Palestinians pass up chance to debate Israelis at ICC moot court
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Palestinians pass up chance to debate Israelis at ICC moot court

Although PA chief Abbas says he rejects boycotts of Israel, Birzeit University, which calls itself 'Palestine's leading academic institution,' quits mock trial competition at international court to avoid facing Hebrew U

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Hebrew University team at the ICC Moot Court Competition in The Hague, May 2017 /Rotem Bavli)
The Hebrew University team at the ICC Moot Court Competition in The Hague, May 2017 /Rotem Bavli)

While Palestinian officials continue to threaten Israel with prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a leading Palestinian university recently chose not to debate Israelis there.

Last month, during the annual ICC Moot Court Competition, Birzeit University advanced to the quarterfinals, where it was to meet Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But the team from the Palestinian university, near Ramallah in the West Bank, decided to shun the Israeli competitors.

In a May 27 press release, Birzeit said its Faculty of Law and Public Administration withdrew from the competition after having debated 12 other groups from various other countries. “This was in line with the university’s commitment toward the Boycott and Divestment Sanctions Campaign (BDS),” Birzeit said in the press release, which was posted on the university’s website but later made unavailable.

“Birzeit Team is the first Arabian team to make it to the quarterfinals, and to win the oral pleading competition,” the statement continued.

The Hebrew University expressed disappointment over the Palestinian boycott, pointing to the academic nature of the competition.

While Palestinian officials routinely calls for international boycotts of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected blanket boycotts of Israel proper. Located on Mount Scopus, the Hebrew University lies within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel.

Birzeit University, which calls itself “Palestine’s leading academic institution,” did not reply to a Times of Israel request for comment.

Sixty-five universities from all over the world participated in the ICC Moot Court Competition, which simulates the proceedings at the court. “The Competition consists of an extensive six-day educational and social program, which brings together students of diverse backgrounds and cultures to The Hague to challenge their skills as future international lawyers,” according to its website.

The final round of this year’s competition took place on May 19 in Courtroom I, with real ICC judges adjudicating. The University of Leiden won, with Singapore Management University and Queensland University of Technology coming in second and third, respectively.

“In May 2017 as in previous years, coaches and students from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law attended the competition and were prepared to compete against all participating universities,” Dov Smith, a spokesman for the Hebrew University, told The Times of Israel.

“Upon reaching the quarterfinals, the Hebrew University students were set to compete against two teams, one of which was from Birzeit University. Regrettably, Birzeit chose to be disqualified rather than compete against Hebrew University students,” Smith said.

The entire Hebrew University team representing Israel at the ICC mock trial competition in The Hague, students are standing, the coaches sitting /courtesy ICC Moot Court Competition)
The entire Hebrew University team representing Israel at the ICC mock trial competition in The Hague, students are standing, the coaches sitting /courtesy ICC Moot Court Competition)

Another university took Birzeit’s place, but was beaten by Hebrew University, which moved on to the semifinals and eventually finished in ninth place.

“As the Moot Court is an academic gathering, it was disappointing that a participating university chose not to honor its academic principles,” Smith said.

Since the “State of Palestine” joined the ICC in April 2015, Palestinian leaders have urged the court to incriminate Israelis for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, citing settlement expansions in the West Bank and Israel’s last war against Hamas in Gaza.

“It is time for the international community to take concrete action to ensure Israel’s adherence to its obligations under international law and safeguard the rights of prisoners. We also call upon the International Criminal Court to speed up the preliminary inquiry and open an immediate investigation into Israeli war crimes,” Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said in April.

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