Day two of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s fourth session, held in New York City! The above image is actually my sketch from the end of the day and the last testimony, of Gustave Massiah, but it sets the scene nicely I think.
Sunday morning felt more energetic from the beginning. The opening topic was U.S. complicity, which perhaps felt more immediately relevant to me, but Diana Buttu, the opening speaker, was also incredibly charismatic. She is the center sketch on this page. She also brought a much-missed element to the testimony: Palestinian voices. She was not only literally the first Palestinian voice we heard during the proceedings (not entirely the organizers’ fault, since Huwaida Arraf was unable to attend Saturday due to health reasons, and Raji Sourani and Leila Shahid were prevented by the U.S. State Department from obtaining visas) but also brought in her testimony stories of what U.S. support for Israel means to Palestinians living in the village of Khan al-Ahmar as a way of examining the broader effects of that support.
I thought it interesting that she questioned the focus of the tribunal on international law, since “law is derived from power.”
I tried to sit closer to the other side of the jury so I could sketch those I didn’t sketch yesterday, especially everybody’s crush object, Stéphane Hessel. The little hearts I drew around him represent the fact that I am totally in love with him.
To her right a quick sketch of juror Dennis Banks, one of the leaders of the American Indian Movement. On top of her is Pierre Galland’s hair.
Below an unfinished attempt at Cynthia McKinney, who got righteously angry when the topic of AIPAC influence on Congress came up, and two of John Dugard, who is the member of the jury who looks most like he maybe could use a hug. A question about what to do about the United States’ defunding of UNESCO after it admitted Palestine, and its threat to defund any other UN body that does the same, led to my (admittedly) brilliant idea: Kickstarter for UNESCO, although someone pointed out that IndieGogo would probably be more appropriate.
Next came Katherine Gallagher of CCR, who also spoke quite well and finally started the conversation that would continue through the afternoon….the question of what is to be done? The answer is mass movements, action. She hinted at BDS, a mention that would finally be made explicit by David Wildman (below her) of the United Methodist Church and the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation who was funny and quite on-point and noted the day as the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the Afghanistan War. Wildman suggested we start treating subsidies to arms companies the way the US Department of Agriculture does its subsidies to farmers: we pay them not to grow crops we have too much of on the market.
Finally, Wildman gave a very hopeful note, that in fact the churches, the Presbyterians, Methodists and Quakers, are way ahead of the traditional “liberal” institutions like universities and NGOs on boycott and divestment, having adopted strong resolutions on boycott of settlement goods and moving towards divestment from key companies.
After Wildman, who is below Gallagher, came a message from Noam Chomsky, who could not be physically present due to health reasons. He addressed us by skype and it felt like we were all waiting for a message by our Dear Leader. I will never understand the cult of personality around Chomsky, and it was especially hilarious because he sat in a dark room to address us, giving the appearance of someone in witness protection or a cult leader. Hence my very detailed sketch of him to the left of Gallagher.
To Wildman’s left is Mairead Maguire, to his right is Ronnie Kasrils.
After Chomsky was supposed to be Russell Means, who was also sick. Ward Churchill was supposed to give a skype message from him, but the skype was completely inaudible.
Dear conference leaders: please do not use skype. There is no reason. I have never seen it work effectively. At the very least test it beforehand. But in both Chomsky and Churchill’s case, they could have just as easily delivered a pre-recorded message.
Already quite a morning, though. Next came lunch, then the question of introducing a new concept to international criminal law, i.e. sociocide: the destruction of a society’s ability to reproduce itself. To introduce the concept was Johan Galtung, top right, who honestly seemed to me a little disconnected from reality. After him came William Schabas, drawn to his left, who made the excellent point that much of what was described under the umbrella of sociocide could already be prosecutable by laws already on the books against genocide, apartheid, crimes against humanity, etc. etc.
He also looked like he could use a hug.
Then Cindy and Craig Corrie made a surprise appearance, which drew all the photographers to the front of the room, to talk about the importance and the limitations of the legal battle briefly. To their right, another picture of Hessel, who I will never tire of.
