IT WAS always going to be a foregone conclusion that the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which completed its work in Cape Town yesterday, would make the findings it did. This includes the finding that “Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law”.
The very existence of the tribunal, and the fact of its sitting in Cape Town, evoked cries of outrage from the Zionist lobby and from supporters of Israel in advance of this weekend’s meeting. No doubt the findings, carried elsewhere in this newspaper today, will evoke similar outrage.
That is the right of those who oppose the existence, and the legitimacy, of the Russell Tribunal.
Equally, it is the right of the Russell Tribunal, and the eminent group of public intellectuals and personalities who compose the panel, to find as they did. As the tribunal itself points out in its summary of findings, “The tribunal has no legal status; it operates as a court of the people.”
It also points out that “the Israeli government was invited to present its case before the tribunal but chose not to exercise this right and provided no answer to correspondence from the Russell Tribunal on Palestine”.
Abstention, and ignoring the tribunal, is equally the right of the Israeli government.
But turning the tribunal into an object of scorn and hatred, as has been done by some of its more vociferous critics, is to exhibit an intolerance and a lack of respect for intellectual inquiry that is out of step with the great traditions of Jewish scholarship. Whatever one may think of the tribunal itself, and of those who comprise its membership, one cannot deny it the right to examine one of the great international moral issues – and great tragedies – of our time, the intertwined narratives of Israel and Palestine.
As Moira Levy points out on our facing page today, the Israel-Palestine debate should not be about who has committed the worst atrocities, or who has done more harm, or who is more to blame for the conflict, or who has killed more civilians. It should instead be about saying “never again”, wherever, and whenever, it needs saying.
And that includes Israel and Palestine.