Colloquium on Israel and International Law

Mishkenot Sha’ananim international cultural and conference center in historic Jerusalem


Balancing Sovereignty, Security, and Regard for International Norms

January 3-5, 2010

The International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis recently added another regional colloquium to its growing list of judicial events bringing together international judges with their domestic counterparts and local legal experts. Organized in collaboration with Mishkenot Sha’ananim, an international cultural and conference center located in historic Jerusalem, the colloquium provided an opportunity for a frank and nuanced discussion of issues that affect Israeli life on a daily basis.

Participants hailed from two principal spheres: international justice institutions and legal divisions of the Israeli government and military. Several Israeli law professors and retired judges were also in attendance. The colloquium provided a unique opportunity for Israeli officials, charged with ensuring that state and military actions conform to international humanitarian and human rights law, to exchange ideas in a private and confidential setting with international judges and legal experts who have dealt with these same bodies of law in the courtroom and in international organizations.

The colloquium included a public keynote address, featuring retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak. A large audience listened attentively while Justice Barak spoke about the place of international law in the decisions of the highest Israeli court.

Emphasizing the prominent role of international law in Israeli Supreme Court jurisprudence, Justice Barak said, among other things, that he had personally written more than 1000 opinions applying the Geneva Conventions. In response to a question from the audience, Justice Barak voiced concerns about the International Criminal Court, but said that on balance he believes that Israel should join the 110 other countries that are now parties to the ICC.

Ambassador Hans Corell, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, acted as respondent to the keynote address. He congratulated the Supreme Court for many of its courageous rulings but urged that consideration now be given to Israeli settlement policies and other actions that might be seen as violations of international law.

The first session of the colloquium was led by Hans Corell. Titled "International Law in Domestic Courtrooms: the Role of Judges in Upholding Treating and Other International Obligations", the session highlighted some of the difficulties experienced by domestic judges in applying international law.

Robbie Sabel, Professor of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, turned the colloquium participants’ attention to current Israeli realities in the second session. In addressing his topic, "Balancing Security and Individual Rights under International Law in the Fight Against Terrorism - the Israeli Case", Professor Sabel argued that the Israeli Supreme Court exercises supervision over security and military activities to a greater extent than any other judicial system in the world.

The next session, "Counter-Terrorism and the Protection of Human Rights", was led by John Hedigan, Justice of the High Court of Ireland and former judge of the European Court of Human Rights. Justice Hedigan pointed out that judiciaries often serve as a bulwark against unchecked executive power in times of emergency or against the short-term reactions of legislative bodies eager to reassure the public and respond to the majority.

The final session of the colloquium raised a fundamental question in relation to Israel and international law: "Are the Laws of War Still Valid in the Battle against Terrorism?" Led by Colonel (Ret.) Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF international law department, this session featured frank and provocative discussion.

Video coverage of the public event and a written report on the colloquium are forthcoming. Reports on earlier Brandeis Judicial Colloquia may be downloaded here.

The colloquium was covered by the Jerusalem Post and referenced in a Haaretz editorial.

Brandeis University and Mishkenot Sha’ananim are consulting with colloquium participants and other experts regarding possible follow-up programs.

Colloquium Participants

  • Gabriel Bach – Justice emeritus of the Israeli Supreme Court
  • Aharon Barak – Justice emeritus of the Israeli Supreme Court and Professor of Law at Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya
  • Lt. Col. (Res.) David Benjamin – Advocate, Consultant, and Lecturer in International Law, Law of Armed Conflicts, and Counter-Terrorism
  • Hans Corell – former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs of the United Nations
  • Uri Dromi – Director of Mishkenot Sha’ananim
  • Dror Harel – Legal Advisor in International Law, Prime Minister’s Office
  • John Hedigan – Justice of the High Court of Ireland, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights
  • Philippe Kirsch – Judge ad-hoc of the International Court of Justice, former President of the International Criminal Court
  • Ruth Lapidot – Professor emerita of Law at the Hebrew University
  • Col. Liron A. Libman  - Head of the International Law Department and Military Advocate General’s Corps, Israeli Defense Forces
  • Shavit Matias – Deputy Attorney General of Israel
  • Marlene Mazel – Advisor at the Department of International Affairs, Office of the State Attorney
  • Theodor Meron – Judge and former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
  • Col. (Ret.) Daniel Reisner – attorney with Herzog, Fox & Neeman, former Head of the Israel Defence Force’s International Law Department
  • Robbie Sabel – Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law and the Department of International Relations, the Hebrew University, former Legal Advisor of the Foreign Ministry
  • Roy Schordorf – Head of the Department of International Affairs, Office of the State Attorney
  • Leigh Swigart – Director of Programs in International Justice and Society at the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, Brandeis University
  • Daniel Terris – Director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, Brandeis University
  • Yaffa Zilbershats – Professor of Law, Bar Ilan University

The Colloquium on Israel and International Law was generously funded by a grant from the David Berg Foundation.