In memory of Felicia Langer (1930-2018) – lawyer, person of conscience, fighter for human rights and a true friend, who passed away in Tübingen, Germany on June 21, 2018.
It has been many years since we last saw Fula, as we chose to call our lawyer, Felicia Langer. But those years have not dampened our appreciation and gratitude as well as the deep friendship that developed between us when she took it upon herself to lead the legal team defending the detainees in the case of “Derekh Hanitzotz”.
Those were the formative years of the First Intifada, 1988-1989, when the entire Israeli establishment mobilized to crush the popular revolt of the Palestinians, and, along the way, trample on anyone who dared to stand with the insurgents. Along with the strategy of “breaking and crushing the bones of Arab militants,” there was a campaign to de-legitimize the opposition within Israel. The Derech Hanitzotz newspaper fell into this category. It was closed and its 4 editors were dragged one after the other into the interrogation cellars. The press then, quoting sources in the Shin Bet security service, declared that a dangerous terrorist network had been busted, and its members were likely to be imprisoned for at least forty years.
When we turned to Fula to defend us, she did not hesitate for a moment. She took up the post with a reputation as the most prominent lawyer defending Palestinian prisoners. She had extensive experience with, and a deep understanding of, the ways in which the Israeli military and security services operated. In the first meeting with us in prison awaiting our trial, she stated unequivocally that this was a case of political persecution by a regime trying to forcefully impose the status quo of the Occupation. She stood at our side with all her strength and fortitude, promising: “It will not be forty years and, most likely, not even four years.”
She later persuaded the judges of the Jerusalem District Court to release two of the detainees, who were mothers, until the trial. However, an outrageous ruling by Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak prevented their release to house arrest, pumping even more air into the balloon that the security services had inflated.
Fula’s support on the human and legal level was absolute. She was there for us every day, all day – the detainees, the comrades who remained active outside, the children and the families. She gave everyone confidence in the justice of the way we had taken, and the possibility of undermining the so-called truths presented by the security services. She was sure she could convince the judges, and public opinion, that ours was a legitimate political movement. And indeed, the compromise that Fula eventually achieved led to the admission of minor offenses and relatively short prison terms – a compromise defined in the press as “the mouse that the mountain gave birth to!”
After the trial, and even before the release of the last remaining Hanitzotz detainee, Yacov Ben Efrat, Felicia Langer and her partner, Moshe, decided to leave Israel and live near their son Michael in Tübingen, Germany. Fula’s frustration at the arbitrariness of Israeli military courts, along with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the Communist movement (to which she had been committed for her entire life), was undoubtedly a contributing factor in her decision.
Our case was possibly her final big one. Perhaps she felt that after the quick release of the Hanitzotz activists, she could leave Israel knowing that there were others here to continue her path.
Despite the distance, Fula continued to work in Germany as well, devoting herself to writing and public appearances. Until her last day, she was part of the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace and Palestinian rights. The connection between us on the human level remained profound. Fula’s unswerving and staunch support in those critical days of the Hanitzotz trial will remain our strongest memory of her.
May she rest in peace.
– Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman