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You are here: Profiles in Hate Political Figures Rifat Odeh Kassis uses his position as president of the “Defence for Children International”(DCI) to delegitimize Israel

Rifat Odeh Kassis uses his position as president of the “Defence for Children International”(DCI) to delegitimize Israel


Rifat Odeh Kassis in 1992 founded the Palestinian section of the international child rights organization, Defence for Children International (DCI). Far from confining itself to the objectives of its mission statement “Promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),” Kassis uses DCI-Pal to advance a radical anti-Israel agenda through its support for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction campaigns and in lobbying foreign governments and organizations against Israel.

Rifat Odeh Kassis became President of the entire international movement in 2005 and was re-elected in October 2008. DCI is a non-governmental organization set up in 1979 for promoting and protecting the rights of the child, as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It currently has 48 national sections and associated members and consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNICEF, UNESCO and the Council of Europe.

The Palestinian branch (DCI-PAL) run by Kassis concentrates on anti-Israel activities: it supported the ‘right of return‘ of Palestinian refugees and lobbied the UNHRC to endorse the Goldstone Report. It accused Israel of “deliberate targeting of civilians” in Lebanon, “terrorizing the civilian population” in Gaza, and “collective punishment,” and referred to the Gaza conflict as Israel’s “illegal act of aggression.” It also supported the ‘Freedom flotillas’ and continues to promote the libel of a ‘Jenin massacre’ on its website.

DCI-PAL received financial support from the EU through a €600,000 grant (March 2009 - March 2012) for a project entitled “Promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian children affected by armed conflict and occupation.” The NGO also received $639,000 in 2010-2012 from NDC (joint funds from Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, and Netherlands), and £12,500 from the UK. In 2009-2011, the Swedish government provided 459,000 SEK via Save the Children Sweden.

After Operation Cast Lead, DCI-Pal on April 14, 2010 published a list alleging that 352 children died “as a direct result of Israel's military offensive” in the Gaza war between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. Some of the individuals on DCI-PS’ list, such as Ibrahim Mostafa Fraih Sa’id and Ibrahim Abed al-Rahim Rajab Suliman, were identified by B’Tselem and PCHR as combatants.

In September 2009, DCI-Palestine published a report titled “Bearing the Brunt Again – Child Rights Violations during Operation Cast Lead.” It described what it called “child rights violations” perpetrated by the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead including: unlawful killing and maiming, the destruction of schools, homes and life-sustaining infrastructure such as water and sanitation networks, the use of children as human shields, and the arbitrary detention of children.

In August 2011, DCI-Palestine released a report: Voices from East Jerusalem: The Situation facing Palestinian Children. Through the voices of only 15 children and three mothers, the report claims to describe the hardships they face living under prolonged military occupation.

In a city recognized for its peaceful integration of Jew and Arabs, Kassis found three issues: 1) House demolitions – that homes are at “risk” of because they do not comply with zoning requirements. 2) Settler violence – that Palestinian children are injured presumably by Jews in East Jerusalem. 3) Arrest and detention – that criminal files are opened against children for throwing stones.

Rifat Odeh Kassis is a Palestinian Christian who was born in Beit Sahour, in the West Bank. He is a member of the Lutheran community and is a member of its Church Council. Besides his activities with Defence for Children International, Rifat Odeh Kassis is active in a number of other human rights and Christian organizations (some of which he founded).

Rifat Odeh Kassis has been associated with members and activities of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group. The PFLP is a Palestinian Marxist-Leninist organization founded in 1967, led by Dr. George Habash, a Palestinian Christian, and with a high Arab Christian involvement. DCI-PS’s board of directors includes Shahwan Jabarin who has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan on account of his alleged ties to the PFLP terror group. Kassis is also on the Board of Directors of The Alternative Information Center (AIC), which also has links to the PFLP.

He is a co founder of the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) in 1995, a Palestinian NGO specializing in politically oriented tours and pilgrimages. Many International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers use this company’s services to get to Israel. The ISM, founded in 2001, is a well-organized movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel by spreading anti-Israel propaganda and recruiting activists to engage in confrontational tactics such as obstructing the activities of the Israeli military.

ISM's ideology centers on the notion that direct action is the most effective means of opposing Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Though ISM claims to promote only nonviolent means of resistance, it voices support for others who engage in armed resistance against Israel.

In 1995 he helped to establish a rehabilitation program in Chechnya for children who had been injured and traumatized in the war. In 1996 he left to work in Central Asia for several years, helping to develop the NGO sector there. In September 2000 he returned to become the Executive Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA. During the second Intifada, he founded the "Keep Hope Alive Campaign" and founded and ran the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Desk.

