What is the point of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine?
Photo: Sumaya Hisham
The 3rd International Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, focusing on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian People, recently took place in Cape Town.
During the 2 weeks I spent in South Africa, I heard our detractors call us a ‘kangaroo court’, a ‘talking shop’, a ‘racist tribunal’ and many other creative names. While I welcome such imagination and creativity, I deplore the fact that those people never challenged us on the facts that were presented before the jury, on the legal basis of the tribunal or on the findings of this session.
We can not be a ‘kangaroo court’ simply because we are not a court and have never claimed to be one. If the people criticizing us had had a look at our website before making such statements, they would have read that we have no legal status, and were founded in support of the Palestinian rights to self-determination.
Our intention has never been to find out if Israel was guilty or not, nor to start a debate about it. This work has already been done by UN bodies, human rights organizations, aid organizations and countless violated Security Council resolutions. Israel since its creation has violated hundreds of UN resolutions and has never respected its obligation, as a member of the UN, under International Law.
Our work started where the international community’s has stopped. The international community is complicit in what is taking place in Palestine either directly or indirectly, passively or actively and it is our duty, as citizens of those states, to call them to account and say ‘Not in my name’. It is our duty to stand with the oppressed in its quest for justice.
Our work started because so-called ‘negotiations’, ‘peace talks’ or ‘constructive dialogue’ were doomed from the start, based as they were on false premises. They entertained the idea of two equal sides fighting for their rights when, in reality, a most powerful occupier dictated its wishes to a powerless people. How else can you explain that since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 the numbers of settlers and settlements has gone through the roof (more than 500,000 now live on land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories)?
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, by using international law as its basis, proposes a no-nonsense way forward. The law is on the side of the Palestinians, so let’s make good use of it. The Tribunal intends to assist the people working on a just peace for all with the legal means they have crucially been lacking for too long.
The tribunal is also a humane story. By allowing people from Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem and the diaspora to meet, often for the first time, to exchange stories, to talk about the future together, united as a single Palestinian voice, the tribunal intends to internationalize the struggle. If one thing needs to be globalized, it is the solidarity shown by people towards the less privileged, all over the world.
By concluding that ‘Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid’, the tribunal, has, for the first time, rubber-stamped the idea of Israeli apartheid.
It is now down to us, the people, to do something to stop this and make sure justice applies to all people, regardless of their country, ethnicity, political view or religion.
As Nelson Mandela once said: ‘We cannot feel free until the Palestinians are free.’
Frank Barat is a human rights activist and co-ordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books; Gaza in Crisis (Haymarket/Penguin) with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe and Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation (Pluto Press) with Asa Winstanley.
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