Can the Russell Tribunal ensure justice for Palestine?


Following four years of deliberation and testimony, this weekend will see the historic closing session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) in Brussels.

Since launching in 2009, this people’s court has identified and examined the involvement and complicity of governments, institutions and corporations in violations of international law committed by Israel in its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

On Sunday, 17 March, the jury of the Tribunal will draw a number of conclusions based on the work carried out during sessions of the Tribunal held in Barcelona, London, Cape Town and New York.

The closing session comes just days after the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Israel to trial or release the 4600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails without charge.

Renewed tensions in the West Bank, as a result of the death of 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat in Israeli custody, has once again brought the issue to the fore.

Although the Russell Tribunal has no legal status, it examines violations of international law that are not dealt with by existing international jurisdictions, or that continue regardless because of a lack of political will from the international community.

It aims to “reaffirm the supremacy of international law as the basis for a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict” according to its mission statement.

The first Russell Tribunal was held in 1966 in response to the Vietnam War.

It takes its name from its founder, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell who said of the concept: “We are not judges, we are testimonies”.

In its four years of existence, the RToP jury has listened to witnesses such as Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu giving testimonies on third-party complicity in the Occupation, as well as to Palestinians.

With its final session, the Tribunal aims to come full circle, paving the way for civil society to implement initiatives that will force Israel and its backers to honour their responsibilities.



In Barcelona, where the first session took place in March 2010, the RToP denounced the complicity of the European Union in the oppression of the Palestinian people.

In Cape Town in November 2011, it provided evidence on Israel’s “Apartheid system” towards its Palestinian neighbours.

In London in November 2010, the role of the corporations and their complicity with Israel was exposed, and last October in New York, the United States was held to account for its complicity in the Occupation.

In Brussels, the RToP’s jury will be composed of eminent figures such as Pink Floyd singer-songwriter Roger Waters, American civil rights activist Angela Davis, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Argentine pianist Miguel-Angel Estrella.

They will deliver their final conclusion at Passage 44 in Brussels from 09.00.

Some have questioned the effectiveness of the Tribunal or the point of holding it in Brussels at a time when European politicians are having to crisis-manage a global economic downturn.

But the impact of the findings of the Russell Tribunal is wide reaching.

A World Bank report published this week highlighted the devastating economic impact of Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods in Palestine.

The Palestinian economy has been in steady decline since 1994, the report says, mainly as a result of Israeli-imposed economic restrictions and a prolonged blockade, which has prevented growth and caused high levels of unemployment (currently at 22.9 per cent).

Stéphane Hessel, the French former Resistance fighter, author and inspiration for the Indignados movement who died last week, was an honorary president of the RToP.

Known worldwide as a profound lover and defender of justice, he always said that he loved the Israeli people while he hated Israel’s aggressive and oppressive politics.

“Instead of developing itself in a friendly and human way,” he once said in an interview, “Israel is behaving in the most criminal fashion towards the Palestinian people.”

It is hoped that the memory of Hessel’s words, philosophy and deeds will help the Tribunal provide a lasting solution to the Palestinian crisis.