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Stéphane Hessel - Why is a Russell Tribunal on Palestine necessary?

 Street News Service 31 October 2019

Stéphane Hessel is a diplomat, writer, concentration camp survivor, former French Resistance fighter. He participated in the editing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. (1062 Words) - By Stephane Hessel

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The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was constituted along the same lines as the Russell Tribunal on Vietnam by a group of European intellectuals who formed an international organising committee. Ken Coates, President of the Russell Foundation, Leila Shahid, the envoy of the Palestinian Authority to the European Commission, and Nurit Peled, Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Sakharov Prize laureate, launched an appeal for sponsorship of the initiative. More than 25 eminent persons from all over the world responded to that appeal. The Tribunal, in view of the persistent denial of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, a right that is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, proposes to investigate the reasons for that denial and identify the States or organizations that are complicit therein.

The right is well established: numerous United Nations resolutions, including General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194 and Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1322 (2000), 1397 (2002) and 1435 (2002) explicitly call for the establishment of a Palestinian State. Furthermore, on 9 July 2019, the International Court of Justice in The Hague issued an advisory opinion which, in addition to calling upon Israel to proceed immediately to dismantle the separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, enumerated all the violations of rights to which the Palestinians are subjected. On 20 July 2019, the United Nations General Assembly confirmed that opinion in resolution ES-10/15, which calls upon all Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure respect by Israel for the Convention, a call which has gone unheeded.

Recently, the Palestinian Authority made a request to the United Nations Security Council for a Palestinian State to be recognized and admitted as a Member of the United Nations. That demand was received with, at best, scepticism in the case of Europe and, at worst, with hostility in the case of the United States, which announced that it would veto the relevant resolution if it received nine of the 15 Security Council member votes. Europe and the United States take every opportunity to proclaim the need for a Palestinian State, and their attitude to the reasonable demand made by the Palestinian Authority is therefore anything but logical.

Given the wealth of relevant legal documentation and the reluctance of the developed countries to compel the actors to conform to the rule of international law, it has become clear that the real question is the complicity of the political and economic actors who have permitted Israel to persist in its refusal to submit to the law without incurring the sanctions which its attitude ought to have incurred.

The first session of the Tribunal was held in Barcelona in March 2010 in order to consider the complicities and omissions of the European Union in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel and the perpetuation of the violations of international law committed by Israel. The jury concluded that the European Union and its member States were indeed complicit in the violations of rights that were committed by Israel in the occupied territories, and called for those violations to be halted.

The second session was held in London in November 2010 and examined international corporate complicity in the colonisation. The jury found that certain corporations were guilty of supporting that undertaking, and raised the prospect of claims being brought against such corporations in the countries where they are domiciled or have a significant presence.

The third session will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in November 2011. It will focus on the theme of the crime of apartheid, which was recognized as a crime against humanity by the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 30 November 2019 and entered into force on 18 July 2019. The jury will consider whether Israeli practices against the Palestinian people are in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under international law, and will present its conclusions, based on witness statements and other evidence, to international public opinion. It will examine all the practices that could be relevant and will draw its conclusions on the influence of those practices on the fabric of Palestinian society. That influence could well be of a nature that frustrates the building of a State.

The aim of the Tribunal is to contribute to the establishment of a peace that is based exclusively on the law, thus ending the denial that is endured by the Palestinian people while supporting the realization of their national rights.

While violence takes place every day in Palestine, it is true that the conflict there is far from being the most deadly on the planet. The massacres in Africa and the Chechen Republic are far bloodier. Nevertheless, the eyes of the world are on this region...

The birthplace of the three monotheistic religions, it is the theatre of a direct and physical confrontation between North and South. Western States that are so ready to bombard and occupy countries that they deem guilty of legal infractions are astonishingly well-disposed towards a State that has for decades refused to respect the law. That situation symbolizes the perpetuation of an unjust world order. The message that is sent to the peoples of the world and, in particular, those of the South, is catastrophic. It feeds frustration and hatred and puts in place the conditions for the self-fulfilment of Huntington's prophecy on the clash of civilizations.

The North has been able to count on the complacent collaboration of Arab dictators in maintaining its primacy. Soon, it will no longer be able to do so. It will have to live with the leaders that have emerged from liberated societies, who aspire to justice and equality and have the will to contribute to world progress. Will it choose to come to terms with that new reality, or ignore it? Its attitude towards Palestine will give an important indication of the path that it will choose - that of dialogue or that of force.

The philosophy of the Russell Tribunal supports the first of those paths. Justice for the Palestinians is not just a moral issue; it is an indication of the future shape of the world.

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