A few weeks ago, members of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, outraged by Israel’s terrible assault on Gaza and its population, decided to start working on an extraordinary session of the Tribunal that will look into Israel’s Crimes (including War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity and the Crime of Genocide) during the then-still ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” as well as third States complicity.
The jury gave its findings on 25th September in the morning during an international press conference at the International Press Center (IPC, Brussels). In the afternoon, the Jury was received at the European parliament and will address a message to the UN General Assembly for its reopening.
Background: “May this tribunal prevent the crime of silence” wrote Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize of Literature, philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, social critic and political activist in 1966. He launched the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate crimes committed in Vietnam and judge them according to international law. Following their conclusion that the Allies, lead by the US government, committed War Crimes in Vietnam and following the My Lai Massacre, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation organized Citizens Commissions of Inquiry (CCI) to hold hearings intended to document testimony of war crimes in then Indochina.
The current Tribunal is officially titled an “Extraordinary session of the Russell Tribunal” brought together in response to Israel’s atrocities in Gaza during the so-called ‘Operation Protective Edge’ which saw over 2,000 people killed including over 500 children and over 95 families, over 11,000 injured as well as ravaged much of the Gaza Strip. The Russel Tribunal on Palestine had already met 5 times beforehand in London, Barcelona, Cape Town, New York and Brussels, in that order.
The Panel of Witnesses
Click Names for their Statements
(not all available yet)
Raji Sourani – Human Rights Lawyer, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Paul Mason – Journalist, Mohammed Omer – Journalist, Mohammad Abou-Arab – Surgeon from Gaza, Michael Deas – coordinator in Europe with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), Max Blumenthal – Journalist and author covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often based in Palestine or Israel, Martin Lejeune – Journalist, Mads Gilbert – Norwegian surgeon who was in Gaza during the massacres, Ivan Karakashian – Advocacy Unit Coordinator at Defense for Children International-Palestine, Eran Efrati – Israeli investigative researcher, former IDF soldier, Dr Paul Behrens – Genocide expert, David Sheen – Israeli journalist and filmmaker, Colonel Desmond Travers – Arms expert, retired Irish Army colonel. During his years with the army he served with various United Nations and European Union peacekeeping forces, Ashraf Mashharawi – Palestinian filmmaker living as a refugee in Gaza and Agnes Bertrand – advocacy officer, Aprodev.
Messages of Support
Click Names for their Statements
Click Names for their Statements
(not all available yet)
John Dugard – South African Professor of International Law, Former Special rapporteur for both UN Commission on Human Rights and International Law Commission, Michael Manfield – Queens Council, Master of the Bench, Greys Inn; Professor of Law, City University, London; Fellow of Law, University of Kent; President of the Haldane Society and Amicus; practising Human Rights lawyer for 45 years, Richard Falk – UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for Palestine, 2008-2014 and Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University, Roger Waters – Founding member of the band Pink Floyd; a songwriter, bass guitar player and vocalist, Ahdaf Soueif – Egyptian novelist and political and cultural commentator, Ronald Kasrils – writer, activist and former government minister, South Africa, Vandana Shiva – Indian environmental activist and anti-globalization author, Ken Loach – English film and television director, Paul Laverty – Scottish lawyer and scriptwriter, Christiane Hessel – Activist and author, wife of the late Stephane Hessel, Radhia Nasraoui – Tunisian lawyer, specializing in human rights and Miguel Angel Estrella – Argentine Pianist and UNESCO goodwill ambassador
What we learned
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s Emergency Session on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge held yesterday in Brussels has found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of murder, extermination and persecution and also incitement to genocide.
The Jury reported: ‘The cumulative effect of the long-standing regime of collective punishment in Gaza appears to inflict conditions of life calculated to bring about the incremental destruction of the Palestinians as a group in Gaza.’
‘The Tribunal emphasises the potential for a regime of persecution to become genocidal in effect, In light of the clear escalation in the physical and rhetorical violence deployed in respect of Gaza in the summer of 2014, the Tribunal emphasises the obligation of all state parties to the 1948 Genocide Convention ‘to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.’
The Jury heard evidence from eyewitnesses to Israeli attacks during the Gaza war 2014 including journalists Mohammed Omer, Max Blumenthal, David Sheen, Martin Lejeune, Eran Efrati and Paul Mason, as well as surgeons Mads Gilbert, Mohammed Abou Arab, Genocide Expert Paul Behrens, Col Desmond Travers and Ivan Karakashian, Head of Advocacy and Defence for Children International.
