ACT Alliance Statement: dismayed by US declaration on Israeli settlements

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ACT Alliance is dismayed by the latest declaration of the US administration on the legality of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). 

On Monday November 18, 2019, the Trump’s administration has once more undermined decades of US foreign policy by declaring that the State Department is going back from the Hansell Memorandum, a department legal opinion from 1978 that viewed settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem,  as inconsistent with international law. The 1978 legal opinion issued during the Carter administration, stated that (Israeli)  “civilian settlements in those territories are inconsistent with international law.” 

The Trump administration’s move is politically dangerous, morally questionable and it de facto legitimises Israel’s ongoing displacement and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people.

The UN Security Council and UN General Assembly have repeatedly declared those settlements as illegal, notably through Resolution 2334 of the United Nations Security Council adopted on 23 December 2016. The resolution condemns illegal Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including annexed Jerusalem”. In its 2004 advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated that Israel’s transfer of its own population into occupied territory is in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) identifies such population transfer as a war crime.

This move  clearly constitutes a dramatic break with international law and poses a serious threat to an already fragile region and the peace process. 

Therefore, ACT Alliance, urges the US administration to reconsider its position and calls upon the international community to:
 
1. Reaffirm the internationally held position on the illegality of the Israeli settlements, and firmly reject the US position, identifying it as running counter to unified consensus under international law;
  
2. Strengthen support for all diplomatic and political efforts aimed at preserving the Palestinians’ rights and dignity, including by insisting on the inviolability of Palestinian territories and the continued rejection of the previous unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel;
 
3. Assumits international responsibility to protect Palestinians human rights and safetywhich have been compromised as a result of the US statement.

ACT Alliance co-organizes first formal Faith-Based Side Event at UN Commission on Population and Development

Protecting Bodies – Protecting Rights – Faith Communities and Leaders Enabling Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

ACT Alliance together with World Council of Churches, UNFPA and the government of Norway co-hosted this official Side Event of the United Nations 50th Commission on Population and Development (CPD 50) in New York on 4 April 2017.

After months of planning the day arrived. To our great joy – the room filled to capacity and people continued to come.  Well over 120 in total. Fortunately there was a good representation of youth in the crowd – so those who didn’t find seats, sat on the floor.

Here are some of my reflections on the event and its implications for ACT:

On matters of gender and sexuality, faith leaders and faith communities are deeply influential in shaping values, attitudes and practices. It is important that we use our faith resources wisely and in ways that affirm life, human dignity and human rights. We recognize that Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights encompasses issues that are highly sensitive for faith communities and that teachings and practices vary within and between religions.

A great success of this Side Event therefore was that we managed to gather different faith perspectives: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish; theologians, health workers and development practitioners. They helped us to understand some of our blind spots – and also offered very concrete examples of how faith leaders and communities can and do enable sexual and reproductive rights in many different contexts.

Here are some of the learnings and action points that emerged for moving forward:

  • Creating and nurturing spaces for dialogue and knowledge sharing are essential. Majority votes generally don’t work in faith settings and there is much to be gained from consensus –building.  As faith actors, we need to stop asking each other “what” we believe and start asking “why” we believe. Engaging in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights means grappling with difficult ethical dilemmas and sometimes choosing the greater good over lesser evils.  Moral discernment, critical thinking and willingness to listen to each other are key.
  • It is important to invest in theological reflection. Sometimes we need to go back to the scriptures and not just accept existing interpretations and practices. These practices are often intertwined with cultural practices that may be harmful and out-dated and have nothing to do with what is actually written in scripture.
  • Faith leaders and communities need to embrace human rights agendas as their own. Human dignity is the basis for human rights. Human dignity is central to our faiths.
  • A Christian perspective: Faith based organizations with an agenda for SRHR need to be proactively engaging in moral discernment and not remain comfortable. We need to call out faith leaders when they act in ways that put youth – and in particular girls at risk.
  • A Muslim perspective – Our faith leaders need to be in dialogue with their members and constituencies to better understand their issues and needs.
  • A Jewish perspective – We need to be careful of building fences around laws – and look deeper into the scriptures and how these apply to people’s lives.
  • Language matters.  The words used to name programs, education resources, and other aspects of the work can have a variety of meanings in different cultural contexts.
  • Family planning can be a good entry point for cooperation between FBOs and donors. It is an area of work where it is possible to get some consensus among faith actors on programmatic interventions. A specific recommendation for the future is for donors to earmark funds for FBO family planning initiatives.

ACT Alliance has continued the pilgrimage for gender justice from the Commission on the Status of Women in March to Commission on Population and Development in April. We need to keep the good momentum – and look to continuing the pilgrimage at the UN General Assembly and beyond. Faith leaders and communities are essential to enabling SRHR. And SRHR is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality) are the first of the 17 SDGs that are up for review – and ACT should be ready to show we are making a difference.

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Gwenneth Berge is ACT’s Senior Advisor on Religion and Development