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Violence's Law

A lecture with George Bisharat, UC Hastings College of the Law

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
3:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall


Yale legal scholar Robert Cover began a widely-read article a number of years ago with the striking introduction: "Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death ...Legal interpretive acts signal and occasion the imposition of violence upon others: A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life." The article, entitled "Violence and the Word," spurred renewed inquiry into the relationship between law, language, and violence, and underscored law's ultimate, though not always visible, reliance on force. In contrast, I will consider a possibly different relationship between law and violence, in which violence not only is law's ultimate or end point, but also its beginning. This relationship is manifest in Israel's attempted uses/distortions of international humanitarian law (IHL; the branch of public international law that governs the behavior of parties at war), beginning with the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2001, and including its attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09. There is considerable evidence that Israel is deliberately trying to rewrite international law through violence. Israeli military lawyers were well aware of the limits of IHL and consciously counseled military commanders to violate those limits, in the hope that these violations would be accepted by the international community as legal innovations. Arguably, this turns IHL - the purpose of which is to limit suffering even during war - on its head, allowing law to extend the scope of violence to previously protected areas and persons. Is this a dangerous, new development? Or does it merely represent the age-old tradition that "might make right?" These questions and others will be addressed in the talk.



George E. Bisharat was a trial lawyer for the Office of the Public Defender in San Francisco before joining the Hastings faculty in 1991. Professor Bisharat studied law, anthropology, and Middle East studies at Harvard, and wrote a book about Palestinian lawyers working under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. He writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East, both for academic audiences and for major media sources in the U.S. and abroad. Professor Bisharat is an avid fly fisher, sometimes in such exotic locations as Russia and New Zealand, and also writes articles for fly fishing magazines. He sings and plays blues harmonica, and occasionally forms bands with student musicians to perform at Hastings events. His wife, Jaleh Bisharat, is a business marketing specialist, and his children, Valerie and Austin, are a source of pleasure and pride.



Cost : Free and Open to the Public


Sponsor(s): , Co-sponsored by UCLA's International Human Rights Program, School of Law, and the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law

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