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22.11.2018: Book Launch Conversation. The ABC of the OPT

On Thursday, 22 November 2018, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg) and Recht im Kontext (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) hosted a Book Launch Conversation with Michael Lynk, Orna Ben Naftali, Charles Shamas, Yuval Shany and Hedi Viterbo, moderated and introduced by Anne Peters and Alexandra Kemmerer at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Israel's half-a-century long rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and some of its surrounding legal issues, have been the subject of extensive academic literature. Yet, to date, there has been no comprehensive, theoretically-informed, and empirically-based academic study of the role of various legal mechanisms, norms, and concepts in shaping, legitimizing, and responding to the Israeli control regime. The recently published Book The ABC of the OPT (Cambridge University Press 2018), which was introduced and critically discussed by the authors and panelists, seeks to fill this gap, while shedding new light on the subject. Through the format of an A-Z legal lexicon, it critically reflects on, challenges, and redefines the language, knowledge, and practices surrounding the Israeli control regime.

The book, which has partly been written during Orna Ben Naftali’s research visit at the Institute, has just been selected for an honorable mention in the category “Certificate of Merit in a specialized area of international law“ (2019) by the American Society of International Law’s Book Awards Committee, "due to its insightful treatment of how Israeli agencies, including the military, government and different types of adjudicators invoke and apply international law and a range of legal concepts in the politically charged context of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the OPT). The reader learns not only the little known legal history of how Israel gained control over the West Bank, the Gara Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights, but also how law and legality are constructed to manage difficult legal, political and security challenges. Using the lexicon heuristic of categories that run from AZ, from Assigned Residences, to Future Oriented Measures, to Usufruct, to land that is designated in different types of Zones, the authors investigate how control of the OPT presents Isreaeli actors with numerous legal and politcal challenges, and how law and legality are bent to the needs and ends of Israeli actors. Beyond the subject matter of the OPT, readers can see how international law does and does not constrain state actors as they try to manage a situation of long term and perhaps unending territorial occupation."

The ABC of the OPT has also been included in the American Library Association’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2018.

Following a warm welcome by Alexandra Kemmerer, Anne Peters gave an introduction to the topic, which highlighted the special significance of Berlin in general and Humboldt-Universität in particular as a venue to explore and discuss the book. This was followed by statements of the distinguished panelists, from their respective professional and political perspectives, regarding the book itself but also the topics dealt with therein, such as the role of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Orna Ben Naftali provided some insights as to her motivation and approach as well as to the specific challenges of her undertaking. Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967 (Western University, London, Ontario, Canada) emphasized the paradox of the conflict: while there was more and more international law on the one hand, there was more and more injustice on the other. Yuval Shany (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) provided possible explanations for the frequent misapplication of occupation law, and introduced the term of "light invasion" in relation to the situation in Gaza. Charles Shamas (Ramallah) took a rather sober stock of the role of international law in the conflict. In his view, international law proved not to be as efficient and helpful as expected and, in particular, represented a compromise, implemented for those capable to make use of it. Following a brief summary of all the speakers' contributions, Hedi Viterbo (University of Essex) raised, in his concluding comments, the question of what was unique about the conflict, what its “essence” was and is.

The discussion, which had been enriched by questions and comments from the audience, was then continued in conversations over a glass of wine in the historical rooms of Humboldt University’s Faculty of Law.


Report: Florence Stürmer

Foto: Maurice Weiss / Ostkreuz

At Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Further Reading:

  • Orna Ben-Naftali, Michael Sfard, and Hedi Viterbo, The ABC of the OPT. A Legal Lexicon of the Israeli Control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Cambridge University Press 2018).
  • Symposia: The ABC of the OPT (Verfassungblog) and ABC of OPT (Völkerrechtsblog).