Workshop Summary

By Amjad Iraqi

On 7-8 December 2016, Adalah and the Columbia University Center for Palestine Studies hosted a two-day workshop as part of its “Nakba and the Law” project at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah. The event brought together about 30 lawyers, academics, and other experts from Palestine, Israel, Europe and the United States to examine various subjects under the project’s framework. The workshop aimed to create a space for practitioners and thinkers to reflect on and formulate new forms of human rights litigation, policy and advocacy strategies. The workshop was divided into four main sessions, each structured around a set of reflection notes contributed by workshop participants.

The first session mapped out the wide-ranging ramifications of the Nakba that are an essential feature of the contemporary lived reality for Palestinians – citizens of Israel, residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), and Palestinian refugees. The Nakba was examined as a window into Zionism as “a structure, not an event,” in the terms of the Australian scholar Patrick Wolfe; or, to paraphrase Edward Said, “Zionism from the standpoint of its victims” as embodied in law. The session also raised the question of challenging the conventional and narrow understanding of the legal term “genocide”, which ignores the inherently genocidal elements of settler colonialism and their broader occurrences in history.

Nakba Files editor Suhad Bishara speaking at the workshop.
The second session focused on land as a central case study to understand the Nakba. It examined the processes of continuity and discontinuity from the Ottoman Empire to the present day, and how laws relating to land were codified, transformed or marginalized to facilitate the dispossession of Palestinians. The discussion touched on the contradictions in the Israeli Supreme Court’s rulings regarding Palestinian land cases, the plight of the Bedouin village of Atir-Umm al-Hiran in the Naqab, and the role of Jewish National Fund in colonial land policies.

The third session engaged with how the law sometimes in fact uses and controls the people who purport to employ it. It examined the ways in which the Palestinian cause for liberation may itself be reproducing logics of colonialism when it turns to the law as an instrument of its struggle. It also asked how a focus on the law might also be limiting tool to understanding the Nakba.

The fourth session delved further into how to understand settler colonialism both in general and in Palestine. It discussed whether and how expanded notions of the Nakba as a structure are simply another way of speaking of settler colonialism and also explored limitations to the concept. It also returned to critically assessing litigation strategies, such as debates regarding whether or not a petition challenging Israel’s “Nakba Law” should be filed to the Israeli Supreme Court, and if yes, how the petitioners’ claims about the Nakba can be expressed using the law.