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Please no applause! Sketching the Russell Tribunal, Day 1

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The following are my sketches and thoughts on the first day of proceedings at the Russell Tribunal’s fourth session in NYC. I’m bummed to have missed the cultural event Friday night, which apparently included some epic storytelling, some rambling speeches, and some great performances, but I will also cover Sunday’s speeches and the final press wrap-up on Monday.

Many of my friends have poured a lot of energy into the Tribunal for the past few weeks, and some for the past months so I wanted to see what the fuss was.


When I got to Cooper Union at 9 am on a Saturday morning the line wrapped around the block, and volunteers were trying to keep people vaguely organized on the fly. A separate line I didn’t draw is just the people on standby waiting for a chance to maybe get in.


More people waiting on line. Actually, truth be told, as official Mondoweiss cartoonist, I had a press pass waiting for me, but I have always felt that the duty of a journalist is to stand amongst the people and be with them in moments of travail and not to take advantage of the apartheid press system. And then at 10 am I got tired of that so decided to do so.


I forgot to draw the security once you get inside….metal detectors like at an airport, bag screeners, and a bomb-sniffing dog. The event itself was in the “Great Hall” at Cooper Union, in the basement, as shown here–auditorium style seating. I was particularly impressed with the large number of pillars strategically placed to prevent the maximum number of sightlines, I am sure. In the back you can see some of the many many cameras. People said when I started sketching it would help make it feel like a real courtroom, except of course the whole point of courtroom sketching is that no cameras are allowed.


Ok! Here we go! So up top you see Pierre Galland, the chair of the proceedings. He welcomed the audience with a long speech in French, apparently under the mistaken assumption that we all had U.N.-style simultaneous translation headphones (which, to be fair, were later passed out haphazardly) so I didn’t really get much out of what he was saying, since I don’t speak French. I have tried to transcribe his speech as accurately as I could.

Galland then switched to English. He is saying here: “If Leila Shahid, the EU Ambassador from Palestine, cannot be here today it is because the U.S. Embassy in Brussels did not give her a visa in time. If Hilary Clinton is not here, it is because she did not respond to the invitation we sent her.”

Below him is the Mayor of Geneva, who apparently provided funding for the Tribunal, also speaking in French, and below the Frenchmen are three of the jurors: Angela Davis, Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils.

Pierre Galland kept saying, “Please, no applause” after introducing each speaker because we were supposed to pretend this was a real tribunal and have an air of formality. Later he got a little annoyed that we had a very hard time following this simple instruction and told us we were less disciplined than audiences in London and Johannesburg and Barcelona. Someone who was in London told me that the proceedings there were much more formal and it did make things very impressive and grave.


He then held up a small book, and said– “Here is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And then he said, roughly– “And here is the man who wrote it.” Or, the only one left of the group that wrote it. And with that he introduced the only juror to give a welcoming speech, Stéphane Hessel.

And Stéphane Hessel was amazing. A tiny old man of 94, he started by loudly, emphatically welcoming “citoyens et citoIENNES! Male and FEMALE citizens!” in French and English, to which the audience laughed and cheered loudly. He spoke about how lucky we are to live in an age with the United Nations, which makes the task of justice easier. Friends, every person I talked to agreed that Stéphane Hessel is our hero and we are all in love with him. Watch his entire speech when it is online. He is passionate, engaging and charming. And his biography is amazing. He was interviewed last time he was in NYC for the English-language publication of his book “Indignez-Vous!” (“Time For Outrage” although I would translate it as “Get Pissed Off!”) and you can watch that interview here.

After he spoke and the crowd once again burst into enthusiastic applause Pierre Galland said that he was the exception to the no-applause rule.

Next to him is a drawing of some of the media equipment set up in the back, and then a drawing of the first presenter, Ilan Pappé, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog. People I was with thought it was interesting that Pappé started this session of the Russell Tribunal by saying that “Zionism had a noble goal” of turning Judaism into a nationalist project, but it was unfortunately mired in a colonial realities. This is not a universally agreed-upon opinion, to say the least, among the Jewish anti-Zionists I know. He went on to make several excellent points, though, about how the Jewish settlers, who recorded “every mosquito bite” in their diaries, clearly felt that the Palestinian Arabs “their hosts, the very people who taught them how to cultivate the land” were “usurpers” and “alien natives,” an altogether mindboggling concept.

