Book Review: Law in the Arab–Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine

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The concept of lawfare was first introduced into the discourse on the Arab–Israeli conflict in my 2008 monograph entitled “NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab–Israeli Conflict.” In that work, I documented multiple ways in which European and North American domestic courts and quasi-judicial international mechanisms were used by Palestinians (and NGOs acting on their behalf) as a strategy to attack the legitimacy of the State of Israel and achieve political objectives that they could not accomplish through terrorism alone. The most recent manifestation of this phenomenon is the extensive Palestinian collaboration with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in manufacturing indictments against Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In his fascinating new book, Law in the Arab–Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine, the first of a two-volume work, Steven E. Zipperstein reminds us that the use of violence alongside legal action in order to “gain leverage and influence international opinion” is hardly novel, and has been employed from the earliest days of the conflict. A lecturer in the Global Studies Program at UCLA, he details three quasi-judicial commissions from the British Mandatory period: Shaw (1929), Lofgren (1930), and Peel (1932). Recounting the proceedings in a reportage style, he brings this period of history to life using a bevy of primary source material, some previously unknown, including trial transcripts, letters, diaries, and government documents. In so doing, he reveals the origins of many of the legal arguments invoked today regarding the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Before tackling the commissions, Zipperstein paints a vivid picture of life in Ottoman and British Mandatory Palestine, describing how both Arabs and Jews used legal complaint mechanisms to assert religious and political rights. In particular, these claims centered around attempts to suppress the exercise of any Jewish religious rights or sovereignty.

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