A prestigious group of human rights icons from around the globe, including Alice Walker and Angela Davis, gathered in Manhattan earlier this week to stage a jury tribunal on Israel‘s occupation of Palestine.
The gathering was intended to call attention to what the group called Israel’s long-standing violations of international law and human rights abuses in Palestine—and the complicity of the United States and the United Nations in assisting Israel in the commission of those crimes. The event, which took place at Cooper Union, was considered the most high-profile event ever held in the U.S. regarding Israel’s occupation. Called the Russell Tribunal, or International War Crimes Tribunal—named after its organizer philosopher Bertrand Russell—the trials have been held regularly over the last 40 years to investigate war crimes around the world.
A crowd of close to a thousand people—including actors Harry Belafonte and Wallace Shawn—packed into Cooper Union’s Great Hall to witness to one of the most distinguished panels of human rights leaders ever gathered in one place: civil rights icon Angela Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, French resistance fighter and co-author of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Stéphane Hessel, African National Congress leader Ronnie Kasrils, American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks, human rights legal powerhouses John Dugard and Michael Mansfield.
During the testimony part of the tribunal, over the course of two days, the crowd and the jury listened to and questioned experts such as Noam Chomsky, Diana Buttu and Ilan Pappé. The U.S. State Department denied visas to the Gaza Strip’s foremost human rights attorney Raji Sourani and the envoy of the Palestinian Authority to the European Commission in Brussels, Leila Shahid, so they weren’t able to join the gathering.
Officials from Israel and the U.S. were invited to participate but did not even respond to the invitations. It was a discussion of Israel that was much more substantive—and negative—than that which the American public normally hears, particularly during presidential election campaigns, when each candidate must battle to see who can more passionately show their unquestioned support for Israel.
Israel’s crimes against Palestine have been condemned in the Hague by the International Court of Justice, but are rarely if ever acknowledged in the U.S. media.