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Inside the 3L Year: Access to Justice Class Visits Hebron

Law students in the Access to Justice practicum traveled to Israel and Palestine  in late November to explore the Palestinian and Israeli legal systems. In this post, 3L Hannah Shtein discusses the class visit to Hebron University, where they conducted a mock U.S. trial.

Saturday, November 22

We arrive at the Tel-Aviv airport at 3pm Israeli time, and are promptly greeted by our cab driver, who drives us to Hebron, which takes about an hour. Our taxi driver explains to us, however, that he can travel freely between Israel and Palestine because he has a “yellow plate” taxi—an Israeli cab. Green-plated, Palestinian taxis take a much longer trip when they carry passengers between Israel and Palestine, because they must stop at checkpoints controlled by the Israeli military, which often adds an hour or more to their journey.

We then check into our hotel in Hebron (helpfully called Hebron Hotel), and grab a quick dinner at King of Schwarma, a local joint where we have (predictably) schawarma, a wrap made with seasoned grilled meat and a selection of toppings (including French fries that go inside the sandwich—a win in my book). Our jet lag is starting to set in, so we decide to time it to our new Palestinian sleep schedule, and call it an early night.

Sunday, November 23

Palestinians have school on Sundays, so Sunday is our first day at Hebron University. We’ve been Skyping with a class of law students over the course of the class, but we haven’t met any of them in person yet. The morning is a little bit of a whirlwind, because we end up speaking with a handful of different classes in a row. Each of the students on the trip had to prepare a brief (5 minute) presentation about a constitutional issue, and a case that illustrates it. One of my classmates, for example, discusses Texas v. Johnson, a seminal First Amendment case. We present these cases to the first class we meet with, a constitutional law class. We then do a quick Q&A with the Palestinian students about our respective legal systems. The students are incredibly warm and enthusiastic, and have plenty of questions for us. They’re especially curious about the United States jury system (how can people who are not trained in law decide the outcome of cases?), and the dual sovereignty system. My SparkNotes version of dual sovereignty definitely needs work.

We also share with the Palestinian students our reasons for attending law school, and they discuss theirs. Many students mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their motive for obtaining a legal education—it’s a part of daily life here, so even though we are not here with the goal of studying it, it is impossible to speak of it as a separate subject.

Next, we meet briefly with the dean of the university, who talks with us about the Palestinian legal system, and the difficulty of creating a unified code of law in the region, because Palestinian law consists of laws from various jurisdictions (British law, Egyptian law, Israeli law, Jordanian law, etc.), which still remain in effect. Thus, understanding the law in a particular part of Palestine requires an understanding of how all the different laws in effect in the region interact with (and perhaps contradict) one another.

We leave exhausted but eager for the rest of the trip—tomorrow, we’re slated to come back to the university to do demonstration of an American trial for the Hebron students.

Monday, November 24

After getting our first feel of Hebron on Sunday, we returned to the University to do a trial demonstration for a group of students there.

Before the trip, we were given a problem, based on an actual Palestinian case. We split into defense and prosecution, and prepared opening/closing statements, and direct and cross-examination questions to present at our mock trial. The Palestinian students had received the same problem, but worked with Palestinian law to prepare their trial demo. The goal was for the American class and the Palestinian class to each get a feel for what a trial in the other country looks like.

We went through our trial demonstration, watched the Hebron students do theirs, and then paused for questions. Using a translator, we discussed some of the differences between the American and Palestinian systems, such as our use of the jury system, and the differences in the American and Palestinian ways of presenting evidence to the judge.

After our presentation, we have lunch with Hebron professor Diab al-Sheikh, the professor we’ve working with throughout the semester, and Dr. Mutaz M. Qafisheh, the law school dean, who is a friend of Professor Rice. We meet at the school cafeteria, and are greeted with a spread of freshly-baked pita, falafel, schawarma, and several colorful salads—a complete surprise, and one of the many gestures of generous hospitality we receive in Palestine. Over lunch, we swap stories of life in the US and Palestine. Dr. Qafisheh and Mr. al-Sheikh discuss the way the news media misrepresent the range of opinion in Palestine, because only the extremist views receive coverage, and their hopes for the future of the region.

After lunch, Dr. Qafisheh and Mr. al-Sheikh walk us to our taxi, and Dr. Qafisheh introduces us to his wife and (adorable) son on the way. We leave wishing we had more time to spend in Hebron. Tuesday, we’re headed to Ramallah.