The activists at the Russell Tribunal felt empowered says Frank Barat. All photos: Nathanael Corre.
In my last blog for New Internationalist, before the 4th session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine had even started, I asked the question: ‘Can you gauge an event’s success even before it starts?’
Today, a day after the New York session of the tribunal ended, trying to put my thoughts together with a brain that only wants to be left alone, is not an easy thing.
On Saturday morning, the session did start with a bang. The one and only Harry Belafonte turned up to an already full room, accompanied by his wife. For the pro-justice movement in Palestine, this is huge. Belafonte has been known as a humanitarian and civil-rights activist for decades; he also opposed the War on Iraq and openly took a stand against the government of George W Bush. Harry Belafonte was as much liked for his musical hits as his stand against injustice. But one thing was missing: Palestine.
The fact that, for the first time, even if he didn’t come on stage or speak, Belafonte was at an event explicitly calling for justice in Palestine, could be a milestone in terms of public opinion outreach. We do hope that he will follow up on this and help make sure the word Palestine becomes mainstream.
The three days of the Tribunal flew by, for everyone involved. Roger Waters, Angela Davis, Miguel Angel Estrella and Dennis Banks, the newcomers on this jury, repeated throughout the session how much they were learning and how empowered they were feeling. On one occasion Roger Waters told one of the organizers: ‘I am having a ball.’
This is key. What did he mean by this?
He obviously did not mean that he was enjoying hearing terrible stories about what is happening in Palestine. He was not happy to hear that the country where he has been living for 15 years, the US, is giving $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel every year. He was not enjoying the fact that both Raji Sourani, one of the foremost Palestinian human rights lawyers, and Leila Shahid, the Palestinian Liberation Organization ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, did not get their visas to join us in New York.
Roger Waters had a ball because he felt empowered. We all did. He had a ball because he knew he was in the right place, on the right side, at the right time. He had a ball because he was surrounded by people who, for three days, left all their differences aside to join hands in standing in solidarity with an oppressed people. He had a ball because he knew the people with him in Cooper Union’s Great Hall were the present but also the future.
The exhilaration of being an activist is contagious.
Waters and his comrades in the jury called, in their findings, for civil society to rise even higher, even stronger than it has been doing in the last few years. They also called for a reforming of the UN and an abolition of the veto for the five permanent members. How is it possible for an institution with a charter starting: ‘We, the people..’ to be so undemocratic?
In my opinion, we should start by reforming the way we think. What is happening in the world at the moment is radically wrong. The only possible answer to this is to become fearless and even more radical. It is high time, for us, the people, to rise up.
Our future depends on it.