She has been called a traitor and the Israeli government tried to block an award-winning new film about her work and spirit. As the BBC screens Advocate, we meet the ‘angry optimist’
In 2015, during an escalation of violence in Jerusalem, a just-turned-teenage Palestinian boy and his older cousin were involved in a stabbing that left two young Israelis injured – critically in the case of one, a 13-year-old boy. The elder cousin, Hassan, was shot dead by police. The younger, Ahmad, was hit by a car and lay bleeding on the ground as a crowd gathered. They shouted: “Die you motherfucker” and urged police to “put a bullet in his head”. The shockingly young ages of the boys sent the story around the world. For Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel, who defends Palestinians, it led to one of the most fraught conflicts of her decades-long career.
Advocate, an award-winning documentary by Israeli film-makers Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, chronicles the 75-year-old lawyer’s life and work. The film provides a compelling insight into the uneasy complexities of representing Palestinians in Israeli courts, where the occupiers effectively judge the occupied in a system that can’t escape the bloody conflict raging between the two sides.
Who is ready to go against the grain, swim against the current, speak truth to power?