Putting Palestine On The Agenda: At The Russell Tribunal In New York
By Danny Schechter
New York, New York: The needs and concerns of the Palestinian people are not in the news much in the United States, even though the issues have been around for decades here in the city that hosts the United Nations and where there have been, over the years, persistent resolutions based on allegations of international law violations and apartheid-like abuses in the territories occupied by Israel.
In this same period, there have also been many detailed studies, as well, of media coverage that prove that our media rarely covers Palestinian concerns, or features Palestinian perspectives in talk shows or even news programs unless and until violence erupts.
Criticisms of Israeli behavior raised by foreign leaders are also largely ignored unless they are cast as controversies about noisy and invented allegations of anti-Semitism rather than any exploration of the underlying issues that are always treated as matters of contention, not of facts.
Advocates of Palestinian rights and critics of violations of International law seek, often without much success, to call attention to oppressive realities on the ground but not just in an ideological debate.
They want to change a US policy that often marches in lockstep with Israel, in part, because of the power of the Israeli Lobby and regional military calculations.
One of the more visible organizations trying to fill the gap is the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an "international peoples' tribunal modeled on the initiative by the late British philosopher, Lord Bertrand Russell, an esteemed lecturer, author and moral leader who first created the Tribunal concept in the 1960's to feature well-known intellectuals to expose war crimes in Vietnam.
I covered that event when it took place in Stockholm with a jury made up of the likes of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Swedish Playwright Peter Weiss and American anti-war activist David Dellinger among other cultural and political luminaries.
It drew global attention and denunciations by the US government and media when Vietnamese witnesses testified about the chemical defoliation of their country, and systematic and often deadly human rights abuses.
I remember American TV correspondent Morley Safer doing a "stand-up' after one session when the audience left, denouncing its allegations of U.S. war crimes and dismissing the Tribunal as nothing but communist propaganda.
Thirty years later, his own news magazine, 60 Minutes, carried reports confirming that there were indeed brutal atrocities being committed in places like MyLai where American soldiers slaughtered innocent civilians including many children. Had Safer not been so eager to discredit Vietnamese experiences back then, something might have been done about the abuses or at least made them known.
Today, this Russell Tribunal is focusing on "the complicity and responsibility of various, national and international and corporate acts and the perpetuation of Israel's impunity under international law.' It seeks to provide a platform for "international personalities who advocate for an end to Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights."
It met this past weekend in The Great Hall of Cooper Union where President Abraham Lincoln debated his political adversary in 1860 just as the civil war was building steam.
The packed event in New York followed earlier sessions in Barcelona (focused on EU complicity), London (on corporate complicity) and in Cape Town likening Israeli policies to apartheid era crimes in South Africa.
South African supporters of Israel mounted an angry protest that drew major media attention. Perhaps that's why the always vociferous pro-Israel lobby in New York stayed away this time, hoping the Tribunal and its findings would be ignored. Perhaps, their members were exhausted by days of screaming at the United Nations.