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Justice for Some


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Contents and Abstracts0Introduction chapter abstract

The introduction lays out the book's primary question: if international law has not refereed and resolved the Palestinian-Israel conflict, then what role is it playing, and what are the potential benefits and risks that its invocation poses for the Palestinian struggle for freedom? Using UN General Assembly Resolution 2334 as a pedagogical tool, the introduction provides an analytical framework for understanding the meaning and utility of international law. It demonstrates that powerful states can use international law as a tool of domination but that the law's susceptibility to strategic deployment through legal work also imbues it with the potential to advance progressive causes. This opening discussion argues that international law is politics and that in order for it to serve an emancipatory function it must be wielded in the sophisticated service of a political program that challenges the geopolitical structure sustaining an oppressive status quo.

1Colonial Erasures and the Struggle for Self-Determination chapter abstract

This chapter examines the origins of the Palestinian struggle as a quest for self-determination and freedom from settler-colonial domination. It argues that the British decision to suppress the self-determination of Palestinians in order to facilitate the self-determination of a settler population constituted a sovereign exception that justified the juridical erasure of Palestinians as a political community. The League of Nations Mandate system thereafter enshrined British policy as international law, suspending Palestinians in a state of exception. The closest that Palestinians came to realizing their self-determination during this period was during their revolt against the geopolitical structure that rendered them nonexistent in the language of law. Chapter 1 traces these legacies through the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel's acceptance into the United Nations, and Israel's racialized martial law regime that justified the exceptional and distinct treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel under the pretext of emergency.

2Permanent Occupation chapter abstract

Chapter Two examines how occupation law as established by international agreements has failed to regulate Israel's settlement enterprise. At the close of the 1967 War, Israel argued that a sovereign void in the West Bank and Gaza meant that these territories were neither occupied nor not occupied; they were sui generis, a legal concept bestowing on them unique distinction. This sui generis framework legalized Israel's presence in the territories and allowed it to steadily take Palestinian lands, remove Palestinian inhabitants, and avoid disrupting Israel's Jewish demographic majority. Israel also ensured that UN Security Council Resolution 242 did not mandate its withdrawal from the territories, deploying it instead to legitimate its takings. Aggressive U.S. intervention has facilitated Israel's interpretative model and helped normalize it as part of a tenable political framework. Together, this legal and political machinery has enabled Israel to incrementally annex Palestinian lands without serious political or legal consequence.

3Pragmatic Revolutionaries chapter abstract

The 1973 War recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East and planted the seeds for the first regional peace conference. This shift altered the Palestinian Liberation Organization's strategic thinking and produced an internal chasm that pitted a pragmatist front that supported accepting a truncated state in the West Bank and Gaza, against a rejectionist front that sought to pursue national liberation under the banner of revolution. The PLO would pursue a program of liberation diplomacy at the United Nations in an effort to cement its juridical status and create more leverage to enter into negotiations. Chapter 3 traces the PLO's entry into the United Nations and the apex of its legal advocacy, when it helped to create new law to regulate its use of force, to legislate an alternative to Resolution 242, and to pass a resolution declaring Zionism to be a form of racism.

4The Oslo Peace Process chapter abstract

The Palestinian intifada that began in December 1987 compelled Israel and the United States to reevaluate their entrenched opposition to negotiations with Palestinians. The United States developed a proposal for a short timetable for negotiations based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In its Letter of Assurances to the Palestinians, the United States reiterated a proposition almost identical to the one previously laid out in the Camp David framework agreement of 1978. Although the PLO had consistently rejected Resolution 242 and revolted against the autonomy framework proposed in 1978, in 1991, the Palestinian National Council voted to enter into the peace process. Chapter Four explains this shift within the Palestinian national movement. It also details the history of the negotiations in Washington, Madrid, and Oslo that led to the devastating terms of the 1993 Declaration of Principles and enabled Israel to consolidate its control of the Territoriese.

5From Occupation to Warfare chapter abstract

In November 2000, Israel publicly embraced an assassination policy targeting particular Palestinians. In authorizing military force against Palestinians and the deployment of assassinations and other prohibited tactics, Israel's legal institutions embarked on two fundamental and interlocking shifts. The first was to unsettle the applicable legal framework regulating the Israel's relationship to Palestinians. The second was to change the laws of war as they regulated a belligerent's right to use force more generally. Together, these shifts worked to expand Israel's use of force against Palestinians and to extinguish the specter of Palestinian military resistance. These seeds planted in 2000 began to come into lethal bloom during Israel's onslaughts against the Gaza Strip in the 2008<->2009 winter and the years to follow. Chapter Five traces the shift from occupation to warfare and examines how Israel is steadily establishing new law for colonial dominance.

6Conclusion chapter abstract

The Conclusion describes Israel's success in extending its jurisdiction across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, obviating the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state. Israel rules occupied Palestinians but excludes them from citizenship, administering distinct legal systems based on racial definitions. The official Palestinian leadership both deliberately and inadvertently helps sustain the apartheid condition by adhering to a sovereignty framework and a politics of acquiescence believing that the United States will deliver a Palestinian state. This ultimate chapter traces how a sovereignty framework has become a trap and counterproductive to Palestinian interests. While a rights-based approach, as embodied by the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, may overcome this trap, it lacks a political program for decolonization. Counterintuitive approaches are proposed for transcending the impasse on the question of Palestine.

