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Gilat Bachar presents "Between Healing, Justice and Politics: Palestinians' Compensation Claims against Israel"

Jun 1 2015

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Jewish Studies & Law School graduate student Gilat Bachar attended the Law and Society Association (LSA) Annual meeting in Seattle, WA on May 28-31, 2015. LSA is an interdisciplinary scholarly orgranization committed to social scientific, interpretive, and historical analyses of law across multiple social contexts, and its annual meetings are the main setting for socio-legal scholars to meet and to engage in fruitful discussion on each other’s work. 

She shared her research on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with leading law and society scholars with a presentation on “Between Healing, Justice and Politics: Palestinians’ Compensation Claims against Israel”.

Recent years have witnessed demands for monetary compensation for wrongs against minority group members, sought by both individuals and groups, in domestic and international fora.  This phenomenon marks an attempt to repair the enduring personal and societal damage of injustice through unconventional mechanisms, particularly tort litigation (i.e. civil lawsuits aimed at recovering monetary damages).  When such proceedings are used by minority group members against institutional perpetrators, tort mechanisms may present a unique structural opportunity to overcome social power imbalances.  At the same time, heated public debate around these claims may denote a discomfort with placing a price-tag on human suffering.  Although tort proceedings traditionally target disputes between individuals, this trend suggests that they should receive more attention in the context of international or ethno-national conflict.  Yet, this use of tort litigation also raises several weighty questions: what are the motivations of plaintiffs who initiate litigation in such contexts?  And are their motivations aligned or in conflict with the mission of the various state and non-state actors involved in these proceedings?

Through the lens of social psychological research on procedural justice, tort law’s civil recourse theory, and political science literature on the functions of state and non-state actors in intractable conflict processes, this paper describes and evaluates the use of tort litigation in a conflict where it plays a significant, yet often hidden, role: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  It explores Palestinians’ claims against the State of Israel for injuries caused by this intractable, violent conflict.  This unique tort mechanism allows Palestinian civilians to bring claims for damages before Israeli civil courts.  Employing a qualitative research approach, the research builds primarily on open-ended, in-depth interviews with litigants, lawyers representing both the Palestinians’ side and the State’s side, and NGOs involved in these claims.  Based on these interviews, as well as additional materials such as court records and parliament protocols, the paper exposes and analyzes the unusual characteristics of this domestic legal mechanism for compensating conflict victims.  First, it explores the gradual process of restricting Israel’s liability for injuries sustained by Palestinian civilians, which occurred over the last decade, and examines the reasons for its demise.  Second, it opens a window into the somewhat obscure world of the various actors involved in these proceedings, e.g. individual litigants, NGOs who initiate claims, government lawyers and Israeli Defense Forces legal representatives, and private attorneys representing victims.  This paper employs an interdisciplinary approach to accomplish a deeper understanding of the role compensatory tools play in international or ethno-national conflict settings.  By considering the psychological and political dynamics of these legal proceedings, it offers an innovative perspective to the study of protracted conflicts worldwide.