The Arab Centre for Forensic Sciences was opened in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. It is the first centre of its kind in occupied Palestine. In his speech at the opening ceremony, its founder, professor of criminal law Dr Abdel Qader Jarada, stressed the importance of such a centre by pointing out that any mistakes made by a judge differ from those of other professionals.
"No matter how many mistakes other people make," he explained, "they are not as dangerous as those made by a judge. The impact of a judge's mistake does not end with a specific person, but extends to the whole community."
The experienced judge has, after 25 years in the profession, opened the centre with an emphasis on the importance of the judge's role. Notably, he has done so with help from his whole family, including his wife, sons and daughters, who are all lawyers.
Jarada is a Palestinian whose family was driven out of their home in Beersheba after the 1948 Nakba and now lives in the Gaza Strip. His PhD in Criminal Law from Cairo University in 2005 was the first in this discipline by anyone from Gaza. He has worked as a lawyer, prosecutor, judge and associate professor of international criminal law in Palestinian universities, supervising the publication of more than 120 books, research papers and academic theses.
"I have written 54 books, and 85 research papers in the field of criminal law, international criminal law, human rights, civil rights and constitutional and administrative law," he told me. He is the author of the Encyclopaedia of Criminal Procedures in Palestine, all 2,000 pages of it.
The centre is an independent institution, impartial and professional. "Palestine suffers from the absence of specialised institutions and centres in the judicial field, because the major focus tends to be on human rights. That is why we founded the first specialist centre for examining criminal law in order to help build the pillars of criminal justice in our society."
The work of the centre includes the training of judicial staff, prosecutors and lawyers in criminal sciences, conducting detailed studies of the causes of crime, and organising courses, conferences and symposia on criminal sciences. "One of the centre's goals is to publish a magazine which will be the first to discuss criminal law in Palestine," said Jarada.
The occupation state of Israel is well known for breaching international laws and conventions ever since its creation in Palestine in 1948. It stands accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are a de facto war crime, as was the shooting of unarmed protesters, including journalists and medics, during the Great March of Return protests in the Gaza Strip which started in 2018.
Gaza has witnessed more horrific Israeli crimes than the rest of occupied Palestine, said Prof. Jarada. "Whole families in Gaza were annihilated in front of the world media, with little or no reaction internationally." It has been suggested that this is criminal negligence. Many say that the West in particular, and regional countries which support Israel, are complicit in such atrocities.
In March this year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories. It clarified that the probe would cover events in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since June 2014. This happened before events in the occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and the Israeli attack on Gaza in May.
The Palestinians are serious about prosecuting the occupation state, but the ICC is notoriously slow, and its procedures are complicated, noted Jarada. "Nevertheless, it is necessary to make the public aware of the importance of international criminal jurisdiction and its positive effects on society."
It is here that the Arab Centre for Forensic Sciences has emerged as a central institution for work on such cases, collecting evidence and preparing indictments. "The centre provides legal advice about prosecuting the Israeli occupation at the ICC. It has started detailing complaints from victims' families and raising cases against Israelis accused of serious crimes."
Staff at the centre are on hand to provide advice and online support for those involved with and engaged in the criminal justice system in Palestine. Prof. Jarada hopes that it will go on to play a major role in educating Palestinians about the importance of justice locally, regionally and internationally.