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Pro-Palestinian activists strategize in Geneva

GENEVA (JTA) — On the eve of a major U.N. anti-racism conference, pro-Palestinian activists brainstorming on how to advance the so-called “Durban strategy” advocated taking Israel to court.

At the first World Conference Against Racism, in 2001 in the South African city of Durban, activists likened Israel to apartheid-era South Africa, deserving of similar isolation and economic punishment through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

Eight years later, with the United Nations in Geneva barring Mideast advocacy on its grounds during this week’s Durban Review Conference, activists and academics gathered on the other side of town for an event they dubbed the “Israel Review Conference.”

Convening in the headquarters of the left-wing Swiss Party of Labor, they hashed out a number of ways to damage the Jewish state, from greater publicity, boycotts and coordinating national campaigns to petitioning the United Nations for an international tribunal and pressing their own governments to claim “universal jurisdiction” and try Israeli military leaders.

When an Iranian delegate suggested that Israel should be prosecuted for genocide, Joseph Schechla, the Cairo-based coordinator of Habitat International Coalition, countered that the approach was “unproductive” in that genocidal intent is difficult to prove.

Instead, Schechla advocated smaller-scale trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Putting people in prison and getting reparations for victims would be plenty enough to get results,” he said. “We have not used the language of ‘crime’, and now is the time to do so.”

Participants were eager to hear about the Russell Tribunal on Palestine launched last month in Brussels to fill the void of ineffectual international bodies, Tribune president Pierre Galand said.

The tribune echoes a tribunal from the late 1960s that convicted the United States of crimes against Vietnam but some critics saw as a left-wing show trial.

Israel enjoys “this capacity to make war,” said Galand, “without any real practical condemnation from the international community.”

Even without legal challenges, activists vowed to zero in on “soft targets.”

“Any Zionist who comes to Scotland, whether a cricketer or a darts team, our job is to make sure their visit is contested,” said Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee.

“It’s the search for an Achilles heel. It’s how to make a contribution to the Palestinian victory.”

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