South African civil society formations can be justifiably proud of pulling off one of the most serious challenges confronting Israel: the question of apartheid. By successfully hosting on November 5–7, a venerable “people’s court” within the precincts of a looming symbol of resistance against apartheid — the District 6 Museum — they made a powerful statement whose effects are still creating waves of discontent.
That Israel feared being branded as the only remaining state South Africa to practice apartheid explains a great deal about its hostility toward the Russell Tribunal. However for pro-Israeli lobby groups in South Africa to engage in infantile and downright futile campaigns to not only bring the Tribunal into disrepute, but also to insult and mock highly respected stalwarts of the freedom struggle, was despicable but not unexpected.
Their mischief making did not stop there. In their zealous support for Israel, they sought to question the impartiality and objectivity of persons such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor John Dugard, Zwelinzima Vavi, anti-apartheid struggler and former minister Ronnie Kasrils, and a host of international participants including a Holocaust survivor!
One wonders, therefore, whether these antagonists care even one iota about the pain and suffering endured by the victims of apartheid. Torture, detention without trial, banishment, death through execution, brutal silencing, and no civic representation are some of the harsh realities that confronted South Africa’s great liberation struggle.
These ugly manifestations of apartheid have unfortunately been and remain a pernicious experience for Palestinians. Their persistent suffering — some of it was revealed via testimonies of noble Jewish souls like Jeff Halper at the Tribunal — has been on-going since the horrors of ethnic cleansing resulted in the illegal and immoral creation of an Israeli colonial and appropriationist state in 1948.
For some South African Jews to display levels of insensitivity, as was evident in their malicious campaign in opposition to those courageous individuals associated with the Tribunal, does beg the question whether they have any clue about apartheid or its evil practices. Unlike brave souls like Ronnie Kasrils, many pro-Israel Zionist Jews were beneficiaries of apartheid in South Africa even though many of them today claim to be opposed to apartheid. Yet they cannot seem to comprehend, or do not want to admit, the horrors visited by Zionist apartheid on hapless Palestinians.
To simply and vainly disregard overwhelming evidence is no different than those who passionately defend the view that the earth is flat. Thus, to retain an ostrich-like approach to the injustice and severe oppression flowing from apartheid Israel should not be accepted as normal by anyone.
The Russell Tribunal and its panel of eminent jurists determined that Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people are in breach of the prohibition of apartheid under international law. Following testimony from expert witnesses, the Tribunal concluded unanimously that “Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law.” The jury reached this conclusion having paid particular attention to the legal definition of apartheid and ensuring that each of the defining criteria was met. This included the following facts: “(i) that two distinct racial groups can be identified; (ii) that ‘inhuman acts’ are committed against the subordinate group; and (iii) that such acts are committed systematically in the context of an institutionalised regime of domination by one group over the other.” They considered in their judgment the widespread evidence of “targeted killings”; the “use of lethal force” against peaceful demonstrators; and the torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians.
The Tribunal declared that although “the Palestinians living under colonial military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subject to a particularly aggravated form of apartheid”, the latter extends to Israeli treatment of Palestinian citizens within Israel, and that “Israel's rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.”
The Tribunal also held that there were sufficient grounds to declare that another crime against humanity is also being committed by Israel — the crime of persecution. This involves “the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights of the members of an identifiable group in the context of a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population.” It concluded that the crime of persecution could relate to several Israeli acts, including “the siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip as a form of collective punishment of the civilian population; the targeting of civilians during large-scale military operations; the destruction of civilian homes not justified by military necessity; the adverse impact on the civilian population effected by the Wall and its associated regime in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; [and] the concerted campaign of forcible evacuation and demolition of unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev region of southern Israel.”
In terms of the legal consequences of the judgment, the Tribunal has called upon Israel to “cease its apartheid acts and its policies of persecution and offer appropriate assurances and guarantees of non-repetition”, as well as to make reparations and pay compensation to Palestinians for the damage it has caused. They call upon the international community to fulfill its individual and collective duty “to cooperate to bring Israel's apartheid acts and policies of persecution to an end”, including by ending any aid or assistance being given to it.
In their recommendations the Tribunal members also call for the following: the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation into the international crimes being committed by Israel; Palestine to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and the UN General Assembly to convene a special session “to consider the question of apartheid against the Palestinian people” including considering the roles of individuals, organisations, corporations and all public and private bodies which have been material in assisting Israel in its apartheid policies.
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 organizers of the Russell Tribunal.
One is reminded of the resounding call by late ANC cadre Professor Kader Asmal when he made a profound argument to seek Israel's delegitimation in much the same way stalwarts like him sought the delegitimation of South Africa. The Russell Tribunal has thus made it clear: Israeli apartheid has zero legitimacy! Those who cry foul have yet to come to terms with the deep wounds inflicted by apartheid practices — whether South African or Israeli!