He was a member of Inter-Church Cooperation Organisation (ICCO) International Advisory Group, the Netherlands from 2002 till 2009. He was also member of the Advisory Group of Dan Church Aid- Denmark from 2000 till 2008.

In 2003, he co-founded the Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI), a network advocating on ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Syrian Golan heights. In 2004 he co-founded the Palestinian National Coalition for Christian Organizations in Palestine (PNCCO), a network of several Christian related organizations who fight against “the Israeli occupation to their land.”

In 2005 he joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva to be the International Program Coordinator and Project Manager for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), an organization that focuses intense attention on Israeli policies in the West Bank without calling attention to the misdeeds of Palestinians. Currently he is the Special Adviser to the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches on the Middle East.

Since September 2007 he is a Consultant at Dar Annadwa, the International Center of Bethlehem (ICB). In January 2008 he became a member of the Board of Directors of The Alternative Information Center, (AIC). The AIC funded by several European bodies including Christian Aid and the Irish government, has a virulently anti-Israeli agenda including activism in the BDS movement. In March 2008 together with others he established “Badayl/Alternatives” an international consulting agency.

He is the author of several articles, study papers and researches and in 2006 he published his first book, Palestine: A Bleeding Wound in the World’s Conscience (Ramallah: Bailasan). The book describes the Palestinian “everlasting struggle” for self determination in face of the arrogance of power. In 2008, together with Mitri Raheb he published his second book Christian Community, facts, figures and trends.

In 2011, he published his third book, "Kairos for Palestine" (Ramallah: Badayl/Alternatives). In this book, Kassis describes his personal struggle as Palestinian families experienced defeats and losses. He attempts to explain the situation of Arab Christians in general and Palestinian Christians in particular as an important layer of the Arab nations’ heritage, concentrating both on their realities and their dreams.

In good Marxist fashion, the book deals with the hegemonic role of the United States and the various forces of resistance in the Middle East, both secular and religious, as counter-players in the game of hegemony. Kassis gives his experience with the Kairos Palestine Initiative and the various tactics used currently in non-violent resistance, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).

In 2011, Kassis took public objection to the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the highest-ranking bishop in the Anglican Church. William had expressed anxiety regarding the future of Christians in the Middle East. Kassis also used the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty to attack the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal.

Possibly Kassis’s most effective anti-Israel activity has been his actions as coordinator and spokesperson of the notorious Kairos Document. The Kairos Palestine Document was signed by 9 Christian clergymen and 6 lay people, meeting in Bethlehem on December 11, 2009, among them Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Kassis explains Kairos in the context of the situation of Christians both in Palestine and the broader Arab world, their realities and their dreams. “A Moment of Truth,” as the Kairos document is officially known. It declares that "the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God", distorting "the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living...

It advocates BDS targeting Israel, noting that “These advocacy campaigns must be carried out with courage, openly sincerely proclaiming that their object is not revenge but rather to put an end to the existing evil.” It calls on churches and Christians all over the world to consider it and adopt it and to call for the boycott of Israel.

The document reflects supersessionist theology, exploits related themes to demonize Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel, and ignores the extreme harassment and violence committed by Palestinians against Christians. Supersessionism is the traditional Christian belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism, and therefore that Jews who deny that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah fall short of their calling as God's Chosen people.

The choice of the word Kairos comes from the Kairos Document issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid. The South African document served as an example for similarly critical writing at decisive moments in several other countries and contexts (Latin America, Europe, Zimbabwe, India, etc.).

The World Council of Churches urged member churches to “study and disseminate the Kairos Palestine document, and to listen and concretely respond to the Palestinian Christian aspirations and calls expressed in this document."

Surprisingly, not all of Israel’s security people seem to be fully aware of the activities of Rifat Odeh Kassis. For instance, IDF Spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, who heads the IDF’s Foreign Press Branch, spoke at the February 2012 Annual Leadership Mission in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and described DCI as “an organization which popped up out of nowhere two years ago and regularly produces reports which claim that IDF soldiers molest children in Judea and Samaria.” She asked for an inquiry “to see who is behind these human rights groups.” However, Kasis founded DCI-PAL in 1992, as the Palestinian section of the established child rights organization DCI, and has made no attempt to hide his activities though concealing his associations with the terrorist PFLP.

Further Reading:

“Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 Conference” is a Christian attack against the idea of a Jewish homeland

Anti-Israel Palestinian Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem to receive German Media Prize

Lisa Taraki: The Afghan-American academic at Birzeit University who co-founded the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)

Susan Abulhawa: A charming star performer for the propagation of hate against Jews and Israel

Hind Awwad: Palestinian boycott coordinator provides a Sweet Face for Hatred against Israel