One of the most shocking things I learned during my 8-9 months in Gaza was how justice can be administered so violently and outside the justice system.
Last November, six men were killed by Palestinian gunmen on suspicion of collaborating with Israel. Their bodies were left dumped in a busy intersection and one body was dragged through the streets on a rope behind motorcycles.
In March, a 23-year-old young woman in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, in the middle of the Gaza Strip, was killed by her father and brother — an honor killing. Although the two were arrested, it is likely that they will receive lenient sentences according to this article.
As horrific as these events might seem to Westerners, what I found even more shocking was that Palestinians with whom I talked about these events seemed unperturbed. Some tried to justify these actions, while others just shrugged them off.
Is Gaza governed by the rule of law or the rule of force? Is the rule of law so easily dismissed in Gaza? Or is Sharia law so contrary to our secular laws that the two cannot coexist?
I want to learn a lot more about Sharia law before sharing any opinions, but I was very excited when a good friend of mine, a Palestinian lawyer in Gaza, took me to the Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) and I learned about the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Rule of Law and Access to Justice Programme. The Legal Aid Clinics in Gaza are a big component of that project.
The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) recently moved into a new building in Gaza and I was given the grand tour. This state-of-the-art facility looks very impressive; the people and programs there are even more impressive.
Based on a March 2012 UNDP report, these lawyers have a huge challenge in front of them. “Public Perceptions of Palestinian Justice and Security Institutions” shares the findings of a survey of 6,710 Palestinian households in the summer of 2011.
Although the data shows Palestinians throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt) consider the courts, lawyers and civil society organizations which support their work play a pivotal role in promoting and protecting the rule of law, there is a significant gender justice gap and the formal justice system is considered too slow. Satisfaction with justice and security institutions is lowest in the Gaza Strip, as compared to the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The one question the report does not address is how do we improve the rule of law in the oPt when Israel appears to be outside of the rule of international law in many aspects of its occupation?
Some of the recommendations included in the report:
- Discriminatory legislation and service provision must be reformed to extend justice to all Palestinians.
- There is a need for quicker, dialogue-based, human-rights focused alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms.
- Strengthen the performance of court clerks and make the courts more “user-friendly”.
- Encourage “judicial activism and judicial vocalism”. Hmmmm!
- Support development of gender-sensitive case management protocols.
- Enhance protection and confidentiality measures.
- Research Sharia courts
- Support justice sector monitoring and oversight mechanisms to support the “emergence of a unitary justice system which protects the rights of all Palestinians, under the democratic control of the Palestinian people”.
The Palestinian people manifestly have the courage to speak truth to power, the magnanimity to take action to promote human freedom, and a strong desire to use formal justice and security institutions. This combination is essential for addressing the most critical need revealed by the data: for greater accountability to improve service delivery.