Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Human Rights Attorney Felicia Langer Receives 1990 Award

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Human Rights Attorney Felicia Langer Receives 1990 Award

Article excerpt

Felicia Langer, Israel's foremost human rights lawyer who defended Palestinians in the Israeli military court system for over 20 years, is one of the recipients of the 1990 Right Livelihood Awards. The award, to be presented in the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm on Dec. 9, the day before the Nobel Prize ceremony, goes "to honor and support persons or organizations working on practical and replicable solutions to the real problems facing us today." The awards are often called "the alternative Nobel prizes." Langer was recognized by the award's international jury for" the exemplary courage of her struggle for basic human rights under very difficult circumstances." The jury emphasized that it is only through the mutual respect for such rights, and a process of dialogue between equals, that a solution can emerge to the drawn-out tragedy affecting the Palestinian people.

Langer, who is 59, went to Israel from Poland in 1950, began to study law in 1959 and opened her own practice in Tel Aviv in the mid-1960s. After she saw what was happening in the occupied territories following the Six-Day War, she moved her practice to Jerusalem in 1968 in order to defend Palestinian victims of oppression and injustice. For 22 years she single-mindedly defended her clients against unfair treatment by the Israeli military. Her cases involved systematic and widespread torture, sometimes culminating in death; confessions extracted under duress and in Hebrew, a language most Palestinians do not speak; and routine violations of international laws against deportation and collective punishments, such as the demolition of the homes of those who "confess" to crimes, thereby rendering their families or relatives homeless.

According to a fellow lawyer in the West Bank, most lawyers working in the Israeli military courts last about three years before they quit out of frustration. It is rare to win a case in the Israeli military court system, where a dual standard of justice seems to apply. Langer's persistence for more than two decades is unique.

In a long, poignant interview in the May 13 Washington Post, entitled "Israeli Defender of Arab Rights Quits in Despair and Disgust," Langer said she quit because, "I decided I could not be a fig leaf for this system any more. I want my quitting to be a sort of demonstration and expression of my despair and disgust with the system...because, for the Palestinians, unfortunately we cannot obtain justice."

For years Langer undertook her work practically alone, with the exception of the Palestinian lawyers employed by Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man), the West Bank affiliate to the Geneva-based International Court of Justice. …

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