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  • Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine by Noura Erakat
  • John Quigley (bio)
Noura Erakat, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine ( Stanford University Press 2019), ISBN 9780804798259 (cloth), ISBN 9781503608832 (electronic), 331 pages.

Noura Erakat aims to explain how international law has played a role in shaping the Israel-Palestine conflict and to project how international law may be relevant to potential resolution.

Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine1 focuses on recent years. As a preface, Erakat traces critical junctures in the early development of the conflict. Erakat begins with an explanation of Zionism, the project conceived at the turn of the twentieth century that sought the backing of European governments to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.2 She poses Zionism as colonial in character and then she quotes the famous statement of Theodor Herzl, a founder of Zionism, to Cecil Rhodes, who had organized a colony bearing his name, Rhodesia. Herzl asked Rhodes for help in gaining territory for a Jewish state. To explain to Rhodes why he was being approached, Herzl said that the Zionist project was "'something colonial."3

In 1917, Zionist organizers gained the support of a colonial power when Great Britain declared its support for a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, issuing a letter over the name of Lord Arthur James Balfour, the Foreign Secretary.4 The Zionist project was immediately seen as a potential threat to the self-determination of Palestine's Arab population, which constituted Palestine's majority. On that question, Erakat quotes Balfour, who explained that while the indigenous population of Palestine should not be dispossessed or oppressed, "we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination."5 Balfour's rationale for disregarding self-determination, as he further explained, was the "the question of Jews outside Palestine."6

The League of Nations gave Great Britain control of Palestine, incorporating, at Great Britain's request, an obligation to implement the Balfour Declaration by facilitating Jewish immigration into Palestine.7 Erakat sees this disposition as confirmation by the League that selfdetermination was being overridden.8

Erakat gives a brief account of major developments as Great Britain administered Palestine, an administration that lasted until 1948. By 1936, the Palestinian Arabs saw that Britain was letting Jews migrate to Palestine in numbers that threatened the loss of their country. They took up arms in a rebellion that lasted until 1938. Great Britain reacted with wide-ranging repression that, as Erakat says, not only took the heart out of Arab resistance but left the Arab community so weakened that it fell easy prey in 1948 to Zionist military units as they took control of most of Palestine's territory, forcing out large segments of the Arab population in the process.9 In that year, Great Britain withdrew from Palestine. Erakat recounts how the UN General Assembly admitted Israel to UN membership in 1949 after Israel fended off questions about why it [End Page 287] was refusing to repatriate the Arabs it had forced out.10 Characterizing the role of international institutions in these early phases of the conflict, Erakat says that international law was ignored. She writes that these early developments show "international law's utility in advancing settler-colonial ambitions."11

Erakat explains a new dynamic in the conflict after the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964. This organization, she says, adopted an advocacy stance at the United Nations. It used international law to make its case and to gain international legitimacy for regaining territorial rights for the Arabs of Palestine.12 The augmentation of the United Nations at that era with states that were formerly colonies created fertile ground for arguments based on self-determination. Erakat writes that the PLO successfully framed its position at the United Nations as one of opposing "settler-colonial subjugation" by Israel.13 "[T]he PLO," she says, "established new law on behalf of colonized people and marginalized Israel globally by emphasizing that nation's alignment with imperial powers, including Portugal, South Africa, and the United States."14

However, Erakat explains that pressure was soon being exerted on the PLO by the Soviet...


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