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Born in Beit Sahour, Rifat Odeh Kassis has long been active in the Palestinian struggle on a number of non-violent fronts, not least on the national and international rights-based advocacy scene. He was arrested several times by Israel for his human rights and community work. Throughout his career, he has been advocating and actively campaigning for the effective application of international human rights and humanitarian law in Palestine, through various professional and voluntary positions.
In 1988 he started working in the East Jerusalem YMCA as director for its rehabilitation programs in the West Bank. Later in 1996 he started working for Some Ecumenical donor agencies representing them in Central Asia where he lived and worked there for about 5 years. In 1995 he helped establishing a rehabilitation program for the Chechen children affected by the war in Chechnya. In the same year he co-founded the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG) together with others. In 1992 he founded the first Palestinian independent Child Rights’ NGO- a national section of the Geneva-based global child rights’ movement, Defence for Children International (DCI). He served as President of DCI-Palestine three times between 1992 and 2005, becoming the President of the DCI movement at the global level in June of that year and was re-elected for another term in October 2008. Since November 2008 he runs as well The Palestinian section of DCI. During his term as Executive Director of the East Jerusalem YMCA (2000-2004), he initiated and spearheaded the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative, from which the highly successful Olive Tree Campaign was launched. In the same period he co-founded the National Coalition of Christian Related Organizations (NCCRO) and the Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) In January 2005, he worked in Geneva as the International Coordinator and Project Manager of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), the scope of which includes monitoring and reporting human rights violations according to international law in Palestine and Israel. From September 2007 till March 2009 he was the WCC General Secretary Special Advisor on the Middle East and since 2008 he was asked by the World Economic Forum to serve on the Global Agenda Council on Children Welfare.