Feli­cia Langer

Is­raeli hu­man rights lawyer who de­fended Pales­tini­ans in Is­raeli courts

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITS - Feli­cia Langer: born De­cem­ber 9, 1930. Died June 21, 2018

FELI­CIA LANGER was both praised and vil­i­fied dur­ing her 22 year ca­reer as a prom­i­nent hu­man rights lawyer in Is­rael. To Pales­tini­ans the Jewish Holocaust sur­vivor was a hero; to many Is­raelis, a hate fig­ure. Langer, who has died aged 87, was among the first to de­fend Pales­tini­ans in Is­raeli courts. Clients in­cluded the elected mayor of Nablus, Bas­sam Shakra, whom she de­fended against a de­por­ta­tion or­der in 1976 filed by Is­rael be­cause he had crit­i­cised the Camp David Is­rael-Egypt peace agree­ment. There were mass demon­stra­tions when Langer won the case and Shakra re­mained in post. An­other client was He­bron may­oral can­di­date Hazmi Natcheh.

Langer was branded “the ter­ror­ists’ lawyer” by Is­raelis, who re­garded her as a deeply con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure. Her eth­i­cal po­si­tion was that ev­ery­one de­served a fair trial but she drew the line at those sus­pected of hav­ing blood on their hands. Her re­fusal to rep­re­sent any­one ac­cused of vi­o­lent crime, how­ever, drew crit­i­cism from the anti-Zion­ist left.

Born Feli­cia Veitt in Tarnow, near the Pol­ish border with Ger­many, her fam­ily fled to Rus­sia as the Nazis moved in dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Her lawyer fa­ther was ar­rested be­cause he re­fused to ac­cept a Soviet pass­port, fear­ing he would not be al­lowed back into Poland af­ter the war. The fam­ily spent the rest of the war in a Stal­in­ist gu­lag, and af­ter her fa­ther’s death in 1945 she and her mother re­turned to Poland,where they discovered most of their fam­ily had died. De­spite her ex­pe­ri­ences, Feli­cia be­came a com­mu­nist.

In 1949 she mar­ried Mieciu Langer, the sole sur­vivor of his en­tire fam­ily. The fol­low­ing year her mother per­suaded them to join her in Is­rael. Al­ready with a young child, she qual­i­fied as a lawyer at the Tel Aviv branch of the He­brew Univer­sity and joined the Is­rael Bar As­so­ci­a­tion. The Six Day War of 1967 chal­lenged what had been an un­ex­cep­tional le­gal ca­reer. The fol­low­ing year she launched her own prac­tice and be­gan her 22 year long bat­tle in the Is­raeli mil­i­tary courts for Pales­tinian rights. Few Is­raeli lawyers at the time were will­ing to take on such a con­tro­ver­sial role, but the ded­i­cated hu­man rights and peace ac­tivist, who had joined Is­rael’s com­mu­nist party, took up the gaunt­let. In so do­ing she pi­o­neered le­gal prac­tices in the Supreme Court that were highly un­usual at the time, tak­ing on, al­most sin­gle-handed, the pow­er­ful heads of the le­gal sys­tem.

She was claimed to have been the first to chal­lenge both the ex­pul­sion of Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from the West Bank, and the army’s prac­tice of de­mol­ish­ing the homes of sus­pected mil­i­tants. For this she paid a heavy price: se­ri­ous death threats obliged her to take a body­guard, taxi driv­ers in Jerusalem re­fused to pick her up, and the Is­raeli pub­lic dis­trusted her.

She wrote sev­eral books based on her ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing With My Own Eyes, (1975) These Are My Broth­ers, (1979)

and Youth be­tween the Ghetto and There­sien­stadt (1999).

The New In­tifada of the Pales­tini­ans (2001) an­a­lysed the up­ris­ing in the wake of the fail­ure of the Oslo ac­cords. Her de­fence work won her the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Hu­man Rights in 1991 and both the Ger­man and Pales­tinian Fed­eral Orders of Merit in 2009 and 2012. What most moved her was the nam­ing of a square in her hon­our in the cen­tre of a refugee camp in Nablus.

Even­tu­ally Langer be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with the Is­raeli ju­di­cial sys­tem which she felt had not brought jus­tice to the Pales­tini­ans and moved to Tub­in­gen in Ger­many, from where she con­tin­ued her work.

Langer is sur­vived by her son Michael and three grand­chil­dren. Her hus­band pre­de­ceased her in 2015. GLO­RIA TESSLER

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.