Spring seminar examines housing issues in East Jerusalem

September 16, 2010Duke Law News

Sept. 16, 2010 — A spring 2011 seminar offers Duke Law students a unique opportunity to engage in academic and field research relating to one of the thorniest disputes in the Middle East conflict: housing issues in East Jerusalem.

Curtis Bradley, the Richard A. Horvitz Professor of Law and a leading scholar of international law, is offering the three-credit seminar titled Translating International Human Rights Law: Housing Issues in East Jerusalem. In addition to guiding up to ten students through their consideration of international law and comparative legal issues relating to the construction and demolition of housing in East Jerusalem, he will lead them on an intensive fact-finding trip to the region over spring break. They will assess the legal issues in context, meet with various interested stakeholders such as Israeli and Palestinian government officials, homeowners, and NGOs, and deepen their understanding of the issues through hands-on experiences outside the classroom. Following their trip, the students will collaborate on a substantive paper analyzing the legal issues underlying the situation.

While students will offer “tentative conclusions” based on their class work and field research, the purpose of the seminar is academic study and assessment of difficult and interesting questions of human rights law, not advocacy, said Bradley. Their analysis will not be designed to aid any particular parties in the ongoing dispute.

“Obviously, issues surrounding the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, including issues relating to Jerusalem, are intensely controversial and many people are passionate about one side of the debate or the other,” he said. “But it will be a good challenge for the students to be able to think objectively about these very contentious issues and avoid partisanship. There is pedagogic value in having the students navigate through these politicized issues in an objective and balanced manner that considers the role and limitations of law and legal analysis.”

Faculty and staff at Hebrew University in Jerusalem share this approach to the controversy, he said. They are helping Bradley arrange meetings for Duke students with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders, officials, and observers during their spring break trip, which is supported by Duke’s Center for International and Comparative Law, which Bradley co-directs.

Translating human rights law on a timely issue
As the seminar title indicates, the housing issue offers students a rich “translational” experience in law, said Bradley.

“One of the themes of Duke University and the Law School is translating theory and work into practical application. For this seminar, students will be required to take the principles of international law and human rights law and translate them into very specific issues in one particular area of the world,” he said. The project also involves issues of cultural translation, demanding sensitivity to the particular — and often disputed — history of the area. To that end, seminar readings will address aspects of modern Israeli and Palestinian history and the various approaches to the dispute by international actors such as the United Nations and the European Union.

Having had his interest in East Jerusalem housing issues sparked during a 2009 study tour of Israel and the West Bank that accompanied an academic conference, Bradley is pleased to have the seminar coincide with the resumption of direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“It is fortuitous that we’re offering the seminar just as the Obama administration is attempting to have the peace process re-engaged,” he said. “It makes it a particularly exciting time — maybe even a slightly more optimistic time — to be thinking about these issues. At some point, to have full resolution of issues concerning the Palestinians, there would have to be a resolution of the issues concerning East Jerusalem.” Israel assumed control over East Jerusalem during the “Six Day War” of 1967.

The sort of research seminar students will undertake mirrors the type of work that might be done by U.S. State Department lawyers, added Bradley, who served as counselor on international law in the Legal Adviser's Office in 2004.

“I’m sure the Legal Adviser’s Office has worked on these issues because the United States has to determine what position to take,” he said. “A lot of diplomacy involves quiet discussions with the Israelis or the Palestinians, but policymakers need advice from the lawyers in the State Department about the relationship between these contested issues and international law.”

Applications for enrollment in Translating International Human Rights Law: Housing in East Jerusalem are due by Sept. 27. Application information is available here.
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