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

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 the final post in this series, 3L Hannah Shtein discusses the Israeli public defender system and the barriers, both literal and figurative, to Israeli and Palestinian lawyers working together for justice.

Tuesday, December 2 – Wednesday, December 3

Our time in Israel is divided between two cities, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. We arrive in Jerusalem on the early evening on Tuesday and drive to Hebrew University, where Professor Rice has arranged for one of the criminal law classes to have a Skype discussion with the Criminal Justice Clinic at W&L. We observe as some of our classmates in Lexington talk with the Hebrew U students about the criminal justice system, and specifically what to do to prevent wrongful convictions. Professor Rice is hoping to create a continued relationship between W&L and Hebrew University, similar to what he has done with the Palestinian schools.

After the video session, we debrief with the class professor, meet some of the students, and head back to our hotel.

We spend the next day exploring Jerusalem, with a tour of the Old City and its four quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian. The Old City reflects each of the different cultures, with Armenian churches, the Western Wall (where many devout Jews pray), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Arab Shuk, among—of course—many other sites.

Thursday, December 4

Today is our Tel-Aviv day. Professor Rice has arranged for us to meet with the Israeli Public Defender to hear about the Israeli criminal defense system and to meet some of the lawyers. Israel’s public defense system is, unsurprisingly, much larger and more organized than that of Palestine.

The public defenders we speak to are very aware of this disparity and of the difficulty of improving conditions on the Palestinian side, especially with the presence of the West Bank wall. (Later, I ask Professor Rice whether Israeli and Palestinian lawyers can engage in bilateral projects, and he tells me that they cannot do so unless they are brought together by a third party, such as an educational institution. This is perhaps a long-term goal for our program—to bring Israeli and Palestinian students, at the very least, together for discussion.)

The lawyers elaborate on some of the challenges they face, including the racial and national tensions that color the criminal justice system, since the defenders deal with Jewish and Arab Israelis, as well as Palestinians.

We also discuss the similarities and differences between the Israeli and American systems, such as the status of the right to counsel and the difficulty of providing effective indigent defense. We finish with a tour of the courthouse and hurry to get last-minute presents for our friends and families before returning to the hotel to take our things and get ready for our flight home.