Volume 4, Issue 8, (Originally Published on 16 September 2013)
Recently, third year JD Michelle Cheng and I went to Israel, to attend the Student Conference on International Law (SCIL) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The conference was organized by Israeli advocacy group StandWithUs, and provided many speakers from a variety of legal, political and military backgrounds to speak on Israel’s experi¬ence with international law, particularly focusing on aspects of international humanitarian law, as they relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Whilst the speakers were all Jewish (there were no Palestinian or Christian Arab speakers), the organisers made every effort to provide a diversity of opinion within this segment of Israeli society.
Arriving on Sunday morning, we had an opportunity for a quick dip in the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, before bus¬sing to Jerusalem.
Speakers throughout the confer¬ence included a current Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Uzi Vogelman, who took time between hearings to speak to us at the Court, and Sydney-born former solicitor at Clayton Utz, Lieutenant Ben Wahlhaus, who now works as a Legal Advisor in the Interna¬tional Law Department of the Israel De¬fense Forces Military Advocate General’s Corps.
A highlight was hearing from Adv. Sari Bashi, co-founder and Executive Di¬rector at Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that protects the right to freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Bashi spoke of her academic work in formulating the ‘functional approach’ to the law of occupation, motivated by the Israeli government’s insistence that not having ‘boots on the ground’ after their 2004-2005 withdrawal of troops from Gaza meant the strip was no longer occupied, and thus no longer a source of legal liability.
Being such a politically charged topic, there were often disagreements between the mostly European student body and some of the speakers, disagreements that usually centered on semantics.
Examples include whether the ‘wall’ between the West Bank and west Jerusalem should be called a ‘wall’ or a ‘terrorism prevention security barrier’.
Another semantic stoush occurred when a retired colonel took us on a geo-political tour of Jerusalem, and pre¬ferred the term ‘family friendly neigh¬borhood’ to ‘illegal settlement’.
Whilst these inevitable disagreements led to some intellectual friction, perhaps the greatest aspect of the conference was each speaker’s openness about their position and biases, and willingness to engage critically on issues of contention.
Having the opportunity to discuss Aharon Barack’s purposive approach to statutory interpretation with a sitting Supreme Court justice, and challenge a senior IDF officials claims of pinpoint exactitude in military operations, was an incredible experience that will stick in my mind for years to come.
The conference was also a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded stu¬dents from around the world, passionate about the future prospects of interna¬tional law. I would encourage others to apply next year to attend this wonderful conference.
Photo saved under *MLS STUDENT RAOUL RENARD WITH EAST JERUSALEM IN THE BACKGROUND.