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Media Briefing for the 4th Session Of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine
“US Complicity and UN Failings in Dealing with Israel’s Violations of International Law Toward the Palestinian People”
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine will be holding its fourth and final international session in New York City on Saturday, October 6 and Sunday, October 7, 2012. The New York hearings are part of an international people’s tribunal created in response to the international community’s inaction regarding Israel’s recognized violations of international law.
The tribunal aims to bring attention to the complicity and responsibility of various national, international and corporate actors in the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the perpetuation of Israel’s impunity under international law.
Although the tribunal has no legal status, like other Russell tribunals on Vietnam, Chile and Iraq, its legitimacy comes from its universality and the strength that it draws from the will of citizens and the support of international personalities who advocate for an end to the Israeli occupation and Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
Following the sessions in Barcelona (which focused on EU complicity), London (on corporate complicity) and Cape Town (on the crime of apartheid), the New York tribunal will go back to the roots of the conflict and focus on United Nations and United States responsibility in the denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
During the New York City session, the jury will hear testimony on:
- The Birth of Zionism and its Impact on the Palestinians, Including the United Nations’ Involvement in Palestinian and Israeli Policies Since 1948
- The Role of the United Nations in the Obstruction of Palestinians’ Right to Self- Determination
- The role of the United States in Supporting Violations of Palestinian Rights
- The Role of the United States, NGOs and International Civil Society in Moving Forward
- The Issue of Sociocide from Native Americans to Palestinians
What is the Russell Tribunal on Palestine?
The first Russell Tribunal met in 1967 to investigate US war crimes committed in Vietnam and to adjudicate them on the basis of international law. It was set up by Bertrand Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, and chaired by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Eminent intellectuals, writers and activists such as James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Julio Cortazar Lazaro Cardenas and Simone de Beauvoir took part in the first tribunal’s proceedings.
Despite lacking formal judicial status, the tribunal acts as a public awareness forum, highlighting acts of injustice and impunity for violations of international law. The tribunal and its legitimacy does not stem from any government or political party, but its members’ prestige, professionalism and commitment to human rights.
Today, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation is sponsoring the establishment of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. This tribunal was formed to discuss errors, omissions and complicity of third parties including nations, organizations and corporations that allow Israel’s occupation of the territories and its impunity in human rights abuses
It comprises eminent people from a wide range of countries, including Israel-Palestine, the United States, Britain and South Africa.
Its international support committee features over 100 diverse personalities, such as the former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Among others is Mohammed Bedjaoui, ex-president of the International Court of Justice, public intellectual Noam Chomsky, filmmaker Ken Loach, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and civil rights leader Angela Davis.
Why is the tribunal needed?
On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a 1,067-page advisory opinion ruling that the wall built by Israel in occupied Palestine was illegal. Eleven days later, the UN General Assembly adopted by an overwhelming majority a resolution that acknowledges the ICJ opinion.
The resolution called on UN member states to comply with their legal obligations as mentioned in the opinion. It obliged them not to render aid or assistance for the wall’s construction or to recognize Israel’s illegal construction of what is known as the “separation barrier” or “apartheid wall.”
The resolution also required member states to ensure Israel’s compliance with obligations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.
But all the states that voted for the resolution were then content to only issue mere condemnations and policy statements. This allowed Israel to continue its policy of land confiscation, creating illegal settlements in occupied territory, thus violating Palestinians’ rights.
In December 2008, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a war on the Gaza Strip, which was already reeling under a brutal siege. The war that killed more than 1,400 people rendered Israel’s contempt for international law more apparent than ever.
It highlighted the responsibility and complicity of other countries—especially the United States and the countries of the European Union—in the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people.
Yet as the condemnations have not been accompanied by sanctions or changes in financing of any kind, Israel enjoys the tacit support of the international community.
This is the context that led to the establishment of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
It represents a civil initiative that aims to promote international law as the key factor applicable to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The tribunal also seeks to mobilize international public opinion so the United Nations and member states can be persuaded to act to end Israel’s impunity and build a lasting and just peace.
The tribunal was not only established to focus on Israel’s manifest responsibility. It also intends to show the complicity of third-party states, corporations and international bodies whose passive stance or active support allows Israel to continue violating human rights.
How does the Tribunal operate?
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was established in response to a call by the late Ken Coates, chair of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Nurit Peled, the Israeli winner of the Sakharov Prize for freedom of speech and Leila Shahid, the EU general delegate for Palestine.
Responsibility for organizing the Russell Tribunal on Palestine lies with the International Organizing Committee.
Its members are: Pierre Galand, Stéphane Hessel, Marcel-Francis Kahn, Robert Kissous, François Maspero, Paulette Pierson-Mathy, Bernard Ravenel and Brahim Senouci.
The International Support Committee is comprised of individuals with an international reputation from the academic, scientific, cultural and political fields, but with no current political mandate (see annex).
The National Support Committees contribute to fundraising and ensure popular mobilization and media coverage. They may also assume responsibility for organizing a session in their country or help to arrange others.
National Support Committees have been set up in the United States, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Spain and Catalonia.
Such committees are also being established in the Netherlands, Austria, Algeria, Lebanon, India and Chile.
The US National Support Committee will host the fourth and final session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in New York City, October 6–7, 2012.
The US committee brings together individuals who are academics, lawyers, journalists, activists, and writers specialized in human rights as well as US organizations involved in defending human rights and international law in Palestine.
Tribunal sessions are prepared with assistance from dozens of experts and academics from different countries. Experts present arguments at the hearings. Witnesses testify on relevant aspects of the issues addressed.
A jury made up of eminent personalities from the legal, academic, scientific, cultural or political fields will be present at each session.
The tribunal is the core element of the project.
Once the hearings end after the experts’ reports and witnesses’ statements, the jury will deliberate and present its conclusions.