Leah Tzemel – Wikipedia

Leah Tzemel – Wikipedia -

Leah Tzemel, born on June 19, 1945, is an Israeli lawyer who represents security prisoners, Palestinians accused of terrorist activities, as well as Israelis and Palestinians charged with violence against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and settlers.


Leah Tzemel was born in Haifa to Zvi and Pnina Tzemel, both Polish immigrants and members of the Fifth Aliyah. She studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the Six-Day War, she volunteered with the IDF for the evacuation of new immigrants from combat zones in Jerusalem. After the war, she participated in an IDF mission in the West Bank, where she encountered Palestinian refugees. This experience ignited her political awareness. Tzemel was a member of the leftist movement "Matzpen" and met her partner in life, Michael Warschawski, with whom she has two children.

Legal Career

In 1971, Tzemel specialized in criminal defense under the guidance of attorney Felicia Langer. In 1972, she represented, for the first time, a group of Israelis and Palestinians sympathetic to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who were accused of traveling to Syria for guerrilla training. One of the well-known members of this group was Odeh Attar. Tzemel recalls that during the trial, she was referred to as a "traitor" and faced verbal attacks. In July 1977, the Israeli Supreme Court, in its judgment (HCJ 139/77), ruled that Tzemel could not represent clients in military courts because she was "identifying with the enemies of the state who seek its destruction."

Over the course of 40 years, Tzemel has represented Israelis and Palestinians in both military and civilian courts. Her clients have included participants in the Lillehammer affair, Ahmed Saadat, Ezra Nawi, and many others. According to her perspective, her Palestinian clients are "fairly helpless individuals who are attempting, in very primitive ways, to resist the occupation, lacking military power and a real organization to express their opposition."

In 1993, she refused to condemn attacks against settlers, stating that she did not oppose actions that could harm their lives.

In 1992, Tzemel represented 415 members of Hamas who were deported to Lebanon. The first appeal led to the suspension of the deportations, and after a second hearing, they were approved. Tzemel was one of the appellants in the petition to the Supreme Court against the use of violent interrogation methods and the issue of administrative detention.

She also represented Ahmed Manasrah and Knesset member Basel Ghattas, who was convicted of smuggling mobile phones to security prisoners in 2016-2017.

Political Activity

Tzemel is a member of the political party Balad. In the 15th Knesset elections, she was placed 50th on the Balad list. In the 17th Knesset elections in 2006, she was placed 108th. In the 19th Knesset elections in 2013, she was placed 20th, and in the 20th Knesset elections in 2015, she again occupied the 20th position, this time as part of the Joint List on behalf of Balad. In the 21st Knesset elections in 2019, she was placed 106th, as part of the Ra'am-Balad Joint List.

In these elections, her placement was largely symbolic and in unrealistic positions, and she was not elected to the Knesset.

Awards and Recognition

In 1996, Tzemel, together with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, received the "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" award, the most prestigious human rights award given by the French government.

In 2005, she and lawyer Mohammed Na'amneh received the Hans Litten Prize from the German and European Democratic Lawyers' Association.

Films about Tzemel

In 1999, a documentary titled "Advocate for the Defenseless" was produced, chronicling her life and work.

At the 2019 Docaviv Film Festival, a documentary about her, "Leah Tzemel, Defense Attorney," won the award for Best Documentary. The film, particularly its win, stirred public controversy. The main objection was directed at the Israel Film Fund for awarding a grant of 150,000 NIS to the film's creators as part of its support for Israeli cultural initiatives. After several days of protests outside the Film Fund offices, it was announced that the grant for future winning films would be reviewed and possibly canceled.

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