By Frank Barat and Michael Mansfield QC
Countless United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions have been passed and violated; The Goldstone Report has been attacked and dismissed and the recent UNHRC fact finding Mission on the Freedom Flotilla incident, condemning Israel’s actions in the strongest possible terms, has been rejected as biased by Israel and was hardly mentioned in the higher spheres of the UN. The reason most often given to explain this lack of political action being that ‘it will harm the peace process.’
We are made to believe that the Israel/Palestine conflict is a never ending one and that, when it comes to this issue, International Law is irrelevant.
But civil society knows better. This conflict is about International Law and nothing else. Not harming the peace process means not harming more than 17 years (from the Oslo agreement in 1993 until now) of settlement building, bombing, murder and assassination, Israeli army aggression, land grab, US vetoes, dispossessions and humiliation of the Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
Civil society also knows that under a facade of bland statements ‘condemning’ Israel’s actions, the EU, the USA and the whole international community are in fact actively complicit in those crimes.
That’s where the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) comes in.
The RToP is a popular tribunal that intends to expose third parties’ complicity in Israel’s violations of International Law. Its first session was held in Barcelona (1) and focused on EU complicity. After 3 days of testimonies and expert analyses, it was proven that the EU was not only passively complicit but also pro-active in supporting Israel. How else can we explain that the EU-Israel Association Agreement has still not been vitiated, that Israel is accepted by Europe in all major European sports and cultural activities denied to Palestinians?
The Second Session of the RToP, which will take place in London on 20-22 November at 113 Chancery Lane, (2) will focus on corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of International Law. A simple set of questions will be asked to a prominent panel of Tribunal members including: the author Alice Walker, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire, the Former UN envoy to Israel-Palestine John Dugard, the Spanish judge Martin Pallin, the former ANC official Ronnie Kasrils, Malian former Culture Minister Aminata Traore, former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the British barrister Michael Mansfield QC.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared in unequivocal terms that the building of a ‘Separation Wall’ was illegal and that therefore those contributing to it were acting unlawfully. The Court went on to place an obligation on the international community to end this illegality and not participate in it. Therefore the kinds of questions that will be posed at the Tribunal are: ‘how do corporations which have provided building materials for the Wall explain their actions?’ and ‘how can they be held to account on the basis of international legal liability?’
Over 2 days, experts and witnesses from all over the world (including Palestine and Israel) will testify and give legal analyses about various corporations, including Alstom-Veolia and Caterpillar.
The RToP has a new dimension over all previous Russell Tribunals (on Vietnam 1967 and Latin America 1973) – and that is empowerment. Not only will it be identifying those complicit in Israel’s illegalities but also ways in which citizens in their respective countries and in Palestine might initiate legal redress. Following the Freedom Flotilla incident, some legal actions have already been undertaken in Belgium, Greece and Turkey. Survivors of the attack have presented Luis Moreno Ocampo, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, with a comprehensive dossier, claiming that there is an “overwhelming” case for prosecution. Will the ICC respond favourably to this request? Will the US and the EU support such actions?
President Obama said in July, during an interview with the South African Broadcast Corporation (3): “No peace without justice in Sudan” and he urged cooperation with the ICC. The day the same standards are applied to Israel and the Western powers, democracy will regain its original meaning and the oppressed around the world will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
In the meantime, it is left to us, living in relative comfort and privilege, to fight for equal rights for those imprisoned in poverty and denied a voice; to demonstrate solidarity and above all, not to remain silent before injustice.
Frank Barat is the coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.