They Can Take Everything but Our Minds
In the last issue of al-Majdal, we explored legal avenues for holding accountable Israeli perpetrators and those complicit in violations of international law. All the pending cases discussed in that issue have since been dismissed, whether through legislative intervention (as with the Daraj case in Spain), or findings that the cases were not justiciable or the plaintiff did not have standing (as with the al-Haq case in the U.K. and the Bil'in case in Canada). Once again, Palestinian victims were denied effective remedies because challenging Israeli impunity was judged to be too politically sensitive for the courtrooms of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.
In the same period, however, Israeli impunity was challenged by another judge who delivered his team's assessment of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and Hamas during Israel's military offensive against the occupied Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. At the end of September, the U.N. "Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict" headed by Judge Richard Goldstone submitted the Mission's meticulously researched report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, including a set of practical recommendations aimed to ensure that Israeli perpetrators will be held to account for the first time. The "Goldstone Report" is assessed in Reem Mazzawi's commentary for this issue of al-Majdal.
While the Goldstone Report and its recommendations were ultimately adopted by the Human Rights Council, it is important to note that the Council had initially decided to defer the vote on it to its next session in the spring of 2010. Such a course of action would have stripped the report of much of its value in securing redress for the Palestinian victims. The news that came out of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva was that the official Palestinian delegation played a major role in initiating the scandalous deferral. It was at this point that Palestinian civil society came alive; phone calls to officials, press releases, articles in various Palestinian and international media outlets, and demonstrations erupted in protest, and ultimately played the central role in pushing the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to give the Report their full backing. As a result, the Human Rights Council resumed debate of the Report in its 12th Special Session and ultimately endorsed the report and its recommendations on 16 October 2009.
By passing this test, Palestinian civil society proved its mettle in defending the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. The individuals running the organizations and networks that make up this civil society are largely a generation of Palestinian activists raised in the 1980s and the first Intifada, which was a period marked by intensive popular political education among Palestinian society. This education has enabled them to continue the struggle for the rights of the Palestinian people until today, despite the severe constraints posed by Israel's occupation, apartheid and colonization and the fragmentation of the Palestinian people.