JUSTICE: For almost fifty years, Lea Tsemel has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and compassion for those lost and indefensible in society’s eye.
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: May 24, 2019

Palestinian offenders facing trial in Israel make for losing cases from the start. Defending them comes with a stigma, but Lea Tsemel is used to that. A fierce and fearless Jewish lawyer, she has made defending Palestinians her life and mission. For almost five decades, Tsemel has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and human rights for those who seem lost and indefensible in society’s eyes. Advocate is a portrait of her courage, her battles – old and current – and also her dream. Hers is a fight for social and political justice, not for the sake of individual court battles, but for Israel’s future and past.

A game ball

A young Arab man gets on a bus, stabs the driver and eleven of its passengers. Thirteen-year-old Ahmad and his cousin go on a stabbing spree in a Jerusalem neighbourhood. A depressed mother named Israa sets her car on fire yelling Allah Akbar. If the victims are Jewish people, Palestinian offenders are quickly labelled «terrorists» by the media, and their cases become a game ball in the on-going political battle between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Their cases are judged with a double standard, as the balance of power does not favour them from the start. The occupier is judging the occupied, making it impossible for justice to be blind.

It takes a certain kind of strength to see behind the surface

Through Tsemel’s eyes, her clients are, first of all, just people – people who did things, people in trouble, and people who have families and stories behind them. Beyond the violence and labels, what becomes clear through these cases is how the whole of Israeli society is bleeding, how fear and suffering affects everything and everyone.

This reality is what fuels Tsemel’s work. Through interviews, photographs and archive footage, Advocate dives into Tsemel’s past. Her story goes back to an awakening period of the Israeli conflict’s real nature, and travels through her landmark cases, defending feminists, non-violent demonstrators, armed militants and fundamentalists alike. All of these, building blocks toward the person and lawyer she has become.

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