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Putting Palestine on the Agenda: The Russell Tribune in New York

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The jury this time included former South African Intelligence Minister and Liberation movement leader, Ronnie Kasrils, South African lawyer John Dugard, Writer Alice Walker, Activist Angela Davis and former US Congreswoman Cynthia McKinnie as well as luminaries from Europe like 95 year old peace proponent Stephanie Hessel and Native American leader Dennis Banks.

On the first day of the two day session, the jury heard testimony from Israeli historian Ilan Pappe on the origins of Zionism and its commitment to expel Palestinians before the State of Israel was even born. There were many legal experts on the role of the UN in providing help to Palestinian refugees but rarely defending Palestinian rights. Speaker after speaker denounced the UN for going through the motions and abandoning its mandate because of   Israeli and US pressure.

One speaker said the UN had become a "cruel joke" when it came to fulfilling its obligations to Palestinians over the decades.

The audience was cautioned not to applaud and so the whole event tended to be passionless, academic and legalistic. There were long lectures on legal precedents that the lawyers in the room might have appreciated but put some people around me to sleep.

Ironically, no Palestinians spoke at a Tribunal on Palestine on day one. Noam Chomsky who was due Sunday apparently came down with laryngitis and had to appear via Skype. The image was as dark as his cough-disrupted presentation that warned the situation is "bleak."

On Sunday, there were more details of Israel's history of subjugating Palestinians, evicting them from their villages and then destroying their houses, as if to wipe out any evidence of their existence.

There were presentations on crimes like "ethnic cleansing" and blatant discrimination, a denial of rights and illegal restrictions to criminalize the population and wipe out its identity as a majority group was turned into a minority in a colonized environment.

In the afternoon, there what was described as a "library of anguish," droning presentations by international lawyers making a case of the need for the international community oppose a disgraceful military occupation finally culminated in a lively debate.

 The lone Palestinian   "witness," Saleh Hamayel argued that the situation has to be reframed because it is unique, not quite genocide or an analogue of Apartheid because the whole of Palestinian society is being destroyed inteltionally. He offered the concept of "sociocide" as worthy of being considered a crime.

Others disagreed, noting that apartheid is already considered a crime against humanity that can be used as a basis for international action. There was a heated back and forth with most agreeing that both concepts could be invoked even the only one enjoys the support of international law.

One issue I missed: The corruption and collusion of the Palestine Authority with US and Israeli negotiators.

See Clayon E. Swisher's revealing book, The Palestine Papers (Hesparus) for documentation of the story he broke on AlJazeera.

A highpoint of the Tribunal was the brief appearance of the parents of American anti-occupation activist Rachel Corrie who was crushed to death by an Israeli army earth moving machine. They insisted there had been no proper investigation as requested by the President of the United States, and condemned an Israeli Court for exonerating the Army

Zwelinzima Vavi, the General secretary of the COASTU labor federation, flew in to express solidarity with Palestinians and   criticize the silence of American unions on the issue. Citing Martin Luther King Jr, he blasted the "roaring silence" of US trade unions.

South Africa has an active BDS movement---anti-Israel Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions movement---which is spreading worldwide. This past week, BDS billboards went up alongside South African high ways. Leaders of the anti-apartheid movement like Archbishop Desmond Tutu has endorsed the campaign.

What was impressive was the many young people from activist groups and college campuses, many from from Middle East backgrounds, turned up. They seemed to appreciate the "teach-in" orientation of the speakers who crammed their presentations with facts and context turning the event in more of a course than a political rally.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See

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Excellent job by the great Danny Schechter for wri... by Dar Gary on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012 at 9:23:39 PM