Russell Tribunal on Palestine Examines Corporate Complicity in Israeli Crimes

Article excerpt

On Nov. 20 and 21, 2010-against a backdrop of further Israeli evictions and demolitions in Arab East Jerusalem and of Bedouin dwellings in the Negev-the second international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) unfolded at Britain's Law Society, in the heart of London's legal district. The RToP describes itself as "a court of the people, a Tribunal of conscience, faced with injustices and violations of international law that are not dealt with by existing international jurisdictions, or that are recognized but continue with complete impunity due to the lack of political will of the international community." The original Tribunal on Vietnam (1966-67) was created by the eminent scholar and philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Through hearings held "in full view of international public opinion," RToP intends to contribute to the mobilization and involvement of civil society in all states concerned on the question of Palestine. Although lacking legal authority, it brings together eminent legal experts, international advocacy groups and other representatives from civil society to share their expertise and experience. Publicly identifying the legal and moral issues regarding Israel's crimes against the Palestinians, participants also strategize on the most effective and efficient ways to use national legal mechanisms and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its repeated breaches of international law.

Each of the four annual RToP sessions has a specific focus, with a support committee of international experts presenting cases and evidence to a jury comprising internationally prominent legal experts, present and former high-level politicians, artists, and distinguished representatives of civil society. The first session, held in Barcelona in 2009, examined the failures of the European Union and its member states to uphold international law in their political and economic dealings with Israel, and ruled them complicit in Israel's crimes. This London session focused on corporate complicity in Israel's violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The jurists in London included eminent scholars and legal professionals Prof. John Dugard and Michael Mansfield QC, South African writer, activist and former government minister Ronald Kasrils, and former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), a 2008 U.S. presidential candidate. Also present was Ambassador Stephane Hessel, member of the French resistance, concentration camp survivor and one of the authors of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, along with several other distinguished jurists. The American poet and writer Alice Walker had to cancel due to health reasons.

The first day focused on the legal framework relevant to corporate conduct, the implication of corporate activities in and around illegal Jewish settlements, and the trade and labeling of goods produced in those settlements. Richard Hermer QC (UK), Yasmine Gado (U.S.) and Dr. William Bourdon (France) analyzed the various national legal frameworks and their relevance to the application of international law. The speakers and the jury's legal experts alike agreed that sufficient legal channels already exist to bring to court cases against corporations complicit in Israel's violations of international law, including such multinational corporations as Caterpillar, Veolia and Elbit.

Dr. Dalit Baum of the Israeli organization Who Profits? gave an overview of the range of companies that profit from Israel's occupation and the violations that take place daily. "We always thought that water was the only thing to expand when frozen," she quipped prior to her presentation. "We now know that Israel's settlements do, too." There are more than 1,400 Israeli businesses registered in the West Bank, she said, with about two dozen of a significant size. Many companies establish themselves there because of government tax incentives, or to side-step stringent Israeli pollution laws, exploit the West Bank's natural resources, and service (via banks, shops, construction companies, telecommunications and utility companies, etc. …