The world is increasingly witnessing the cooptation and deployment of human rights by conservative and illiberal political powers. This talk analyzes one such instance where human rights have become a primary discursive strategy of Israeli military judges in the occupied West Bank. Ever since the first Intifada in 1987, Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs and lawyers used the human rights arguments to challenge the Israeli occupation. Israeli military courts in particular were discredited for holding summary trials and violating fair trial rights. Dissecting the professional group of military judges from the legitimation efforts of the state as a whole, military judges responded to these challenges by proclaiming themselves to be promoting, rather than violating, the rights of Palestinian defendants. Analyzing military courts decisions, academic articles by military judges and interviews with legal professionals, this talk shows how military judges' discourse of "human rights heroism" avoids any criticism of the state practices, and targets the Israeli legal community as a strategy of professional mobilization. The focus on one professional group demonstrates the double function of the human rights discourse in this context, as synonymous to legal professionalism and as a tool of political legitimation.
Smadar Ben-Natan is a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. She is an Israeli human rights lawyer and a Ph.D. candidate at Tel-Aviv University Law Faculty. Her research interests are the social study of law and legal institutions, specifically the intersection of criminal justice, national security, and human rights. Her Ph.D. project titled Citizen-Enemies explores military courts inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian territories between 1967-2000 as an articulation of enemy penology, combining postcolonial and social theory.
Smadar holds a Master in International Human Rights Law, with distinction, from the University of Oxford, 2011, and an LLB from Tel-Aviv University, 1995. She is also a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society, UC Berkeley.