He spoke also about how Israel has created a new concept of citizens without citizenship or protection of citizenship, Palestine as a “mega-prison with two forms,” “a maximum security wing for those who resist” (i.e., Gaza) and an “open prison” for those who collaborate (the PA). Generally he is an excellent speaker, to the point and effective.

A quick note on procedure; I realized that despite sitting pretty up-front, I really had a hard time seeing the speakers clearly, so was forced to rely on the projection screen, which meant I could’ve just been watching the live stream.


Up top is a sketch of the jurors on my side of the room–John Dugard, Cynthia McKinney, Michael Mansfield, Angela Davis (facing away from us, so you just see her hair), Miguel Angel Estrella and Ronnie Kasrils.

Below is the second speaker, Peter Hansen, former head of UNRWA, who spoke about the U.N.’s responsibility and role in Palestine. That line is a direct quote about the quartet: “The idea was that the U.N. bring legitimacy, the Americans power to get things done, the E.U. money, and god knows what the Russians bring.”

He generally wasn’t hot on the Quarter, pointing out that the U.N. can’t be an equal member with its constituent states.


Ben White is charming, good-looking and hard to draw. Above him are Angela Davis and an attempt to get Stephané Hessel again. 9 out of 10 cartoonists agree that drawing old men is the best, much more fun than young fresh-faced men like Ben White, but Hessel was too far away.

Davis asked a good question– How can activists participate or get access to the U.N.?– and really that was sort of the crux of the whole matter for me, being in that room, because the U.N. is to me a sphere entirely removed from my ability to access or pressure or interact with it, so to listen to a lot of speeches about its potentials and responsibilities felt disempowering.

quiglygowlland debbasweb

That feeling grew as the day wore on. After lunch were John Quigley and Vera Gowlland-Debbas (that’s an attempt at Miguel Angel Estrella in the top left) who are legal scholars and spoke at length about the legal potential for action by the General Assembly and what could be done at the U.N. to help the case of Palestine, partially at least as a way of establishing responsibility, and it was very intellectually interesting but man, what are we supposed to do with this information?

Also, the incredibly hyped security and the massive investment of time and energy by New York activists to bring this event off started to seem a little disproportionate for what was turning into, effectively, an academic legal conference from my perspective. From right to left you can read my thoughts on that, a little sketch of me fading, and some thoughts on the “elephant in the room.”

Early on Roger Waters said the “elephant in the room” was the Zionist lobby, but I think the real elephant in the room, and Quigley and Gowland-Debbas touched on this briefly, was the fact that action at the UN requires action be initiated by the Palestine Observer Mission, which is controlled by the PA, who will never take action. Multiple speakers referenced this problem in passing, that the PA had utterly failed to maximize its case at the UN after the ICJ ruling on the wall in 2004, after Cast Lead, and after the Mavi Marmara incident.


Here is Susan Akram, who spoke about refugees, Gowlland-Debbas, and another attempt at Miguel Angel Estrella. At this point I was pretty burnt out after a long day and no longer paying much attention to the speeches.

I did get encouraged to come back on Sunday though. I was feeling very unsure of why I was there, or what the goal of this Tribunal was, and here is what I heard from various people I talked to: by putting all this testimony here, in one place, we are created a powerful document and reference for the future.  We are building towards a new legal concept, “sociocide” which will apparently be introduced in greater depth on Sunday, and that should also be a day with more solutions, more action ideas presented, more discussion of moving forward.

The goal of this Tribunal is not to present two sides of an argument and then make a decision– we know what the crimes are. The goal is to bear witness. Also, from the gathering of VIPs involved, apparently it’s getting a lot of press coverage, which is great.

Still, with all this talk of putting pressure on the U.N., on the national member states, with all this take of the failure of the U.N. and the U.S. to take action, I am waiting for someone to mention my favorite three letters: B, D and S. Maybe Sunday.

