Monday, November 26, 2012

The Law in These Parts

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts, currently playing at Film Forum, deals with the separate set of laws that govern Israel’s occupied territories, laws that were instituted after the ‘67 war. The question it asks is how one of the most democratic societies in the world and certainly the only democratic society in the Middle East can live in a state of legal schizophrenia. The film is essentially a succession of interviews with prosecutors and judges about their roles in the maintaining of military law. The Law in These Parts is rife with paradoxes not the least of which is that Alexandrowicz transforms judges and prosectors into defendants. The turning of the tables underscores how anomalous the suspension of rights is in a society with such a highly developed jurisprudential superego. However, early on the film establishes the inequities. In order for civil law to exist in the territories, the residents would have had to be made citizens. In order for the Geneva conventions to be applied to Palestinians resistance fighters, they would have to be recognized as being a bona fide army and not merely  terrorists. Article 49 of the Geneva conventions argues that an occupying force may not “transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Due to this, the legal basis for the settlements was found in Mawat, the concept of "dead land,” deriving from Ottoman law (a segment of the film where the youthful Ariel Sharon significantly makes an appearance). However amidst all these inequities is an anomaly. The residents of the West Bank and Gaza are still able to petition the Israel Supreme Court, a right that is apparently sui generis in the history of occupations. Documentary footage plays in the background and there is anecdotal evidence like of the Palestinian woman who is imprisoned for 18 months for giving pita bread and sardines to a resister. Naturally war is war. But what is the relationship between theory and practice, between de facto conditions and belief in human rights? During one sequence a judge points to the Israeli flag and then to the scales of justice. The dichotomy between the principles of sovereignty and justice is what The Law in These Parts underscores. The film is emphatic in its condemnation of the abuses that have occurred particularly through the rulings that allowed settlers to confiscate Palestinian lands, but with politics so entwined in the judiciary, it offers scarce comfort that the dual standard will be ameliorated in advance of any political resolution of the conflict.

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