Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard presents a new take on human rights battles within the occupied Palestinian territories.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.
Published date: May 18, 2018

The wall and the gate: Israel, Palestine, and the legal battle for human rights.

Michael Sfard

Metropolitan Books, 2018

Michael Sfard is a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer who, early in his career, decided to venture into the legal no man’s land of the occupied Palestinian territories. In his new book The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights, he describes the Palestinian people he represents as «millions of people with no right to influence their own fate.»

This is in stark contrast to the legal battles fought regularly in Israel for social change in areas such as LGBTQ rights, institutional or socio-cultural discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern origin, systematic discrimination against the Arab minority population, social inequality in general, and the monopoly of the Orthodox rabbis just to name a few. But still the victims in all these examples are Israeli citizens whose civil rights are recognised, at least formally, by the state.

«Millions of people with no right to influence their own fate.»

Collective responsibility

«Some are guilty of the occupation, but all are responsible for it,» Sfard writes. And that responsibility creates a moral duty that is incumbent on the collective parties involved in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. It is this moral duty that, through his book, he endeavours to explain to the general public, a public that is often unaware of the daily challenges that confront a people under occupation.

Palestinian women celebrate the Israeli high court’s announcement that the Separation Wall in Bilin is to be rerouted, September 4, 2007.

He has divided his tale into main areas of battle including deportations, settlement expansions, torture, unauthorised settler outposts, and the so-called separation barrier. Each comes with compelling case studies and examples, showing the depth of the problem and the many dilemmas. One of his most dramatic legal victories came in 2007: The Israeli High Court rejected the state’s claim that the route of a segment of the security barrier was based solely on security considerations. Instead, it accepted Sfard’s argument: that the authorities wanted to include more West Bank land for settlements within the Israeli side of the barrier.

«The public is often unaware of the daily challenges that confront a people under occupation.»

Double-edged sword

This was an important victory, but Sfard also recognised its double-edged nature. The court decision lessened the damage wrought on an individual Palestinian community. At the same time the court gave its legal imprimatur to the barrier as a whole.

Michael Sfard meets with farmers from the Palestinian village of Beit Furik, 2012. Michal Fattal

The Wall and the Gate contains a plethora of similar cases that create complicated dilemmas. This stems from working in an environment that lacks the legal framework of basic rights – ones given to Israeli citizens but not to West Bank Palestinians. In this way the book is more than a report from the legal battlefield, which is important in itself. By describing the stark contrasts of the two sides, it also becomes a sincere effort to pave the way for a change of policies.

Modern Times Review