RUSSELL TRIBUNAL ON PALESTINE
PRESENTATION BY LORD ANTHONY GIFFORD
17TH MARCH 2013, BRUSSELS
I am a lawyer in active practice in both Jamaica and the United Kingdom. I have been involved in human rights issues for nearly 50 years, especially in Britain, Northern Ireland, Southern Africa and the Caribbean. I have come to understand over these years the essential interlinking between the internal struggles of peoples who suffer oppression and the external solidarity which comes from those in other places who speak and act against that oppression. We have to be connected if justice is to prevail. We are ourselves diminished if others are humiliated. It is the concept called Ubuntu in South Africa, and it is embodied here in this room, with our members coming from many continents to share with a European audience our sense of outrage against the oppression of Palestinians by the state of Israel.
In this work of solidarity a non-official tribunal has often been convened in order to give a voice to those whose voice is not heard; to elicit testimony which those in authority may find inconvenient; and to apply the principles of international law to the facts of the situation. I have taken part in such non-official inquiries, into military killings in Northern Ireland and into racism in Britain. The authority of these inquiries derives from their dedication to truth and justice, and from the integrity of its members. A shining example of this integrity was our late jury member Stephane Hessel. It was a privileged to have worked with this life long activist for truth and justice.
Bertrand Russell had the moral authority to convene the first Russell Tribunal on War Crimes in Vietnam, in 1966, when he was 94 years old, and when the anti-war movement was just beginning. It had no power, but its influence was huge. After his death a second Tribunal on Latin America was convened, at a time when fascism in Latin America was taking root. Many years after, the United States was defeated in Vietnam and fascist governments were overthrown in Latin America.
I studied and admired the work of these Tribunals and I took part in one of them, on free speech in the then Federal Republic of Germany. I therefore accepted eagerly the invitation to take part in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. It concerns the most critical unresolved situation on our planet. Sometimes it seems impossible of resolution. Yet I am optimistic. I have lived to see the overthrow of apartheid, the ending of colonial rule, and the fall of fascism in Latin America and parts of Europe. The Iron Curtain has been pulled down. These momentous changes happened because of the struggle and sacrifice of the peoples directly oppressed, aided by the solidarity of ordinary people and their organisations across the world. I am here because I am confident that the oppression of the Palestinian people will likewise be ended. A luta continua.
The London Session of the Tribunal was especially relevant to the theme of international solidarity. It was about the complicity of private corporations in Israel’s violations of international law. We were hearing evidence about companies that are familiar names, operating in our own countries and connected to Israel through a web of affiliates and subsidiaries. Private corporations are deeply involved in the three main areas in which international law has been violated: the building of settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank; the construction of the Separation Wall in the West Bank on Palestinian territory; and the incursion of Israeli forces into Gaza in the operation known as “Cast Lead” which inflicted horrendous damage in December 2008 to January 2009.
By way of example, the British/Danish giant G4S, through its Israeli subsidiary G4S Israel, is responsible for security operations in military checkpoints at the Wall, in the settlements and in the prisons. The United States company Caterpillar has supplied the Israeli army with the bulldozers which have demolished Palestinian houses and cleared land for the construction of the Wall. The French transport company Veolia built and operated the Light Rail Project in occupied Jerusalem, but significantly informed the Tribunal that it had decided to divest its interest in that project. The Irish cement company CRH holds a quarter share in the Israeli company which supplies most of the cement used to build the Wall and the settlements. The Belgian financial institution Dexia finances Israeli settlements in the West Bank via its Israeli subsidiary. The Dutch company Riwal Holding Group supplied the cranes which were essential for the construction of the Wall.
The Tribunal focused on the legal responsibility of these and other corporations, as well as of the many Israeli corporations, such as the weapons company Elbit Systems, which has been awarded defence contracts to supply UAVs to the UK and other countries, and Ahava, the cosmetics manufacturer which uses mud taken from the illegal settlements. It found that these corporations are accomplices in violating international law. In legal terms, they aid and abet the state of Israel, in particular through the construction and maintenance of the wall and its associated regime, which the International Court of Justice, in its Advisory Opinion delivered on 9th July 2004, has declared to be illegal. The Tribunal concluded further that the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be a war crime, in which the corporations were complicit.
The Tribunal considered judicial remedies that could be sought in the courts of France, United Kingdom and the United States. It noted that corporations which had assisted Israel in the violation of international law could face action under both civil and criminal law. It noted that Riwal Holding Group, whose cranes had been used in the construction of the Wall, was already under investigation by the Dutch prosecutor following a raid on its offices. We urge lawyers in different countries to do the necessary research and find ways to bring such companies to justice.
The report of the London Session ended with a call to individuals, groups and organisations to take all necessary measures to secure compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law standards, in particular through boycotts, shareholder actions and divestment by pension funds. The Tribunal welcomes the recent call by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Territories, Professor Richard Falk, for a boycott of companies which make profits from the illegal Israeli settlements.
This is where all of us can be involved. Change will not come simply by lobbying national governments. It will come about when the actions of ordinary people make it unprofitable for all corporate players to do business with Israel. Boycott, divestment and sanctions – BDS – are powerful weapons of struggle, as the anti-apartheid campaign demonstrated. I well recall speaking at Sussex University in the late 1960s, when the anti-apartheid movement was beginning to have an impact, on a platform with two executives from Barclays Bank, which had a major presence in apartheid South Africa. The executives were horrified when the students, whose accounts they wanted, voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of Barclays.
The Tribunal has given you the knowledge. Knowledge of the relevant international law. Knowledge of the ways in which Israel has violated that law. Knowledge of the acts of complicity of corporations which may be based in your countries. It is for you to carry on the torch to victory.