By: Samuel Cogolati, LL.M. ’14
After having taken Prof. Robert Mnookin’s reading group on the barriers to resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was eager to get exposed to the complex legal and policy issues of this struggle in the real world. I wanted to take the opportunity afforded by the Independent Clinical Program to get involved in the defence of Palestinians’ human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
With the help of the Harvard Human Rights Program, I got involved in a project of the Human Rights Clinic of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. The Clinic asked me to prepare a comprehensive report on the forced displacement of Bedouin communities living in the East Jerusalem periphery. In order for me to identify legal arguments on both sides of the conflict, and to find gaps in knowledge about the legal aspects of the topic, I met in Palestine with very interesting lawyers at various organizations such as B’Tselem, Al-Haq, and the United Nations Work and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).
The Clinic also arranged two field visits for me in Bedouin villages near Abu Dis (where I lived), in the Jordan valley, and in the South Hebron Hills close to the Negev desert. I was struck by the similarity of Bedouin experiences in the West Bank. They were all refugees from the Negev desert, they all faced demolition and eviction orders from the Israeli Civil Administration, and they all lived in subhuman conditions with no access to water, electricity or education and health services. I was able to witness that, in Area C of the West Bank, Israel’s restrictive planning policies basically deny Bedouin peoples the right to build tents, erect infrastructures such as schools, or to graze their livestock. As Israel is planning to establish a contiguous bloc of settlements between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem as part of the E1 plan and to expand other settlements in Area C of the West Bank, Bedouin peoples are again at grave risk of forced eviction and centralization in planned townships.
My time in Palestine was really formative and eye-opening. I will keep in touch with the Clinic in the next months to help them develop new legal arguments against forced eviction of Bedouin families around Jerusalem. My hope is that my legal skills acquired during my time at Harvard Law School can contribute to the furtherance of human rights and humanitarian advocacy in the region.