In terms of the crime of incitement to genocide, the tribunal received evidence ‘demonstrating a vitriolic upswing in racist rhetoric and incitement’ during the summer of 2014. ‘The evidence shows that such incitement manifested across many levels of Israeli society, on both social and traditional media, from football fans, police officers, media commentators, religious leaders, legislators, and government ministers.’
The Tribunal also found evidence of the following war crimes:
- Willful killing
- Extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity
- Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population and civilian objects
- Disproportionate use of force
- Attacks against buildings dedicated to religion and education
- The use of Palestinians as human shields
- Employing weapons, projectiles, and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering which are inherently indiscriminate
- The use of violence to spread terror among the civilian population
The Tribunal further stated: ‘It is recognised that in a situation where patterns of crimes against humanity are perpetrated with impunity, and where direct and public incitement to genocide is manifest throughout society, it is very conceivable that individuals or the state may choose to exploit the conditions in order to perpetrate the crime of genocide.
It further noted: ‘We have have a genuine fear that in an environment of impunity and an absence of sanction for serious and repeated criminality, the lessons from Rwanda and other mass atrocities may once again go unheeded’.
The Tribunal calls on Israel to fulfill its’ obligations under international law and for the state of Palestine to accede without further delay to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, fully cooperate with the human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry and fully engage the mechanisms of international justice.
The Tribunal also reminds all states to cooperate to bring to an end the illegal situation arising from Israel’s occupation, siege and crimes in the Gaza Strip. In light of the obligation not to render aid or assistance, all states must consider appropriate measures to exert sufficient pressure on Israel, including the imposition of sanctions, the severing of diplomatic relations collectively through international organisations, or in the absence of consensus, individually by breaking bilateral relations with Israel.
It calls upon All states to fulfill their duty ‘to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide’.
The Full and detailed findings and recommendations of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine can be found at the Russell Tribunal Website
The Tribunal will present its’ findings to the European Parliament today.
Summary of the findings
For the full findings, click here
With regards to Israel’s claim of self defense, the Tribunal rejected it based on the fact that Israel is the Occupying Power and cannot, therefore, make such a claim. The people of Gaza are legally entitled to resist occupation. That is a right granted to them under international law. The ongoing occupation of Palestine is in itself an act of aggression as defined by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 3314 of 1974. Furthermore, the siege on Gaza amounts to collective punishment in clear violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
With regards to the accusation that Israel committed War Crimes, the Tribunal judged in the positive, stating that [the evidence] “leads inescapably to the conclusion that the Israeli military has committed war crimes in the process. Israel forces have violated the two cardinal principles of international humanitarian law – the need to distinguish clearly between civilian targets and military targets; and the need for the use of military violence to be proportionate to the aims of the operation. It has done so through the scale of its bombardment of Gaza and its shelling of civilian areas, including hospitals, schools and mosques.” Israel used an estimated 700 tons of munitions (in contrast to 50 tones during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-09). It has also denied Civilians in Gaza the “right to flee the territory to seek protection and assistance as refugees from war in breach of the right to leave one’s country pursuant to article 13 (2) of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.”
The List of War Crimes includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Willful killing (including summary executions by ground troops and killings of civilians by snipers around houses occupied by Israeli forces inside Gaza);
- Extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity (including the destruction of essential services, in particular Gaza’s only functioning power plant and the apparently systematic targeting of the water and sewage infrastructure);
- Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population and civilians objects (including extensive and wanton artillery shelling and aerial bombardment of densely populated civilian areas);
- Intentionally launching attacks in the knowledge that such attacks would cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated (i.e. the use of disproportionate force, explicitly stated and implemented by the Israeli military in the form of its ‘Dahiya doctrine’, which involves a policy of deliberately using disproportionate force to punish the civilian population collectively for the acts of resistance groups or political leaders);
- Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion or education (including repeatedly and knowingly targeting UN schools operating as places of refuge for civilians);
- Intentionally directing attacks against hospitals, medical units and personnel (including the direct shelling of hospitals resulting in the killing and forced evacuation of wounded civilians, as well as apparent patterns of the targeting of visibly marked medical units and ambulance workers performing their duties);
- Utilising the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations (i.e. the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields);
- Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate (including flechette shells, DIME weapons, thermobaric munitions (‘carpet’ bombs), and munitions containing depleted uranium);
- The use of violence to spread terror among the civilian population in violation of the laws and customs of war (including the employment of a ‘knock on the roof’ policy whereby small bombs are dropped on Palestinian homes as a warning signal in advance of larger bombardments to follow).