About the Author

Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University. She has served as legal counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives and as a legal advocate for Palestinian refugee rights at the United Nations. Noura's research interests include human rights and humanitarian, refugee, and national security law. She is a frequent commentator, with recent appearances on CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NPR, among others, and her writings have been widely published in the national media and academic journals.


"A radical rethinking of the role of law and legal advocacy in the struggle for Palestinian rights. Noura Erakat tells how a refugee problem became a national liberation movement, and the tragic story of how initiative and momentum were squandered after Oslo. Brilliant, inspiring, coldly realistic-and hopeful." -- Duncan Kennedy, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence Emeritus * Harvard Law School *
"Through a brilliant and bracing analysis of the Palestine question and settler colonialism, Noura Erakat offers a compelling story of how the antinomies of structure and indeterminacy shaped international law and its possibilities. Justice for Some is a vital lens into movement lawyering on the international plane. At once tragic and inspiring, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in decolonization and the politics of international law." -- Vasuki Nesiah, New York University * founding member of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) *
"Noura Erakat brings a sophisticated understanding of the role of international law over the last century in the Question of Palestine. This brilliant book will be of great interest to anyone seeking to understand why the outcome, thus far, to the disposition of the Palestine problem has not been a just one." -- Rashid Khalidi * author of The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: Settler-Colonial Conquest and Resistance, 1917-2017 *
"Noura Erakat's incisive exploration of the role of law in shaping the development of Israel/Palestine reveals the consistent genuflection of international legal institutions to Israel's reliance on well-established colonial practices. She also forcefully argues that the skillful use of international law as a tool of struggle can be generative of hope and possibility-for Palestine and the world. Justice for Some is precisely the book we need at this time." -- Angela Y. Davis * author of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement *
"Without any doubt, Justice for Some is the best book on the law and politics of the Palestine/Israel struggle-sophisticated, learned, humane, and creative. Noura Erakat makes a profound contribution to our general understanding of the paradoxical role of law in the contemporary world." -- Richard Falk * Former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine, author of Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace *
"Anyone wondering how and why international law has failed so miserably to curb Israeli violations in Palestine and the deleterious effect this has had on the law itself should read this book. Noura Erakat communicates...with the skill of a lawyer and the passion of an activist. Justice for Some is both enriching and inspiring." -- Raja Shehadeh * founder of Al-Haq, author of Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine *
"[Erakat] meticulously reveals how Israel ignored international law, the laws of war, duties of an occupying power, and efforts brought through the United Nations to censure its actions....The book will interest those concerned with the law and ethics of war, international law, terrorism laws, and observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its treatment by international bodies. Highly recommended." -- S. Zuhur * Choice *
"Erakat's dissection of these legal and political histories is careful and captivating....This book asks that the Palestinian liberation struggle and Jewish-Israeli society each reckon with the impossibility of a two-state future, reimagining what their interests are-and what they could become. In rejecting the zero-sum formula's inevitability, Erakat sees, and demands, an alternative." -- Amanda McCaffrey * Jewish Currents *
"[A] major scholarly contribution to the critical literature devoted to resolving the Israel/Palestine struggle in line with the dictates of justice....[I] urge a careful reading of Justice for Some by all those interested in the Palestinian struggle as well as those curious about the way law works for and against human wellbeing." -- Richard Falk * Mondoweiss *
"Noura Erakat eloquently shows that, yes, the Israeli state project has been consolidated and expanded on a platform of might making right since 1948-but not only that. Israeli governments have also actively sought to craft legal justifications for the conquest and colonisation of territory, and to harness international law in their favour....[Erakat] has written a book that is a story of Palestine but is also a story of international law itself. Some of its most important insights are more universal than specific. They are major conceptual contributions with value well beyond the immediate case study." -- John Reynolds * Dublin Review of Books *
"Erakat's critical perspective on international law and the focus on how Palestinians have used it to support their cause is a much-needed addition to the international law literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....This is a book brimming with acute insights that deserves the widest possible readership." -- Markus Gunneflo * Journal of Conflict and Security Law *
"Erakat's detailed analysis paints a dismal reality, yet it is one that must be acknowledged and worked from. Her meticulous discussion on the inherent injustice in international law propels attention towards what so far remains overlooked and calls the reader to reflect upon action that veers away from what the international community keeps demanding of Palestinians." -- Ramona Wadi * Middle East Monitor *
"That international law is not an effective starting point for achieving justice in Palestine is a vital insight for leftists developing a progressive foreign policy.Justice for Somemakes clear that winning Palestinian freedom will require confronting the geopolitical power structure that gives international law its meaning." -- Gunar Olsen * Jacobin *
"Justice for Some challenges the not infrequent characterization of efforts to resolve the struggle over Palestine as a dichotomy between law/politics, principle/pragmatism or an imposed/negotiated solution. As [Erakat's] incisive analysis points out, these binaries, while not completely inaccurate, are incomplete in that they mask Israel's skilled use of the law to advance its interests while overlooking the political reasons for shortcomings in the Palestinian leadership's use of law as a form of resistance." -- Terry Rempel * The Middle East Journal *
"In this elegantly written and carefully argued book, Erakat strikes a delicate balance that makes an important contribution to the scholarly literature on both Palestine and critical international law....[Her] clear-eyed analysis is not only an excellent account of the law and politics of the Palestinian struggle but also a remarkable and often inspiring assessment of the relationship between law and liberation." -- Asla Bali * Journal of Palestine Studies *

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