At the New York Review of Books website, Eyal Press wrote about how the foundations of Israel’s administration of the occupied/disputed territories:
But the frustration of the settlers did not last very long. As revealed in The Law in These Parts, an engrossing new Israeli documentary making its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival, just hours after the ruling was handed down, Ariel Sharon, a keen supporter of the settlement project who was then Israel’s Minister of Agriculture, organized a meeting to discuss how to circumvent it. Alexander Ramati, then a legal advisor to the West Bank military command, raised his hand to tell Sharon about an Ottoman concept known as “Mawat land.” The Ottomans, who had controlled Palestine until World War I, had used the term to designate land far enough from any neighboring village that a crowing rooster perched on its edge could not be heard. Under Ottoman law, if such land was not cultivated for three years it was “mawat”—dead —and reverted to the empire. “With or without your rooster, be at my office at 8:00 in the morning,” Sharon told Ramati, who was soon crisscrossing the West Bank in the cockpit of a helicopter, identifying tens of thousands of uninhabited acres that could be labeled “state land” and made available to settlers, notwithstanding the Geneva Convention’s prohibition on moving civilians into occupied territory. In the years that followed, a string of new settlements was built on this territory, eventually prompting another challenge before the Israeli High Court. This time, the Court denied the challenge, ruling that settlement construction was permissible while Israel served as the temporary custodian of the territory. This provided a legal basis for land expropriation that has since enabled hundreds of thousands of Israelis to relocate to the West Bank.
Surprisingly little is known about the legal apparatus that has enabled and structured the occupation. Filmed in nine days but based on years of archival research, The Law in These Parts aims to expose it. Even before the 1967 Six-Day War, the film reveals, officers in the army’s legal corps drew up guidelines for a separate system of laws that could be applied to territory under IDF control, rules they were convinced could strike a balance between order and justice. But by the time the first Palestinian Intifada erupted in 1987, detention without trial and convictions based on secret evidence had become standard operating procedure in the military courts entrusted with this task. One reason Israel did not simply extend its own laws to the West Bank and Gaza Strip was that doing so would “imply certain things you may not want,” an official in the film explains – in particular, that Palestinians living in the occupied territories were citizens with the same rights as Israelis. (In contrast, Jewish settlers in places like Hebron were spared the military justice system and granted access to civilian courts in Israel.) Director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, an Israeli known for his meticulously researched documentaries, initially planned to make these Palestinians the film’s protagonists. Instead, the documentary focuses on the handful of Israeli legal officials who, working largely in the shadows, set the ground rules for an occupation now in its forty-fifth year.