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Volume 53, October 2008

Human Rights Law in Action:
The Separation Wall, the October 2000 Killings and the Housing Crisis in the Mixed Cities Head Adalah's Third Annual Law Students’ Conference

Sunday, 12 October 2008 marked the final day of Adalah’s third annual law students’ conference. Eighty (80) Arab law students from various universities and colleges in Israel and Al Quds University in Abu Dis participated in the very successful and meaningful conference, which took place at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salaam, located close to Jerusalem.

The conference began with a tour of the Separation Wall in the Jerusalem area. Two guides, Jamal Jum’ah and Daoud Hammoudah from the Popular Campaign against the Wall, explained to the law students about the effect of the Wall on the lives of the Palestinians in the surrounding area. The students stopped at several sites to learn more about how the Wall suffocates the surrounding Palestinian villages, expropriates large areas of their land, and isolates Jerusalem causing severe economic damage. That evening, the students viewed several short films produced by B’Tselem that depict the violence of the Israeli army and the settlers towards Palestinians in the West Bank. Oren Yabovitch and Yoav Gross from B’Tselem gave a talk about the importance of filming and recording human rights violations, and about the role of photography and videos in international advocacy.

The students participated in a number of panels and legal workshops on the second day of the conference. The first panel dealt with litigation and social action in building land and housing rights cases in the mixed cities. Attorney Amir Badran discussed legal issues concerning home demolition cases and the legal difficulties in defending Arab families in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and governmental housing companies, which are trying to evict them. Mr. Jamal Salameh from Shatil presented on the housing crisis for Arab families in Lod and Ramleh, and Mr. Arafat Isma’il, chair of the Dahmash Village Committee, an unrecognized village located between Lod and Ramleh, spoke on the extremely difficult living conditions of the village’s residents. The village lacks services like paved roads, schools, and health clinics and the state provides no refuse-collection services to the village.

The students then participated in five small group legal workshops led by Adalah attorneys on the subjects of cultural and religious rights, prisoners’ rights, education rights, social rights in the unrecognized villages, and human rights under occupation. Guest Attorney Abbas Abbas, the director of the Manarah organization, and Mr. Mohammad Thiab, a Manarah activist led a workshop on the rights of people with special needs.

The work of other Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations were also highlighted in the Human Rights Fair. Each organization exhibited its publications, and the students were able to use the fair as an opportunity to learn more about the organizations' work and speak to their staff.

The October 2000 killings took a prominent place on the second day of the conference. The session included a photo exhibit on the legal developments of the case from the killings themselves to the present day, and was presented by Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker. Next came an open discussion with Ms. Jamila Akkawi, the sister of Omar Akkawi, one of the thirteen Arab citizens of Israel killed by police in October 2000. Ms. Akkawi spoke about her brother’s death and the suffering of the family over the past eight years, as well as the insistence of all the victims' families on pursuing the struggle for criminal accountability.

A panel moderated by Attorney Wa’el Rabi, a member of Adalah’s control committee, analyzed the developments in the case, five years after the Or Commission report. Panelists included Dr. Shlomo Cohen, the former chair of the Israel Bar Association; Attorney Smadar Ben Natan, who discussed the similarities between the attacks launched by the Israeli army and police against Palestinians in the OPT and in Israel and the lack of indictments; Dr. and Mahmoud Yazbak, a member of Adalah’s Board of Directors, the uncle of an October 2000 victim Wisam Yazbak, and a witness to an attack on Arab citizens by a group of Israeli citizens in Nazareth in October 2000. Attorney Hassan Jabareen, the General Director of Adalah, closed the session by speaking on the rhetoric and legal discourse of the Supreme Court and Attorney General's decisions concerning these cases.

On the third day of the conference, the students attended a seminar entitled, “The Role of the Academy in the Defense of Human Rights,” which was moderated by Attorney Awni Banna from the Association for the Civil Right in Israel. Supervising attorneys from human rights clinics at Israeli and Palestinian law schools spoke at this seminar: Attorney Durgham Saif, the General Director of the Karameh Association and a supervising attorney at the legal clinic for Arab minority rights at Haifa University; Ronit Harmati-Elfren, lecturer at the University of Haifa and Director of Legal Clinics at Haifa University; Attorney Itai Hermilin from the Criminal Law Legal Clinic at Tel Aviv University, who talked about his experience in representing Hizballah prisoners and about the student contributions; and Attorney Munir Nusseibeh from Al Quds University in Abu Dis, who gave the students a historical background on legal education in the West Bank and his reasons for establishing the first academic human rights clinic in Palestine that deals with the Occupation.

The closing session of the camp was dedicated to the activities and involvement of law students in the field of human rights, and was led by students active in human rights legal clinics at Israeli and Palestinian universities. Speakers included Fadi As’ad from the University of Haifa, who is active in the university’s prisoners’ legal clinic; Muhannad Nassar, a trainee attorney active in the human rights legal clinic at Tel Aviv University; and Noura Edkeideh from Al Quds University. Adalah legal apprentice Haneen Naamnih facilitated this session. The law students emphasized the importance of the real-life legal work they carried out and the great benefits they have gained from their clinical activities.