Ethan Heitner

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13 Responses

  1. Les on October 8, 2012, 2:18 pm

    “Alien natives” cuts to the quick in an instant. Let the term become part of the discourse.

  2. annie on October 8, 2012, 2:55 pm

    wonderful! love these photos and your notes. phyllis bennis gave an excellent speech about the UN on sunday i highly recommend.

  3. ToivoS on October 8, 2012, 6:06 pm

    Nice touch, the elephant in the room was the PA’s inability to act in the international forums. It can’t be Zionism, not in that forum, because every one is acutely aware of the primary problem.

    This is a topic that deserves more attention. The PA has been and is being paid hundreds of millions of dollars annually. This money is used to pay the salaries of police forces that serve to suppress Palestinian resistance. A good chunk of the money is siphoned off into private hands nourishing a Palestinian 1% that has no interests beyond preserving their status. There is not much that we in the West can do to change things on the Westbank, but it is something that should be openly acknowledged.

    • Hostage on October 9, 2012, 5:57 am

      The PA has been and is being paid hundreds of millions of dollars annually. This money is used to pay the salaries of police forces that serve to suppress Palestinian resistance.

      Nice try, but they are doing exactly what the Middle East Quartet, the Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly, and the members of the ICJ demanded of them:

      Calling upon both parties to fulfil their obligations under relevant provisions of the road map, the Palestinian Authority to undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks, and the Government of Israel to take no actions undermining trust, including deportations and attacks on civilians and extrajudicial killings,

      — A/RES/ES-10/15, 2 August 2004,

      Judge Rosalyn Cohen Higgins specifically addressed that legal obligation:

      This is not difficult – from Security Council resolution 242 (1967) through to Security Council resolution 1515 (2003), the key underlying requirements have remained the same – that Israel is entitled to exist, to be recognized, and to security, and that the Palestinian people are entitled to their territory, to exercise self-determination, and to have their own State. Security Council resolution 1515 (2003) envisages that these long-standing obligations are to be secured, both generally and as to their detail, by negotiation. The perceptible tragedy is that neither side will act to achieve these ends prior to the other so doing. . . .

      19. I think the Court should also have taken the opportunity to say, in the clearest terms, what regrettably today apparently needs constant reaffirmation even among international lawyers, namely, that the protection of civilians remains an intransgressible obligation of humanitarian law, not only for the occupier but equally for those seeking to liberate themselves from occupation.

      -– link to

      It really doesn’t help when the solidarity movement accuses the PA of wrongdoing when it fulfills its obligations under the applicable agreements, UN resolutions, and international law. The UN Organization is responsible for failing to make Israel and the United States live up to their obligations. Hopefully the findings of this session of the Russell Tribunal will highlight that fact.

      • ToivoS on October 10, 2012, 1:44 am

        Sorry Hostage but those “international” agreements are no longer valid. The PLO (or PA) agreed to police their territories against terrorism against the Israeli aggressor in exchange for rights to the WB. Israel has reneged on this agreement. They allow settlers to run amok attacking Palestinian farmers with IDF protection. They continue to steal more WB land. They continue expelling Palestinians from their land and demolishing their homes. You know all of this. For the Palestinians to continue to hold up their end of the bargain in the face of all of this betrayal makes no sense.

        For you to insist that the PA is obligated under international law to serve as Israel’s police force makes international law irrelevant. Israel has forfeited any agreements they convinced the PA to sign. It is time for the Palestinians to go over to total resistance (hopefully nonviolent) while they break every law the Israelis throw at them.

        I remember very clearly when ML King went to jail in the early 60s in Birmingham. Are you aware Hostage that King was breaking the law when he got arrested. Not only that but he knew he was breaking the law but did it openly and transparently. At that time that was a very big deal. The Hostages of the world were running around in circles advising King to work within the law. Guess what? He ignored their advise and the rest is history. The PA really has no choice but to ignore those foolish agreements they signed with the Israelis (these were not international laws) and do what is morally right.

      • Hostage on October 10, 2012, 1:25 pm

        Sorry Hostage but those “international” agreements are no longer valid.

