As we grapple with the reality that Palestine Legal’s founding Advisory Board member and trailblazing human rights attorney, Michael Ratner, is no longer with us, we wanted to share some examples of his thinking and work for Palestinian human rights. Since his death last week, much has been said of his pioneering legal work – from the Democracy Now! special, to the New York Times obituary, to the Center for Constitutional Rights’ (CCR) statement, and beyond.
Less known and celebrated is his work on Palestine in particular, which illustrates the principled commitment to justice on which Michael operated. As Maria LaHood, Deputy Legal Director at CCR and Palestine Legal Advisory Board Chair, says:
“One of the many legacies Michael Ratner has left us with is CCR's work for Palestinian human rights, which began more than two decades ago seeking accountability against a U.S. tear gas manufacturer for Palestinian deaths resulting from Israel’s use of its tear gas in the 1990s. CCR’s Palestinian rights work flourished during Michael’s tenure as board president, including cases brought against Israeli officials and Caterpillar for war crimes as well as a campaign to halt Israel’s desecration of Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem. It should be no surprise that Michael’s bold tenacity extended to the principled struggle against Israel’s impunity.
As we noted last week, it was Michael’s prophetic vision that led to the founding of Palestine Legal in 2012. He saw, before many, that one of the most pressing issues in the universe of legal work for Palestinian rights was the attack on activists who advocate for these rights, even right here in the U.S. Palestine Legal is built on the theory of lawyering that Michael practiced: one that married the legal with the political, and that uses law as a tool to support, protect and further movements for genuine social change, working at the service of movements even when the law itself is weighed against them.
Here, we share, in Michael’s own words, some highlights of his thinking on Palestine:
In March, 2014, The Real News Network interviewed Michael about his personal journey from a Zionist youth to an outspoken critic of Israel. (March 4, 2014)
In 2015, Michael spoke about the suppression of Palestine advocacy and criticism of Israel in the U.S., or ‘The Palestine Exception to the First Amendment,’ as he coined the phrase that would become the title of Palestine Legal and CCR’s report on the issue. (April 27, 2015)
Most recently, Michael and co-author Katherine Franke wrote about the hypocrisy of lawmakers passing bills to punish economic boycotts of Israel. (April 29, 2016)
In early 2015, Michael discussed the bias and prejudice implicit in a US case against the Palestinian Authority (PA), which ultimately held the PA responsible for the killings of Israeli and US citizens. (February 23, 2015)
Michael also spoke out vigorously against the tainted conviction of the Holy Land Five defendants. Here, he speaks together with Noor Elashi, the daughter of Ghassan Elashi, who was convicted and sentenced for 65 years under material support for terrorism charges for his work with one of the largest Muslim charities in the US sending humanitarian aid Palestinians. (October 26, 2012)
Exemplifying his history of going after powerful actors for their abuses of everyday people, Michael called for criminal accountability of Israeli leaders for the attacks on Gaza in 2014, not only for war crimes, but also for genocide, crimes against humanity, and apartheid since 1947. Showing his passionate dedication to Palestinian freedom and his belief that the law by itself doesn’t solve the problem, Michael ended his comments saying: “Yes we must hold Israel and its leaders accountable in courts throughout this world. But that will still not be sufficient. In the end, we must end the occupation, and Palestine must be free.” (July 27, 2014)
And so, we carry on Michael’s torch in our small way, ensuring the continued freedom of those who are working for a free Palestine.