Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The lost defender

Regissør: Rachel Leah Jones Philippe Bellaiche
(Canada, Sveits, Israel)

ISRAEL / For almost fifty years, Lea Tsemel has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and compassion for those lost and impossible to defend.


Palestinian offenders being tried in Israel run the risk of losing before the case begins. As an aggressive and fearless Jewish lawyer, Lea Tsemel has made the defense of Palestinians her life and mission. For almost fifty years, Tsemel has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and human rights for those who seem lost and impossible to defend in the eyes of society. Advocate is a portrait of her courage, her struggles – old and new – and also her dream. She fights for social and political justice, not for individual duels in the courtroom, but for Israel's future and past.

Palestinian perpetrators are called "terrorists"

A young Arab man boarded a bus, where he stabbed the driver and eleven of the passengers. Thirteen-year-old Ahmad and his cousin carry out a knife-raptus in a residential area in Jerusalem. A depressed mother, Israel, sets fire to her car while screaming Allahu Akbar. If the victims of such acts are Jews, Palestinian perpetrators are often labeled "terrorists" in the media, and their cases become trophies in the ongoing political struggle between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Their cases are judged by double standards, since the balance of power is not in their favor in the first place: the occupant judges the occupied and makes it impossible for Justice to be blind.

As Tsemel sees it, her clients are first and foremost people – people who have done something, people in trouble, and people with families and stories. If you look past the violence and the labels, it is clear through these cases how the entire Israeli community bleeds, how fear and suffering affect everything and everyone.

This reality is the driving force behind Tsemel's work. Through interviews, photographs and archive dives Advocate down into Tsemel's past. Her story goes back to an awakening period that encompasses the core of the Israeli conflict and moves through her landmark cases as she defends feminists, nonviolent protesters, armed militants and fundamentalists. All of these cases have helped build the person and lawyer she has become.

The occupant judges the occupied.

After the Six Day War in 1967, Tsemel realized that most of what she believed and believed about politics and the country's future was wrong. She saw Palestinians fleeing, entire neighborhoods destroyed, and it became clear to her that there was no "land without people for a people without land," as the slogan would have it. She joined Matzpen, a revolutionary socialist and anti-socialist organization, and began activism against what was then taboo, but what it is now commonly called "the occupation."

What Tsemel knows is right

It requires a certain amount of strength to look beneath the surface, to see the causes and the pain, and to take a stand. Over the years, Tsemel has been demonized and threatened. She goes into each new case with equal share of heart, determination and courage, and it seems that nothing can mess with what she thinks is right.

Directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche

"I don't understand you," says a TV presenter in an interview with her in 1999. "You should try to understand me, because I'm the future," she replies. “The political issues we face in Israel today will follow us for many years. So if you try, you will see that I have a point. " Twenty years later, the reality – which appears through her story – is that something has changed, but not much. She is already used to being considered "a rebel with a lost cause," which she expresses in the film's introduction.

Frustration and offenses

We see Tsemel in her messy office; an experienced lawyer who meets with the families of the defendants, who see trendy reports in the press about the cases, and how she is dragging suitcases with case documents to court. She's in the 70 years, but it seems she never rests or loses her sense of humor, not even when everything seems to be falling apart. Armed with wit and at times crude language, she lives in an endless circle of frustration and offense, without fear of being hurt in the process. And despite the small victories and the eternal struggle, after all these years she never doubts her convictions and her role.

The film is not militant, but still rages. It is also inspiring and full of heart warmth. It ends with the hope that as long as there are people with compassion, there is still a possibility for a solution, although the solution – for the moment – can not be seen anywhere. The film captures the humanity and suffering underlying aggression and labels, and creates an insightful picture of a sound legal system. A system of no justice that gives increased suffering to those living in a seemingly hopeless conflict in a part of the world we choose to view from a distance.


The film is shown digitally on Movies from South 2020.
The film was shown on HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival. It has won numerous awards.

Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Nita is a freelance journalist and critic for Ny Tid.

You may also like