        Judge Higgins was talking about an intransgressible principle of customary international humanitarian law. It doesn’t depend upon the terms of conventional agreements.

        FYI, only the Security Council can revoke its resolution 1515, and it hasn’t done that. I was also discussing a resolution of the General Assembly, adopted during an Emergency Special Session under the auspices of resolution 377A(V), “Uniting for peace”. Only the General Assembly can revoke its resolution ES-10/15, and it hasn’t done that yet.

  4. Citizen on October 8, 2012, 7:06 pm

    Nothing in the TV news about this Tribunal meeting.

  5. philosophia on October 8, 2012, 7:35 pm

    Thank you for these wonderful sketches. Sunday was a great day at the RToP, although I was disappointed that Chomsky couldn’t make it. We did get to see his Skype lecture, albeit somewhat shrouded in darkness. I was so moved by almost everything and everyone yesterday. Thank you to Mondoweiss for promoting the tribunal, and of course to all the organizers and participants.

    • philosophia on October 8, 2012, 7:36 pm

      p.s. I can’t find anything about the tribunal in the MSM. Did anyone cover it? Who were the media present?

      • annie on October 8, 2012, 7:42 pm

        here are the news reports

        check out the bold:

        Putting Palestine On The Agenda: At The Russell Tribunal In New York The Real News Network
        The US on trial in NY: The Russell Tribunal on Palestine Ahram Online
        Salem-News.Com – CounterPunch
        all 51 news articles »

        but when you click on it, it doesn’t lead to 51 articles. weird

  6. Hostage on October 8, 2012, 7:45 pm

    I think the real elephant in the room, and Quigley and Gowland-Debbas touched on this briefly, was the fact that action at the UN requires action be initiated by the Palestine Observer Mission, which is controlled by the PA, who will never take action. Multiple speakers referenced this problem in passing, that the PA had utterly failed to maximize its case at the UN after the ICJ ruling on the wall in 2004, after Cast Lead, and after the Mavi Marmara incident.

    Quigley and Gowland-Debbas certainly know better than to suggest that the Permanent Observer has failed to initiate action in the UN. It’s trivially easy to prove that is not the case:

    This letter is in follow-up to our previous 432 letters regarding the ongoing crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since 28 September 2000. These letters, dated from 29 September 2000 (A/55/432-S/2000/921) to 26 June 2012 (A/ES-10/560-S/2012/492), constitute a basic record of the crimes being committed by Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian people since September 2000. For all of these war crimes, acts of State terrorism and systematic human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people, Israel, the occupying Power, must be held accountable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

    I should be grateful if you would arrange to have the text of the present letter distributed as a document of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly, under agenda item 5, and of the Security Council.

    See A/ES-10/561 – S/2012/659, 23 August 2012

    The Permanent Observer of Palestine and the various UN Rapporteurs (including some of the participants in the Russell Tribunal), UN fact finding missions, and UN treaty monitoring bodies spilled more ink over the ICJ advisory opinion than any other document in UN history.

    The advisory opinion was requested by an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly. It’s somewhat ludicrous to suggest that the panels of legal experts in the treaty bodies or the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee (Decolonization), Sixth Committee (Legal Questions), the International Law Commission, and the UN Secretariat’s Legal Affairs section needed anyone to “maximize” the case after the UN’s primary judicial organ handed down an unambiguous set of findings on the applicable law regarding the illegality of the wall; the illegality of Israeli settlements; the illegality of the denial of self-determination; and the obligation of every state to bring those situations to an end.

  7. jabaroot on October 8, 2012, 7:46 pm

    I was there this weekend, and I have to say that I was thoroughly annoyed that the audience could not obey the simple “no applause” rule, an annoyance that was compounded by the fact that some would giggle when reminded of the rule. I was further embarrassed when it was pointed out that audiences elsewhere had no problem complying. Leave it to us Americans to have shameless disregard for instructions.

    I was also lucky enough to have a French friend sitting next to me while Galland made his opening remarks, acting as my own personal interpreter :) On that note, overall I felt that the tribunal had quite a few organizational failings, which dampened my enjoyment of its great content.

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