“In the film I will document a legal system; a system which organizes the rule of law in the territories we conquered in 1967. This is a unique system. Very few people understand it in depth.”
This system, as narrator and director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz tells us in ‘The Law in These Parts’, is the network of rules that have been fabricated by military legal professionals and used to govern the occupied territories since Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. For more than forty years these professionals have implemented a series of military courts, issued laws and orders and punished thousands of Palestinians for breaking them.
This legislation covers anything from tax liabilities, postal services, car insurance, Israeli currency and protection of archaeological sites to house demolitions and resistance. Palestinians live under a series of rules designed by their occupiers that have authorised the detention of thousands, overlooked the torture of many and allowed over half a million settlers to appropriate their land.
It is a judicial system that questions whether the occupation and the rule of law are compatible: can Israel really be a modern democracy?
Set to be screened as part of the Human Rights Watch film festival in London on the 16th and the 17th March, The Law in these Parts combines a series of long interviews with these military professionals and footage of Palestine that dates as far back as the forties.
In one scene Palestinians wearing kiffeyas, white shirts and suits gather outside the Israeli Supreme Court, a court described as “totally impartial” by retired Judge Meir Shamgar in the film.
Inside the walls of the court, one of the most pressing issues to resolve was that of settlements. In 1979, it ruled that the settlement of Elon Moreh in the occupied West Bank was illegal and demanded the land be returned to residents of the Arab village who had petitioned against it. Yet in order for construction to go ahead, retired lieutenant colonel Alexander Ramati suggested taking the land on the basis it was ‘Dead Land’, a loophole that dated back to the Ottoman times.
According to this law, uncultivated, unsettled land could be appropriated. “Overnight we had a helicopter and a pilot, someone from operations and myself; sitting in a cockpit with the pilot searching for Dead Land. We flew from place to place till we found a suitable spot,” explains Ramati. What they found was where Elon Moreh is today in the West Bank.
That the court allowed the settlement to be rebuilt is a disturbing example of a malleable judicial system, a law that the SC failed to stop from being twisted, and which has had disturbing implications for the people living in the occupied territories then, and today.
Later, Alexandrowicz asks Meir Shamgar, “Do you think that we, the citizens of Israel, would accept a legal system like the one we operate in the territories?”