…a panel of eminent jurists serving on the Russell Tribunal on Palestine heard testimony from expert witnesses regarding the apartheid practices of Israel against the Palestinian people.Palestinians were frustrated and angry; and in spite of the growing number of non-violent demonstrations, Internet information, and continuous appeals to the United Nations, many in the world, including the U.S., turn a blind eye to the discriminatory practices targeting an entire ethnic group.
For decades Israel has targeted Palestinians and few in the world beyond the tumultuous region have raised an eyebrow. The suffering and discrimination of the Palestinian people continues today under Israelâs brutal occupation. The threat of a United States veto of the Palestinian appeal for recognition is yet another blow.
The day after my arrival in Jerusalem, my friend and I walked in drizzle and rain to meet Jeff Halper at his new ICAHD office in West Jerusalem. Jeff Halper, founder and director of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), had taken the apartheid case against Israel to the âpeopleâs court.â
Held in early November 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa, for two days a panel of eminent jurists serving on the Russell Tribunal on Palestine heard testimony from expert witnesses regarding the apartheid practices of Israel against the Palestinian people.
He had just returned from So. Africa, where he had testified as an expert witness at the Tribunal. Over tea at a local restaurant, he said he presented facts about Israelâs policy of house demolitions, walls that separate peoples and laws that discriminate against Palestinians. Jeff is an American-Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1975 filled with hope and dreams. Now he ponders, âWhere is Israel going?â and âWhat does it [Israelâs policy] mean?â
Jeff said he made a case that occupation and separation is apartheid. Phrased in terms of race and ethnicity, he talked about Hafrada, a Hebrew word that means separation; and, ironically, is also the Hebrew name for the wall, which confirms the policy of separation. He said he presented facts to make a case that Israeli policy is apartheid. He said if a real case can be made, then a âRapporteurâ case can be made to formulate action, but first a âcomplaintâ is needed in order to further investigation.
âThe UN could invoke sanctions, but the U.S. would likely veto it.â I asked Jeff why the U.S. uses its veto to defend Israel. He gave three reasons: strong Jewish blocks, Christian fundamentalist support, and the arms industry. To me, it remains baffling; and I question how can my country stand for justice for all and yet deny justice to over seven million Palestinians.
There was a ray of hope. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine determined that Israelâs practices against the Palestinian people are in breach of the prohibition of apartheid under international law. Based on testimony and facts presented by expert witnesses, the Tribunal unanimously concluded, âIsrael subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalized regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law.â
The jury based its conclusion on the legal definition of apartheid as defined and decided that the defining criteria was met. The decision was based on the following facts: (i) that two distinct racial groups can be identified; (ii) that âinhuman actsâ are committed against the subordinate group; and (iii) that such acts are committed systematically in the context of an institutionalized regime of domination by one group over the other.â
The judgment was based on the widespread evidence of â targeted killings,â the âuse of lethal forceâ against peaceful demonstrators, and the torture and ill treatment of Palestinians.
The Tribunal also concluded that apartheid policies toward Palestinians extends beyond colonial military rule within the Occupied Palestinian Territory to Israeli treatment of Palestinian citizens within Israel, and that âIsraelâs rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.â
Sufficient grounds were also found for the crime of persecution,â Crime Against Humanity,â by âthe intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights of the members of an identifiable group in the context of a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population.â
The conclusion was based on evidence which included âthe siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip as a form of collective punishment of the civilian population; the targeting of civilians during large-scale military operations; the destruction of civilian homes not justified by military necessity; the adverse impact on the civilian population effected by the wall and its associated regime in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; [and] the concerted campaign of forcible evacuation and demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev region of southern Israel.â
Although the Tribunal has no legal status, it publicly exposes crimes being committed by Israel. Experienced individuals armed with evidence made facts available to jurors and individuals who may not have been entirely aware of some of the most pertinent issues.
The judgment of the Tribunal serves also to exert pressure on global institutions and decision-makers who have thus far failed to take a strong enough stance in the face of Israelâs crimes against humanity.
The citizen-based Tribunal serves as âa court of the people,â a committee of conscience.â The Tribunal has called upon Israel to âcease its apartheid acts and its policies of persecution and called for Israel to make amends and make compensate Palestinians for the damage it has caused.
They call upon the international community to fulfill its individual and collective duty âto cooperate to bring Israelâs apartheid acts and policies of persecution to an end,â including the ending any aid or assistance in support of Israel.
Tribunal members called for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into the international crimes being committed by Israel, to pursue legal action in the International Criminal Court.
It advised the UN General Assembly to convene a special session âto consider the question of apartheid against the Palestinian people,â that includes the roles of individuals, organizations, corporations and all public and private bodies, which assist Israel in apartheid policies. The Israeli Government was invited to present its case before the Tribunal but chose not to exercise this right. No reason was given.
An in-depth MEMO report on the Tribunal as well as interviews with several key members of the jury will be available on the MEMO website in the coming days.