Last Friday, Palestinian activist Mohammed Khatib, dubbed “a modern-day Gandhi” by the LA Times, was beaten by Israeli armed forces at a peaceful protest. A leader of popular resistance in the West Bank town of Bil’in, Khatib lives by the credo: “Nonviolence is our most powerful weapon.”
That perhaps, along with global exposure of the documented human rights abuses and recognized violations of international law by the state of Israel and its collaborators.
In 2009, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine was founded to do exactly that. First in Barcelona, then London, Cape Town, and now coming to New York City in early October, the tribunal gathers legal experts, scholars, activists, and other people of note to help shed light on the reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and demands accountability from Israel’s corporate and international enablers.
Coming to the doorstep of the United Nations in the financial capital of the United States is a bold move for the Russell Tribunal. Amidst the pre-election campaign buzz in which both major parties unequivocally support Israel’s actions, these non-binding hearings will place UN and US policies vis-à-vis Israel on trial.
Among the renowned figures who will publicly offer and weigh testimony in New York City are Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Russell Means, Saleh Hamayel, Dennis Banks, and a Who’s Who of others on the international human rights front.
Khatib himself was a witness at the Cape Town hearings, testifying to the fact that Israel is in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under international law. New York’s tribunal aims to go back to the root of the conflict and focus on UN and US responsibility in the denial of the Palestinian right to self-determination.
Walker, Davis, Means, and Banks—all of whom are Black or Native American—are among the Russell Tribunal participants to issue an “urgent call to others who share our commitment to racial justice, equality, and freedom.” They invite people to attend the hearings in New York City on October 6 and 7, writing, “Each and every one of us—particularly those of us and our fellow jury members who grew up in the Jim Crow South, in apartheid South Africa, and on Indian reservations in the United States—is shocked by what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.” They continue:
Not since Operation Wetback and Operation Gatekeeper have so many families been torn apart; not since Jim Crow have so many rights been denied; not since reservations and internment camps has the United States invested in so many apartheid walls, fences, and cages.
There is no pretense about these hearings. Its participants understand that institutions held in high esteem, such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, have documented Israel’s crimes in the past. The ICJ, in a 1,067-page dossier, has already delineated many violations of international law concerning the “separation barrier” or “apartheid wall,” the 470-mile-long barrier guarded by soldiers with high-powered weapons and checkpoints.
With sessions concerning the legal responsibility of intergovernmental organizations like the UN and the role of the US in supporting violations of Palestinians’ rights, the tribunal is a means of forcing a public debate in the United States to “prevent the crime of silence.” The Nobel Prize winner Lord Bertrand Russell penned those words to define the goal of the original people’s tribunal in 1966, the International War Crimes Tribunal that placed the crimes of the Vietnam war on trial with the support of Jean-Paul Sartre, James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others.
In addition to shining a light on the US and UN’s crimes behind Israel’s crimes, the tribunal aims to stir people to action. The successful example of the international movement against apartheid South Africa that escalated in the 1980s inspires many to divest, boycott, and sanction (BDS) apartheid Israel. Many participants believe the tribunal can give a boost to the rising BDS civil rights movement.
As organizers explain, “The legitimacy of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine does not come from a government or any political party but from the prestige, professional interests and commitment to fundamental rights of the Members that constitute this Tribunal.”
It is easy for the US media and social justice-minded people to ignore the arcane doings of intergovernmental bodies. But when “the two most famous Indians since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse,” Russell Means and Dennis Banks, stand alongside the most prominent woman of the Black Power movement, Angela Davis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Alice Walker, and the world’s leading public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, it is hard to look away.
This article originally appeared in Counterpunch.org.
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