with Israel. Even when other states have condemned Israel’s aggressive actions, Israel has been buffered by the United States.

Recent issues concerning Iran reveal a clash between the U S and Israel. The Obama administration has chosen talks as the preferred way to discuss Iran’s nuclear activities. Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, rejects negotiations in favor of force.

This schism is reflected in the US Congress. Some are willing to support Obama’s position while others loudly reject it in favor of Israel. The U S media is mainly focusing on hawks in Congress who want to increase sanctions against Iran while giving little play to the voices supporting nuclear talks between the U S and Iran. For example, On July 31, 2013 the House passed a bill sanctioning Iran by a count of 400 to 20.5

This was an apparent attempt to scuttle Obama’s stated goal of achieving a negotiated settlement in conjunction with allied world powers. On November 23, 2013 the news media announced that Iran had agreed to comply with certain measures regarding its nuclear activities. The continuing push by some in Congress to increase sanctions in defiance of the agreement pleased at least one head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu.6 Congressional solicitousness appears to have been unnecessary. Israel not only boasts one of the best equipped armies in the world, it also has a nuclear reactor at Dimona quite capable of starting a nuclear holocaust.

Israelis one of four countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. (The other four are India, Pakistan, North Korea, and South Sudan.) It is one of six UN states not ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention. (The other five are Angola, Burma, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan.)7 Israel has always been protective of its nuclear reactor. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency has orders not to inspect it. Israel’s development of its nuclear capability has been a stealth operation. Throughout the 1950’s Israel had surreptitiously collected needed materials, found appropriate personnel and finally began construction in 1958. US intelligence formally learned of Israel’s building a nuclear site in “the early sixties”.8

Israel’s nuclear reactor is the elephant in the room. Everyone knows about it but no one will talk about it. If Israel’s Arab neighbors attempt to force the subject they risk Israel withdrawing from the talks. Under the current situation any meeting between the Arab states and Israel will attempt to bypass Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Recently, Israel has been obliged to show some interest in participating in anti-WMD talks. News accounts note that the Israeli and Arab groups did meet but that, other than having a pleasant meeting, little was accomplished.9

Promoting a Nuclear Free Zone; Joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty; Banning Chemical Weapons

There is broad international support, including the peoples of the Middle East and progressive forces inside Israel, for the immediate implementation of the UN general assembly resolution from May 2010. That resolution called for holding an international conference in Helsinki under the auspices of the UN to promote the creation of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. This plan proposed that all the countries of the region join both the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the treaty on the banning of chemical weapons. Israel has been cool to these recommendations. When such a meeting was planned for some time in December, 2012, in Helsinki, Israel withdrew. Israel’s action was supported by the United States and criticized by the Arab participants. If all the states in the region were not going to participate there was no option but to cancel the Helsinki meeting. This was a disappointment to the Arab states.

Another Helsinki meeting of various international NGO’s was held in its place. It was there that Issm Makhoul, an Arab Palestinian and a former Knesset member, announced that he was determined to organize an anti-nuclear, anti-chemical weapons conference in Israel. "If Israel won’t come to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel.”

The time was ripe for coming together over weapons of mass destruction. In addition to the furor over Iran’s nuclear activities, Syria had agreed to join the 189 members of the Chemical Weapons Convention after chemical weapons, of unknown origin, were used in its ongoing civil war.

Under the joint leadership of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN, the destroyed chemical weapons would be entirely removed from Syria.10

If Israel won’t come to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel

Against this backdrop long-time non-proliferation activists arranged for an international conference: "For a Middle East Free of Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction". The primary conveners were Avraham Berg, author, former speaker of the Knesset who had once headed the Jewish Agency, and Issam Makhoul, former Arab member of Knesset, a long time anti-nuclear activist, currently with the Emile Tourma Institute for Research. (These are the same two who, thirteen years earlier, had introduced the subject of nuclear weapons in the Knesset.) Initially they had hoped to attract international celebrities as Archbishop Tutu, Noam Chomsky and President Carter. Those who did accept invitations to participate are less well known but all have been activists in the area of non-proliferation. Jackie Cabasso, from the San Francisco Bay area was invited to be on the conference advisory board. She is a member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation and a long-time activist for the abolition of nuclear weapons. She is a well-informed critic the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Also attending was WILPF member Odile Hugonot Haber, co-chair of WILPF’s Mid-East Committee.

Approximately 100 persons from fourteen countries attended the Conference. Delegates came from Israel, Palestine, Belgium, France, Senegal, the Congo, Germany, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Japan and the United States. This included 4 current members and 4 former members of the Israeli Knesset. They were joined by elected officials from progressive political parties in Europe.11

Introductory remarks by Andrew Marder, Honorary President of International Association of Peace Messenger Cities, set the tone of concerns about the relationship of the Middle East to the most powerful nations, particularly the United States. Mr Marder observed that the American public has forced the administration to choose negotiation with Iran, moving away from military attacks.12

Prof. Tadatoshi Akiba, a former mayor of Hiroshima and a founding member of Mayors for Peace Now, urged a 2020 deadline for world nuclear disarmament. He added that no one needed to suffer as his countrymen had suffered. He added that governments had not met expectations and that civil-society groups must help governments achieve the goal.

