The great Israeli Communist lawyer and activist, Felicia Langer, died last week in Germany at the age of 87. Langer rejected colonialism, Israel’s endless wars, land theft, torture, apartheid, ethnocentric nationalism, chauvinism and countless violations of human rights and international law.
A communiqué released by the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) said: “Her death represents a loss to the Palestinian people’s struggle for justice, human rights, and self-determination.”
Langer rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s defending Palestinian detainees from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and also authored several books highly critical of Israeli occupation forces.
Langer was born in 1930 in Poland to Jewish parents, who fled the Nazi invasion for the Soviet Union when she was eight years old. In exile, says her personal website, “she learnt what it meant to be a refugee, to belong to an underprivileged minority, to live in bitter poverty.”
Most of her family were killed in the Holocaust and after the war, she married concentration camp survivor Mieciu Langer in 1949. The following year the couple moved to Israel, where her mother lived and where Langer studied law.
In the late 1960s, she was one of just a handful of lawyers representing West Bank residents. Most of this group were Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, almost all of them Communists. After the occupation in June 1967 the connections between the Israeli and West Bank and Gaza Communist movements paved the way for lawyers from Israel to represent Palestinian residents under occupation.
Following Langer’s lead, these lawyers laid the groundwork for the extensive legal activism that continues today, activism marked by partnership, Sisyphean legal battles, and trust, given daily by Palestinians to Israeli lawyers, some of them Jewish, to represent them before Israeli institutions, primarily the Supreme Court. For several years, Langer was a member of the Central Committee of the CPI.
“After the war in 1967, she enlisted to expose and document human rights violations in the occupied territories,” wrote MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List), a CPI leading member in a tribute. “In the days when allegations of torture during interrogations were not believed, she was the first to denounce them.”
“Felicia Langer was an example of courage, dedication and commitment, and saw as one of her life’s tasks helping to build a bridge over the abyss of hatred between peoples,” wrote Khenin. “In days that will eventually come, days of peace, streets and squares will be named after her.”
In 1990, Langer left Israel, slamming the door behind her. In a 2012 interview with documentary filmmaker Eran Torbiner, she explained: “I left Israel because I could no longer help the Palestinian victims with the existing legal system and the disregard for international law that was supposed to protect the people whom I was defending. I could not act. I was facing a hopeless situation.”