Saturday in New York was a special day. Two halls on either side of downtown were jammed with leftwingers for whom Palestine has become a central issue. What Central America was in the 80s or South Africa in the 90s– the Palestine moment is now.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was in the great Hall at Cooper Union, where Lincoln famously spoke, with one person after another with a foreign accent laying out Israel’s defiance of international law. While at the New School which was once a refuge for Jewish scholars who escaped the Holocaust two leftwing Jewish speakers were arguing about whether the Jewish state can be redeemed from the stark photograph of the apartheid wall shown on the cover of the afternoon program. Norman Finkelstein said yes, Anna Baltzer said no.
Celebrate the moment. Tonight Susie Abulhawa will be speaking with two leftwing Israelis; Jeff Halper, another leftwing Israeli, is also in town to explain why the two state solution is dead, and the 50th NY Film Festival is featuring an Israeli filmmaker’s documentary likening the brutality of the occupation to Nazi Germany’s military occupations.
There can be no question that the social-justice left has fully taken up the challenge of Palestine with the aim of driving the mainstream discussion.
As for my headline, the overarching theme of the Russell Tribunal sessions I attended was Israeli impunity. I recorded the insights below. Please note the devastating Peter Hansen statement about buying redemption. Simply devastating.
Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian:
In Israel’s view, “only Israel is going to decide the fate” of Palestine, and the rest of the world will either accept or reject its plans. So no one else has agency. The two-state solution is a Zionist idea, entailing the gift of autonomy to Palestinians within a prison on the West Bank if they will only reconcile themselves to a Jewish state on their land. “No normal Palestinian would agree to partition.” Algerians didn’t accept partition of their land either.
The magnitude of Israeli crimes against Palestinians can only be understood by considering the full history. Because: “daily events are not catastrophic enough” to register with the mainstream media.
Peter Hansen formerly the head of the UN Works and Relief Agency:
The peace process that he once believed could bring justice– “I can only think of it as a cruel joke.” It has nothing to do with principle, but simple dealmaking between powers, and the UN has abandoned its own principles, norms and values merely to have a seat at the table.
As for the huge UN presence in the occupied territories, the aid is a Bandaid on a cancer, and whenever Hansen tried to raise the necessity of addressing underlying political issues with the donor countries, he was told his views were not welcome.
“I was not supposed to talk about anything except how to get truckloads delivered… The donor countries… like to think they have bought redemption.”
Vera Gowlland-Debbas, an expert on international law:
Israel enjoys an immunity from enforcement by international legal bodies that no other nation does. In dozens of other conflicts we have seen UN-declared arms embargoes, targeted sanctions, monitoring systems, and peacekeeping forces. In others there have been criminal tribunals. Israel has never experienced any such punishments. The Security Council refused to accept the Goldstone Report and the landmark International Court of Justice opinion on the wall in 2004—declaring that it was a de facto annexation of 16 percent of Palestinians’ territory, and made those territories into virtual Bantustans—the Security Council has done nothing to enforce the ruling.
When Iraq occupied Kuwait, it suffered crippling sanctions. Darfur and Libya have been sent to the International Criminal Court. The right of return has been honored in Georgia and Bosnia and Kosovo. Nothing doing in Palestine.
Roger Waters, a juror for the Russell Tribunal and bassist for Pink Floyd:
The “elephant in the room” is the unspoken cause of this long and unrelenting pattern of impunity, and that cause is “the Israel and Jewish lobby,” which sits atop the entire discussion. That is why the opinion of the multitudes is set to the side in this situation, as in no other.
I was grateful for Waters’s breaking the ice, because I agree with him. That takes me back to the argument about the lobby and the two state solution at the New School, which I will get to tomorrow.