No longer exclusive to governments, the pro-Palestinian legal organization and its growing community are helping legal experts hold Israel accountable for violations of international law.
While netizens continue to react to the ongoing controversy of censorship of pro-Palestinian content by major social media companies, a low-profile legal firm is slowly working to make a change in a different way.
Law4Palestine is an international legal organization that helps Palestinian legal experts build legal capacity to challenge the Israeli occupation.
It’s the first private NGO that has taken up the task of organising pro-Palestinian legal experts, who volunteer their time and expertise be they Palestinian or not, and often in spite of diverse political opinions. Surprisingly, they claim it's never been done before. Running an organization of this kind however, doesn’t come without its risks. For one, discretion while working on cases is essential to preserve the safety of its employees and volunteers, some of whom live in Israel itself.
Hassan Imran, a board member of the organization, spoke to TRT World to clarify what could be done about unregulated big tech companies that have a real impact on Palestinian coverage.
First, we asked if there was even a chance for a case.
“It’s very obvious that Facebook and Instagram are complicit. This is not the first time they’ve restricted minority speech online, and it also fits into a larger pattern of online crackdowns on Palestinian content,” says Imran.
It’s more overt than that. On May 15, Israeli far-right justice minister Benny Gantz met with Facebook and TikTok officials to urge them to take down Palestinian content, citing antisemitism and hate speech. The meeting ended with executives from both companies expressing commitment to his proposal.
Imran notes that crackdowns intensified after the meeting. The word Shaheed, Arabic for martyr, has always been censored on these social media platforms. But immediately afterwards, hashtags on al-Aqsa were blocked for a few hours, followed by the inclusion of ‘Palestine’ into the banned word list.
Hassan describes an intentional blanket ban with the implicit goal of censoring any and all support for Palestine, stifling the reach of its cause.
As for motive, well there’s plenty.
“Israel is quite aware its position is indefensible. Instead of using nonsensical justifications that no one will buy, they’re doing it the dirtier way. No one will stand for the bombing of children. So let’s crack down on social media to cover the crime. But it’s not 1948 anymore,” says Imran.
That’s significant because the majority of the West Bank’s occupation took place in a different pre-social media Palestine. If the Arab spring teaches anything, it’s that social media is a driving force for activism.
Israel is aware of the effect of human rights activism but instead of addressing its actions, it turns towards damage control through suppression, argues Hassan.
To sum it up, Israel has a hammer, and every problem it faces is a nail.
“What we’re seeing now is remarkable,” describes Imran. “Today’s activists were still kids in the last intifada. They never witnessed struggle. I think it speaks to humanity being unable to tolerate injustice and subjugation, by-products of an apartheid regime,” he adds.
“What’s different about this generation? Their identity is the same, but Israel was their educator. Their rising up now is a direct by-product of the suffering, hardship and racism they’ve experienced at the hands of Israel.”
Moment of truth
At the end of the day, everyone has to confront their deeds. Even seemingly invincible technology companies.
“All their entities are legal entities, which are subject to international law. Even individuals can now be subject to the same. Facebook for instance is subject to American law, which is bound by international law.”
Israel has long maintained a reputation for being a rogue state according to the United Nations itself, chiefly for violating international law with impunity and without consequence.
That doesn’t mean it’s immune though, notes Hassan. It just shows the extent of its influence and ties with the United States. In 2020, former US President Donald Trump slapped sanctions on the International Criminal Court after moving to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. US President Joe Biden has since reversed them.
It also turns out that you don’t have to sign a treaty to be held accountable by the laws in it.
There are two types of law here. Treaty law, requiring signatures, ratification, followed by the laborious process of passing the same laws within the signing country itself. The second is customary law, and that’s what Palestinian legal experts are using.
Customary law is binding on everyone, and relies on laws and rules that we take for granted. For instance, even though Israel is not a signatory to the Geneva conventions, it could still face trials for the death of civilians, use of disproportionate force, or firing on journalists to name just a few.
Asked why Law4Palestine does what it does, Imran points out a very uneven legal playing field.
“We realize the huge gap between Pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian legal efforts. Israel is an incredibly wealthy state, and all the more so because of the US taxpayer-funded sums it receives,” he comments.
“They spend a lot on public relations campaigns and legal training. Their lawyers are supported and invested in. While their cause is morally bankrupt, it’s still strongly defended. The situation is different in Palestine. What we do have is unanimous support from the international legal community.”
Palestine, he affirms, has the right to freedom, self-determination and self-defence as enshrined under founding articles of international law. You can find that in the founding charter of the United Nations itself.
Imran details a grim, resource-strapped. Law4Palestine began by creating the supporting legal documentation and resources necessary to any case. They shared access to legal remedies, and offered legal training to pro-Palestinian experts and lawyers on several topics.
They’re also involved in translating critical documents, not to mention deeply involved in the International Jurist’s Forum for Palestine, a platform that connects lawyers interested in the question of Palestine.
The organization’s reputation is established too. Their board of trustees include major figures within the legal community. One of particular note is Dr. John Dugard, historically involved in writing South Africa’s bill of rights for its new constitution, serving on the UN International Law Commission, International Court of Justice and the Yugoslavia tribunal (ICTY). Most recently, he was a UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine.
A global IL network of international lawyers, legal experts, many of whom are from the UN regime. Michael ling. Rapporteur. Richard Falk. And many others.
Life4Palestine also maintains close ties to figures from the United Nations and European Union, including Michael Lynk, current UN Rapporteur to Palestine, and Richard Falk, his predecessor.
Israel is more legally heavily defended now than ever before, comments Imran, and it comes down to the White House’s stance towards it. He cites the recent White House press release gone viral where the press secretary couldn’t answer whether Palestinians have the legal right to self-defence.
“That’s a shocking circumvention of universally accepted international law. The White House thinks it was a question. Palestine is a state, therefore it has the right to self-defence, as do Palestinian individuals,” he says.
Between resisting an occupier or fighting for a homeland, the former falls under self-defence, while the latter is cited as a struggle for self-determination.
It’s been a long journey for this Palestinian legal organization, and the journey is by no means over.
Originally founded by a small group of young Palestinian lawyers after realizing how much attention is given to activism and human rights work, and how little attention legal action received; the organization now enjoys far-reaching legal networks around the world.
With nearly 50 pro-bono volunteers who dedicate their time and talent to the Palestinian cause, things are slowly looking up.
“I see this young generation of lawyers, human rights activists, and legal experts working tirelessly, professionally, and systematically to bring an end to these protracted Israeli violations of law, and through them I can see a better future for Palestine and human rights around the world,” concludes Imran.
As more pro-Palestinian legal experts continue to organize and cooperate, Israel’s previously unchallenged legal supremacy in international courts is no longer absolute by any means.