Ending the crime of silence: the Russell Tribunal on Palestine
Researcher for the Media Review Network, Suraya Dadoo, attended the New York session of the Russell Tribunal.
Encouraging citizens to demand justice from their governments and the UN was the main message of the recent Russell Tribunal on Palestine, writes Suraya Dadoo
The fourth and final session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) has just concluded in New York. An international people’s tribunal, it is modelled entirely on the International War Crimes Tribunal founded by Bertrand Russell in 1966, that informed and mobilised public opinion against US involvement in the Vietnam War. A stone’s throw from the United Nations (UN) headquarters and in the corporate capital of the United States, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Ronnie Kasrils, John Dugard and other renowned figures of social justice, considered testimony on US and UN complicity in Israel’s war-crimes against the Palestinians.
For two days, crowds of over a thousand people that included South African activist Terry Crawford-Browne, COSATU secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi, and celebrities Harry Belafonte and Wallace Shawn, heard from experts such as academics Noam Chomsky, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, and author Ben White, about a legacy of unenforced or US-vetoed UN resolutions against Israel, and the numerous ways in which the UN had failed, not just the Palestinians – but most of the world.
Many present had questioned the absence of Palestinians at the podium, but Palestinian voices had been largely silenced by the US State Department. The Gaza Strip’s foremost human rights attorney, Raji Sourani, and the envoy of the Palestinian Authority to the European Commission in Brussels, Leila Shahid, were both denied visas to enter the US and speak at what has been the highest profile event to have ever taken place in the United States regarding US and UN complicity in Israel’s violations of international law. US complicity in Israel’s war-crimes not just restricted to unlimited military, diplomatic and economic support, but extends to silencing the Palestinian anti-Apartheid movement.
America’s “special relationship” with Israel was well-documented at the proceedings in New York. Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. Israel is the only recipient that does not have to account for how the aid is spent. The US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel – more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.
As a South African, I am not entirely surprised at how enthusiastically the US is supporting an Apartheid state. The Reagan administration virtually ignored the worldwide call to isolate Apartheid South Africa, and only imposed lip-service sanctions on the Apartheid regime in Pretoria in the late 1980’s, when the Apartheid system was already collapsing.
Apartheid South Africa became an international pariah, and was subjected to an almost complete political, social, cultural, economic, and military isolation. The government of Israel does not face the same measures, and the UN has not reacted with the same urgency as it did against Apartheid South Africa.
Following expert testimony, jurors concluded that Israel’s ongoing colonial settlement expansion, its racial separatist policies, as well as its violent militarism would not be possible without the US’s economic, military, and diplomatic support. It also found the UN in violation of international law for its failure to take action against Israel’s war crimes, crimes against humanity, its crime of Apartheid, and genocide against the Palestinian people.
The tribunal called on the mobilization of international public opinion, especially in the US and Israel, through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, trade unions, and social media networks. The tribunal further called for the abolition of the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the expansion and democratization of the membership of the Security Council where the Global South is completely unrepresented, and a revival of the existing powers of the General Assembly.
The findings were presented at a packed press conference at the UN Plaza that included representatives from mainstream media outlets that have generally shied away from discussing American complicity in the occupation. TIME magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera English and Arabic, and the BBC, as well as foreign press from South Africa, England and Switzerland were present to cover the Tribunal’s findings. The Tribunal was had a strong presence on social media sites, and by the end of proceedings, the hashtag RTOPNYC had trended worldwide on Twitter.
The jury and speakers then presented their findings to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a committee of the UN General Assembly.
While last year’s session of the Russell Tribunal in Cape Town elicited a strong reaction from the South African Zionist lobby who engaged in a smear-campaign against the jury and speakers in the South African and American media, there has been a notable absence of slander from prominent American Zionists. According to RTOP Press Officer, Sherry Wolf, recent attacks on conferences on Palestine at Columbia, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Cape Town session, have backfired on Zionists, as bigger audiences attended these gatherings.
The Russell Tribunal is part of a movement of resistance, inspired by the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement born in New York. Directly led by the people for the people, the Tribunal’s most significant achievement is its very detailed findings, which are firmly rooted in international law. According to international co-ordinator, Frank Barat, this provides a powerful weapon for citizens to demand that governments, institutions and corporations, end their collusion in the international law and human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people.
A year ago, American citizens “occupied” Wall Street and demanded transparency, accountability and justice from those in corporate and political power. Empowered by the knowledge generated by the final session of the Russell Tribunal, we must all demand the same of our governments and corporations with regard to its relationship with Israel and its support of Israeli war-crimes and Apartheid.
Researcher for MRN
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