Haifa International Conference for a WMD-Free Middle East

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The first multinational conference on Israeli soil for the purpose of planning for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East was held December 5–6, 2013 in Haifa. On December 7, Arab group participants held a companion symposium in Ramallah, West Bank, to give Palestinians a greater voice and achieve a clearer view of group goals for a more peaceful region. This conference was organized in part out of concern about the lack of progress in official negotiations towards a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone.

This conference was formally entitled, "For a Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East". It 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. [1][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 Burg, 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 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 Organisation 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. 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 article 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[edit]

Israel is one of five 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.)

In October 2013 The Times of Israel discussed 'unconfirmed reports' of a meeting on this issue between Israel and Arab nations, but little was accomplished.[5]

If Israel won’t come to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel[edit]

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 Burg, 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.

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.[6]

Introductory remarks by Alfred 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.[7]

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. He expressed concern that the EU is increasing militarism while decreasing human services.[8]

On December 7, the conference moved to Ramallah to include Palestinians.


  1. ^ Ashkenazi, Eli (2013-12-06), "Israeli conference urges a Middle East without nuclear weapons", Haaretz, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  2. ^ Schenker, Hillel (2013-12-08), "Seriously considering a weapons of mass destruction free zone", The Times of Israel, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  3. ^ Jerusalem (2000-02-04), "Knesset Openly Debates Nuclear Program for the First Time", JWeekly.com, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  4. ^ Haber, Odile Hugonot (2013-12-07), Haifa International Conference Recap, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  5. ^ Berrman, Lazer (2013-10-31), "Israel reported to discuss joining nuke-free Mideast conference", The Times of Israel, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  6. ^ Hoffman, Madelyn (2013-12-17), "If Israel Won't Come to Helsinki, Helsinki Will Come to Israel", Peace Blog, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  7. ^ Marder, Alfred L. (2013-12-05), Remarks for Haifa International Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (PDF), International Association of Peace Messenger Cities, retrieved 2014-02-09 
  8. ^ Koukoumas, Georgios (2013-12-06), The role of Europe in the face of Nuclearization of the Middle East and the Need for its Demilitarization, AKEL: Progressive party for the working people, retrieved 2014-02-09