The verdict over Israeli human rights violations

The legal and political work of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine had not come to an end with the closing of the Brussels session.

by Ronnie Barkan*
The 5th session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine has convened in Brussels over the weekend of March 16. In the spirit of the late Bertrand Russell who initiated the war crimes tribunal of 1966 which was supported by intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, this is a serious and contemporary attempt by the people of the world to hold to account those who are currently responsible for grave crimes which are carried out against the Palestinian people.
Throughout March 2010-March 2013, the tribunal held several sessions in order to seriously deal with the different aspects of and the many accomplices in such Israeli crimes. Starting off in Barcelona, the EU was held under scrutiny over its two track policy, with its many forms of complicity in Israeli violations of international law. The tribunal’s recently published findings have therefore included EU-specific recommendations, including the following call with regard to its trade agreement with Israel: “The Tribunal calls on the relevant EU bodies to implement the European Parliament’s resolution calling for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, thereby putting an end to the context of irresponsibility that Israel continues to enjoy.” Jury member Michael Mansfield also stated that: “Europe has been playing a double game all the way through – it is saying one thing and does another.”
The following tribunal session took place in London and focused on the complicity and active participation of corporations, who literally make a profit from the misery of Palestinians who are being stripped of their basic rights. The situation is especially dire with regard to the 4 million Palestinians who live under a brutal military occupation for more than four decades, while their land and resources are being extracted and used for profit by such corporations, in clear violation of international law.
The next session was the tribunal’s South African moment, when it convened in Cape Town in order to assess the relevance of apartheid to the Israeli case. The tribunal had seriously looked into the applicability of the crime of apartheid as defined under international law (most recently in the Rome Statute, 2002) while concluding that the situation in the whole territory under Israeli control, including that which is regarded as Israel-proper, can and should be regarded as a clear case of apartheid. The tribunal also found Israel to be guilty of the crime of persecution, which is especially applicable to its treatment of the 1.5 million people who live in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The fourth session took place in New-York City and dealt with the complicity of the US and the UN. Following that important session, jury member Roger Waters, Pink Floyd founding member, had addressed the UN General Assembly to discuss the tribunal’s findings. In an impassionate speech Waters discussed not only the legal findings but also the necessity for a real change within the corridors of the UN and other international bodies. Such a change is required if those bodies wish to maintain their legitimacy as well as sincerely represent the will of the people.
The Russell Tribunal is therefore not only an attempt to hold the criminal bodies accountable, it is also a concerted effort by the citizens of the world to take action where their governments have miserably failed to act, some by not performing their obligations while others by their active participation in prolonging and perpetuating such breaches of the law.
During its last and final session in Brussels, the tribunal had consolidated all of its findings into a single report. Yet, even though this was the final session its stated work is far from being over: “While the Brussels session of 16-17 March 2013 marks the final round of the current programme of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, the work towards peace and justice in Palestine continues. Each individual juror reaffirms their commitment to continue working in this direction and commits to take it upon themselves to ensure the continual dissemination. . The open letter written by jury member Roger Waters to his colleagues in the music industry serves as an example, as well the participation of Tribunal members in the upcoming World Social Forum in Tunisia.”
The legal and political work had not come to an end with the closing of the Brussels session, it simply serves to empower those of us who are seeking justice in Palestine, by providing the much needed tools to carry out our mission. The Palestinian BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign has gained worldwide recognition since its inception in July 2005 and has since grown into a global awareness movement, with a large number of individuals and organizations who participate and collaborate from every corner of the world, sharing the same values of equality, freedom and justice for all. This ongoing campaign is much akin to the worldwide struggle that took place against the apartheid regime in South Africa which serves as a source for inspiration, a struggle which played a key role in ending that criminal policy and which helped transform South Africa into a democracy with one of the world’s most progressive constitutions.
At a time when elected representatives fail their constituents, the BDS campaign gives a voice not only to Palestinian rights but also to every disappointed voter – allowing each and every one to demand an end to the injustice which is carried out in their name. While elaborating on the tribunal’s support for this approach, jury member Lord Anthony Gifford commented about the tactic of BDS saying: “It is not for the tribunal to organize the boycott. It’s for your listeners, your readers your viewers to organize the boycott. In South Africa the anti-apartheid boycott started small, it became vast! It can be done, we will do it, you will do it!”
Other needed next steps have been put forward by jury member Michael Mansfield, urging Palestinian representatives to take measures with the International Criminal Court now that Palestine had been admitted into the UN as an observer state. He had also commented on his own country’s attempt at denying recourse for Palestinians at the ICC, by conditioning the UK’s recent UN vote on Mahmoud Abbas’ agreement not to use the legal means which should be available to any state under the law. The UN commissioned Goldstone report is yet another example of the importance of such legal attempts for holding to account those who consistently violate international law. Even though Judge Goldstone himself later retracted some of his statements, and even though the PA’s attempt to bury that report, its serious nature could not be overlooked by serious people and that legal work had great implications which will surely serve our future activity. Mansfield later addressed Israel’s declining status in world opinion referring to it as being “a pariah state”, which “is no longer a member of the world community – it does not respect the rule of law, it does not respect the human rights council, which is pretty fundamental.”
Given such a stark case where Israel stands in contradiction to the accepted norms of international law and of universally recognized human rights, it was Roger Waters who put it best when asked about Israel’s right to defend itself: “I would challenge anybody from the current government of Israel to come and sit opposite Mike Mansfield in the other chair and challenge the findings of this tribunal, and challenge his logic, and challenge his knowledge of international law, and challenge his devotion to human rights, and challenge everything that he stands for and I think it would be an extraordinary unequal battle. So the shrill bantering from the other side of thick walls is entirely irrelevant to these proceedings, because these proceedings are based upon fact, testimony and men of good will.”

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