With regards to the the allegations that the Palestinian resistance targeted civilians in Israel as well as used indiscriminate weaponry, the Tribunal stated: “There is [..] contradictory information and unclear statistics from official Israeli sources regarding Palestinian rockets, and Israel’s military censor has a gag order in effect, making it extremely difficult to identify where the rockets fell without cooperation from the authorities. The Israeli authorities did not accept the invitation to appear before the Tribunal to state their case.” The Tribunal then stated that, if the claims were true, this would constitute a violation of the laws of war.
With regards to the claim that Israel committed Crimes Against Humanity, the Tribunal stated that for such a claim to be valid, “there must be a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, and the acts of the perpetrator must form part of that attack and be committed with knowledge of the wider context of the attack. Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, there is an additional legal element to be proven, which is the existence of a State or organisational policy to commit such an attack. Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court lists several specific crimes against humanity: murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation or forcible transfer of population; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty; torture; rape and sexual violence; persecution; enforced disappearance; apartheid; and other inhumane acts.” Due to the lack of resources available, the Tribunal limited itself to three categories: (i) murder; (ii) extermination; and (iii) persecution.
The Tribunal states that “there is compelling evidence establishing a strong Prima Facie (based on the first impression; accepted as correct until proved otherwise) case that the attack against the civilian population of Gaza was widespread and systematic” due to “the sheer scale of civilian deaths, injuries, and the destruction of civilian housing.”
Three policy directives of the Israeli military, based on testimonies by journalists based in Gaza and an ex-IDF soldier, were highlighted as a proof of Crimes against Humanity:
- The Dahiya Doctrine: Involves the deliberate use of disproportionate force to collectively punish the civilian population for the acts of resistance groups or political leaders.
- The Hannibal Directive: The destruction of an entire area for the purpose of preventing the capture of Israeli soldiers.
- The Red Line Policy: Involves the creation of a ‘kill zone’ beyond an arbitrary and invisible ‘red line’ around houses occupied by Israeli forces
With regards to the first clause, “(i) murder“, the Tribunal stated that “a significant proportion of the Palestinian civilian fatalities […] were the result of deliberate, unlawful and intentional killings. Two examples given are the execution of Salem Khalil Shammaly “for crossing an imaginary red line while searching for family members in Shuja’iyya” and “the killing of 64 year-old Mohammed Tawfiq Qudeh in his own home.”
With regards to the second clause, “(ii) extermination” which includes both mass killings and the intentional infliction of conditions of life (including depriving access to food, water or medical treatment) calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population, the Tribunal concluded in the affirmative, giving the example of the targeting of medical infrastructure, civilian infrastructure such as the Gazan power plant, an UNRWA infrastructure as well as the sealing of the Erez and Rafah crossings. This crime, while not necessarily an act of genocide, shares common grounds with it.
With regards to the third clause, “(iii) persecution“, which “involves the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental human rights against members of a group or collectivity”. An act may be determined to be persecutory under the following three categories:
- Discriminatory acts causing physical or mental harm.
- Discriminatory infringements on freedom.
- Offenses against property for discriminatory purposes.
The Tribunal concluded in the affirmative, given that the actions and policies of the Government of Israel and the Israeli military are “inherently discriminatory against the Palestinian people”. The Tribunal notes the following non-exhaustive list of violations:
- Torture (including the case of 16 year old Ahmad Abu Raida, who was abducted by the Israeli military, whipped with a wire and threatened with sexual assault while under interrogation, and forced to act as a human shield for the Israelis);
- Sexual violence (such as Khalil Al- Najjar, the imam in Khuza’a who was forced to strip naked in public);
- Physical violence not constituting torture;
- Cruel and inhumane treatment or subjection to inhumane conditions;
- Constant humiliation and degradation;
- Terrorising the civilian population (including examples of Gazan citizens being instructed by the Israeli military to remain in their homes and then being subjected to bombardment);
- Unlawful arrest and detention;
- Imprisonment or confinement; restrictions on freedom of movement (including the denial of a humanitarian corridor or ability to leave the territory of Gaza);
- The confiscation or destruction of private dwellings, businesses, religious buildings, cultural or symbolic buildings or means of subsistence.
With regards to the crime of Genocide, the Tribunal is more ambiguous: “The legal definition of genocide demands proof of a specific intent on the part of the perpetrator not simply to target people belonging to a protected group, but to target them with the intention of destroying the group. It would be for a criminal court to determine whether such specific intent is present in a given situation, on the basis of scrutiny of the relevant evidence for the purposes of prosecution of such crimes.” A summary of the technicalities of the legal definition of Genocide would be too complicated so I suggest you read the report (pages 8-10). That being said, the Tribunal accused the State of Israel of “failing to respect its obligations to prevent and to punish the crime of direct and public incitement to genocide.”
