The concluding session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine took place in Brussels, March 16 -17. The Tribunal was launched in Brussels in 2009 in the spirit of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who established the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate crimes committed in Vietnam and judge them according to international law.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was set up to examine violations of international law that prevent the Palestinian people from exercising their fundamental human rights, including the right to a sovereign state. The aim is thus to examine the various responsibilities that lead to the continued occupation of Palestine by Israel and the factors which maintain the ongoing violations of international and humanitarian law that permit the oppression to continue.
Presenters in Brussels included, among others: Pierre Galand, General Coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Belgium; Denis Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement in the U.S.; Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, Northern Ireland; Roger Waters, founding member of the band Pink Floyd, United Kingdom; Leila Shahid, Ambassador of Palestine to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg, Palestine; Fadwa Barghouti, activist and lawyer and wife of imprisoned Palestinian political leader, Marwan Barghouti; José Antonio Martin Pallin, Emeritus Judge, Supreme Court, Spain; Ronald Kasrils, anti-apartheid activist and former South African government minister, and Angela Davis, political activist, scholar and author from the United States.
The first session took place in Barcelona on March 1-3, 2010 and investigated the complicity of the European Union and its member states in perpetuating Israel's violations of international law with respect to Palestine. The jury concluded that the EU did not honor its own laws pertaining to arms exports to Israel and through inaction in face of expanding illegal settlements.
The second session was in London on November 20 - 22, 2010 and it examined international corporate complicity in maintaining these human rights violations. Corporations have legal obligations to ensure they do not cooperate with nations that violate international laws. Many do with impunity.
The third session took place in Cape Town November 5 - 7, 2011 and dealt with the question of whether or not Israeli practices were in breach of the prohibition against the crime of apartheid. After examining the evidence of daily life in Palestine, Israel was found to have created an institutional system that dominates and oppresses one racial group over an other -- in breach of the international law against the crime of apartheid.
The fourth session was in New York City on October 6 - 8, 2012. It dealt with presenting evidence of U.S. complicity and continuing failures by the UN that effectively emboldens Israel in its expanding occupation and subjugation of Palestine. The massive unconditional U.S. military aid to Israel and its reflexive veto of UN sanctions in response to Israel's responsibilities to uphold law was seen as bankrolling and maintaining the ongoing colonial project. The UN's inaction further reinforces a culture of impunity which enables Israel to destroy Palestinian society to further the aggressive expansion of its own State.
In Brussels, The Russell Tribunal called for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for crimes committed against Palestine. It called further for the reconstitution of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid and a special session of the UN General Assembly on Israeli Apartheid. Importantly, the Tribunal also recommended the establishment of an international committee of former political prisoners to campaign on behalf of Palestinian political prisoners.
In the spirit of the Stéphane Hessel -- the recently deceased Honorary President of the Russell Tribunal, French resistance fighter, Nazi camp survivor, contributor to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and lifelong human rights advocate -- the call went out for all members of civil society to redouble efforts to ensure that Israel upholds its responsibilities to the international community of Nations by ending crimes against the land and people of Palestine. Towards this aim, the Russell Tribunal fully endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Roger Waters, who has been decrying The Wall for some time now, expressed the next steps succinctly: "We have won the argument and now we, civil society, have to force States, institutions and international organizations to take action."
Or as I cheekily sang to Mr. Waters, a line I improvised from one of his legendary tunes, "We don't need no Occupation."
John 'Max' Soos is a psychologist and social justice advocate based in Vancouver who attended the final session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Brussels, March 16-18.
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