And this is where things started to get heated. The biggest drama of the day came during the testimony of Salah Abu Jawad (who noted that his passport name, Salah Hamayel, was imposed by Israeli ethnographers after the conquest of the West Bank as an attempt to emphasize tribal identities among Palestinians to fragment and divide them politically).
He was only the second Palestinian to speak, and spoke incredibly passionately and urgently about the need to focus on the crime of sociocide, despite Schabas’ concerns. I tried to capture some of his rapid gestures. He did not look down at his paper once as he listed the names of Palestinian cities depopulated, Palestinian villages razed to rubble after 1948 (not, as he noted, during the war itself).
He insisted that sociocide was needed as a concept in international law, that it was not just apartheid because it went beyond South Africa. But then, after he spoke, the juror Michael Mansfield wanted to ask a question.
“What is the definition of apartheid under international statute?”
Abu Jawad started to talk about apartheid in South Africa.
“No, answer the question please. What is the definition of apartheid under international statute?”
Mansfield started to really hector Abu Jawad on this point when it became apparent that Abu Jawad did not have the definition with him, which Mansfield apparently did, because he started reading it. This whole hostile interaction drew loud sustained boos from the audience, who saw a white lawyer from the west bullying a Palestinian witness.
But to be fair, Mansfield’s own passion and anxiety, he explained, came from having watched Fida Qishta’s film “Where Will The Birds Fly” (which readers of Mondoweiss should be familiar with) which was screened during lunch, and feeling strongly concerned that trying to introduce a new concept into international legal thought like sociocide would delay urgent action that could be taken under already existing laws like that banning apartheid, which as he and fellow juror Ronnie Kasrils pointed out is not restricted to what took place just in South Africa by definition.
This drew a number of responses on both sides from the jury and was probably the strongest moment of disagreement during the entire proceedings.
Angela Davis closed off the discussion with a very wise comment on focusing on the strategic use of language, and then it was Phyllis Bennis’ turn to testify, as the topic turned to ways forward.
And what a speech it was. She talked about BDS, about the power of small victories. She spoke about the February 15th 2003 march of 14 million people worldwide against the Iraq War, which gave the small nations who sat on the Security Council at that time the courage to resist U.S. pressure and vote AGAINST authorizing the American invasion of Iraq, repudiating Bush’s attempt to legalize the illegitimate.
She spoke about the need to focus and refine the BDS movement, but about the incredible journey that the movement has taken in such a short time. To her right is a drawing of Michael Mansfield, and then below her to the right is me leaping up out of my chair shouting “Preach it, sister!” Seriously, listen to it. It gave me hope.
To me, everything after that point was anticlimactic, probably also because the last speeches also in French and the translator headsets were pretty fussy– lots of feedback, the volume was quite soft, etc. So that is my someone bad drawing of Gianfranco Fattorini. Actually, I feel a little bad for being such a typical American. For all I know Fattorini and Massiah, below, were excellent speakers.
And then Gustave Massiah, and finally a very impressive message of solidarity from surprise guest Zwelinzima Vavi, the head of the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) who spoke very movingly about his own personal life struggles but also, as he phrased it, the “roar of silence from American trade unions.”
And with that the proceedings came to a close.
The person sitting next to me and I joked that we would definitely watch a reality show of the members of the jury being tourists in NYC: Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Roger Waters, Ronnie Kasrils, Dennis Banks, John Dugard, Michael Mansfield, Cynthia McKinney, Miguel Angel Estrella, Stéphane Hessel hanging out in Times Square? Taking a tour bus together? Getting together in a bar afterwards? I would watch that show. I wonder if things were tense after Mansfield’s questioning of Abu Jawad?
In reality, the way the evening ended was that Pierre Galland presented a bouquet of flowers to the amazing lead organizer of the New York session, Maryam Zohny, and all of the incredible volunteers, and then to Stéphane Hessel, who I absolutely kid you not, proceeded to extemporaneously recite Shakespeare’s sonnet #116 as a reminder that we do this all for love and to remain, as lovers do, fixed forever on our goals, admitting no impediments:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I did not draw this because I was too busy swooning.