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The Law in These Parts: Film Screening and Discussion at U of T Law

Law in These PartsThe West Bank and Gaza Strip came under the control of the Israeli military following the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. Overnight, 1.5 million Palestinians became subjects of a new legal regime, one defined and administered by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). The Israeli military has, over the course of nearly half a century, issued hundreds of military orders regulating vast areas of Palestinian life, and has also established military courts to try civilians for what it deems to be security and criminal offences. The effect on daily life is heavy, with 40% of Palestinian men having spent some period of their life in prison.

This military legal system is a little-known aspect of the occupation, and is the focus of the new award-winning documentary, The Law in These Parts by Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. On October 22nd, Alexandrowicz presented his powerful film to an audience of more than 85 students, professors, and legal practitioners at U of T Law. The stop in Toronto was part of his tour of universities along the East Coast, including Harvard, NYU, Columbia, and the University of Virginia.

In the film, Alexandrowicz interviews the men – including Israeli judges, prosecutors, and legal advisors – behind the military legal system in the Occupied Territories. It marks the first time they have spoken publicly about the complex system of proclamations, rules, and regulations that emerged out of a set of documents prepared for the eventuality of an Israeli occupation, years before the first Palestinian villages in the territories came under the control of the IDF.

In a post-screening panel, Alexandrowicz, alongside Professors Kent Roach and Markus Dubber, reflected on fundamental issues of law raised by his work. What, for instance, is the impact of this long-term occupation on the rule of law in Israel? Is the legal system operating in the territories as a mechanism to achieve some sort of justice, and if so, what does that justice look like to a population that has no say or role to play in the legal system, except as its subjects? Further, if the rule of law is to be effective as a tool to control a population, would it not matter whether the subject population is in fact listening — that it see the legal system itself as valid to some degree? Or is the Israeli public the ultimate audience of the Israeli military courts’ efforts?

These questions however are not isolated to the Israeli-Palestinian context. As Professor Kent Roach aptly pointed out, the film speaks to many legal systems trying to come to grips with the post-9/11 security environment, including the UK, US, and Canada. He pointed to the Guantanamo military trials as one site where these tensions come to a head: “One of the issues is whether the state is having it both ways: the state wants to have military tribunals which don’t have the same independence as the civilian courts, but also wants to characterize what is going on as a crime as opposed to an act of war.”

The film thus asks us, as students of the law, to take questions about the rule of law and the role of law seriously – not as a matter limited to the specific conflict at the heart of Alexandrowicz’s remarkable film, but as essential challenges facing liberal democratic societies, including our own.

Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts has won several international awards, including Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (2012), Winner of Best Documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival (2011), the Anne Dellinger Grand Jury Special Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (2012) and the Special Jury Prize International Feature at Toronto’s own Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (2012).

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