The Tribunal had already established in previous sessions that Israel is implementing an Apartheid System based on the “dominance of Israeli Jews over Palestinians.” The tribunal ended the paragraph with a warning worthy of re-copying in full:
“Beyond the prolonged siege and collective punishment of the Palestinians of Gaza, the ongoing settlement project in the West Bank, and the now regular massive military assaults on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, one must add the increase in aggravated racist hate speech. It is recognised that in a situation where patterns of crimes against humanity are perpetrated with impunity, and where direct and public incitement to genocide is manifest throughout society, it is very conceivable that individuals or the state may choose to exploit these conditions in order to perpetrate the crime of genocide. Alert to the increase in anti-Palestinian speech which constitutes the international crime of direct and public incitement to genocide, and the failure of the Israeli state to fulfil its obligations to prevent and punish incitement to genocide, the RToP is at this time compelled to place the international community on notice as to the risk of the crime of genocide being perpetrated. The jury has listened to alarming evidence over the course of this extraordinary session; we have a genuine fear that in an environment of impunity and an absence of sanction for serious and repeated criminality, the lessons from Rwanda and other mass atrocities may once again go unheeded. “
What’s the Point of the Tribunal?
This question may seem pointless. After all, we know that the Tribunal remains in essence a symbolic People’s Court which doesn’t necessarily have immediate consequences on the policies of the State of Israel. War Criminals and their dedicated apologists sneer at such People’s Court-types and try to legitimize it by misusing the term ‘Kangaroo Court’. This shouldn’t really surprise us. After all, those who follow a Status Quo established through brute force cannot comprehend the importance of a court established by the world’s leading consciences. And indeed, up until his death, Stephane Hessel, the German-born French anti-Nazi resistance fighter, concentration camp survivor, French Ambassador and one of the original drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was President of Honor of the Tribunal. Other people who have served and/or are currently serving in the Tribunal include: James Baldwin, Simone De Beauvoir, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Alice Walker, Roger Waters and Angela Davis.
But the tribunal goes even further than “mere” symbolism. It has concrete results. As Ewa Jasiewicz wrote in MondoWeiss, “[The Tribunal] made me and others taking part think about the roots of international law, the responsibilities of states and institutions, and structures and systems of protection and violation that we hadn’t really thought about in depth before. These weren’t just dry dirges uttered by people in wigs or hypocrites on podiums. These were real mechanisms and narratives of power articulating and attempting to facilitate universal equality. They were as important in delegitimising Israeli apartheid as supermarket occupations, mass street protests and divestment by major funders of Israel.”
Ewa writes of how at least two leading Israeli politicians were close to getting in trouble due to popular action. She gives the example of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who, in 2009, was afraid of going to the UK due to a civil arrest warrant with her name on it. The Cameron government actually had to change the law – prime example of UK complicity in Israeli crimes – to grant her immunity from prosecution for her to go to the UK in 2010 – and once again this year (check out this Al Jazeera report on the topic). Another example is even more telling: IDF General Doron Almog had the British police waiting for him at Heathrow Airport “for his role in destroying homes in Gaza and for the bombing of a house which killed a Hamas leader and 14 others including nine children.” Had he not been warned by the Israeli embassy in the UK, he would have been arrested. Unfortunately, he was able to go back to Israel, but as Ewa mentions, “he was delegitimised”. The arrest warrant, I should add, was sent by Chief London Magistrate Timothy Workman, hardly a minor figure in British Law.
As the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement grows, it will be increasingly difficult for Israel and its partners in crime to ignore and violate international law. The legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle cannot be denied. Our role as members of a conscious global civil society is to make sure that the lessons of Rwanda and South Africa are never repeated, especially given the fact that we can witness the events unfolding on on a daily basis. With the help of global artists of conscience, Israel is finding it hard to hide the corpses, destroyed homes and burned olive trees. The narrative of Palestine has been preserved and remains as strong as ever despite the brutal, savage and barbaric violence committed by the Occupying State. The attempts to wipe Palestine off the map has failed and will always fail precisely because we will never give up. Let us take the Russell Tribunal on Palestine as a sign to continue our resistance. Through poetry, music, writing, painting, dancing, exploring and campaigning, let us help Palestinians define their own future.
I’ll leave you with the unofficial “Russell Tribunal – The Movie (2013)” summarizing the first 5 sessions.