From the tiny island of Cyprus, Georgios Koukoumas, The Progressive Party of the Working People, expressed distrust of the current nuclear powers: the European Union, the United States, and Israel. He noted that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes also presents a great threat, as in Fukushima, Japan. He expressed concern that a Middle East free of WMD could be threatened by the current nuclear powers.

His main focus was the EU and NATO. He observed that 37% of his country, is occupied by Turkey where there are two British military bases and a spy/surveillance system and expressed concern that the EU is increasing militarism, at the cost of decreased human services.13 On December 7, the conference moved to Ramallah in order to include Palestinians.

Although the conference attracted a relatively small number, it was a radical event, bringing out discussion of weapons of mass destruction in Israel, where such discussions have actively been discouraged. Mordechai Vanunu has been the most famous victim of Israel’s obsessive efforts to keep its nuclear capabilities secret. He is the former nuclear technician who, because of his opposition to nuclear weapons, in 1986 revealed to the British press details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, He has been called by Daniel Ellsberg, “the preeminent hero of the nuclear era”.14

In a personal communication Odile Hugonot Haber reports that Hanan Awwad and other Palestinian leaders were not pleased that the program was presented in Ramallah. She notes that this Palestinian leadership is adverse to any interactions that would normalize relations with Israel which would be related to the Boycott, Divest, Sanction campaign.

Afterward: Call to Action

The Haifa International Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction is asking people to sign an online petition with change.org, "Petitioning To the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:  In the name of peace we demand the convening of the postponed Helsinki Conference for a Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East." (http://www.change.org/petitions/to-the-president-of-the-general-assembly-of-the-united-nations-and-secretary-general-ban-ki-moon-in-the-name-of-peace-we-demand-the-convening-of-the-postponed-helsinki-conference-for-a-nuclear-weapons-and-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone-in-the--2)

About the Author

Betsy Wolf-Graves lives in San José, California and has been a long-time licensed clinical social worker. She is a member of the Women’s International League for Peace. She has been a serious student of events in Israel and Palestine, developing presentations on subjects such as the issue of water under Israeli occupation and writing on events impacting Palestinians, Her other passion is working to make the local criminal-justice system more responsive to the community through her connection with some impressive local action groups.

Copyright 2014 Betsy Wolf-Graves under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license.

1Eli Ashkenazi (2013-12-06) “Israeli conference urges a Middle East without nuclear weapons”, Haaretz (www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.562051).

2Hillel Schenker, (2013-12-06) “Seriously considering a weapons of mass destruction free zone”, Times of Israel, 2013-12-08 (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/seriously-considering-a-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone-in-the-middle-east/).

3Jerusalem (2000-2-4) “Knesset Openly Debates Nuclear Program for the First Time” J Weekly


4Odile Hugonat Haber (2013-12-7) “Haifa International Conference Recap” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (http://wilpfus.org/news/updates/haifa-international-conference-recap)

5Lesley Wroughton and Fredrik Dahl. (2013-11-8), “Iran Nuclear Deal Not Sealed Yet” Reuters, Huffington Post, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/john-kerry-iran-nuclear-deal_n_4239958.html)

6Ann Gearan and Joby Warrick (2013-11-23)”Iran, World Powers Reach Historic Nuclear Deal”, Washington Post, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/kerry-in-geneva-raising-hopes-for-historic-nuclear-deal-with-iran/2013/11/) Greg Sargant, (2013-12-10) “Senate Dems Close in on Sanctions”, Washington Post, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2013/12/10/senate-dems-close-in-on-iran-sanctions-bill/)

72014 Report “Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons” http://www.opcw.org/about-opcw/non-member-states/

8Wikipedia (accessed 2014-1-12) “Nuclear Weapons and Israel” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_and_Israel). Wikipedia (accessed 2014-1-10), “List of Parties to the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Treaty_on_the_Non-Proliferation_of_Nuclear_Weapons.

9Lazer Berrman (2013-10-31) “Israel Reported to Discuss a Nuke Free Mideast” The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-reported-to-discuss-joining-nuke-free-mideast-conference/

10Rick Gladstone (2013-12-4) “UN Official Details Plans for Removing Syria’s Chemical Arms” The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/world/middleeast/un-official-details-plans-for-syrian-chemical-arsenal.html?_r=1&)

11Madelyn Hoffman (2013-12-10) “If Israel Won’t Come to Helsinki, Helsinki Will Come to Israel” Peace Blog (http://peaceblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/if-israel-wont-come-to-helsinki-helsinki-will-come-to-israel/)

12Alfred L. Marder (2013-12-5) “Remarks for Haifa International Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Conference Proceedings,(http://www.iapmc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/IAPMC-Haifa-Conference-2013-Remarks-Page-2.pdf)

13Georgios Koukoumas (2013-12-5) “The role of Europe in the face of Nuclearization of the Middle East and the Need for its Demilitarization” Conference Proceedings." (http://www.akel.org.cy/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=9377&tt=graphic&lang=l3#.UsjH1tKtguv)

14Wikipedia (accessed 1-19-2014) “Mordechai Vanunu”, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordechai_Vanunu)

e-mail:: betsy237@prodsyse.com homepage:: http://sanjosepeace.org/

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