Leah Tsemel

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Leah Tsemel
AwardsLiberty, Equality, Fraternity award,
Hans Litten prize

Leah Tsemel, or Lea Tsemel (Hebrew: לאה צמל, born 19 June 1945) is an Israeli lawyer known for her work in support of Palestinian rights.[1][2] She defines her career as one involving “everything [that occurs] between the Palestinians and the authorities".[3] Her five decades of representing Palestinian defendants in the Israeli court system is the subject of the documentary film Advocate, which came out in 2019.


Tsemel was born in Haifa, Israel in 1945.[2] Her parents, who made aliyah in the 1930s, came from Belarus and Poland, and her father was an engineer.[3] She studied law at Hebrew University in the late 1960s.[4] She is married to anti-Zionist activist Michel Warschawski, and they have two children, Nissan and Talila and seven grandchildren.[3][5]

Legal work[edit]

In 1971, Tsemel became an apprentice to human rights lawyer Felicia Langer.[4]

Tsemel represented activist Ezra Nawi.[6] An Israeli settler claimed Nawi hindered the settler from filming Nawi's assistance of Palestinians, and Nawi was convicted and fined.[6] On appeal, Tsemel successfully argued that the area the Palestinians were farming did not belong to the settler.[6] Nawi's conviction was overturned.[6]

Tsemel represented student Salah Hamouri after he was indicted on two counts: for planning to assassinate rabbi Ovadia Yosef and for being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[7] She advised Hamouri to plead guilty to the latter in exchange for a lighter sentence.[7]

Tsemel is "nondiscriminating about her clientele...whoever they might be and whatever charges they might face"[4] and is known for defending suicide bombers.[8]


Tsemel criticized Camp 1391, an Israel Defense Forces prison camp for high-risk prisoners in northern Israel,[9] stating, "anyone entering the prison can be made to disappear, potentially forever, it's no different from the jails run by tinpot South American dictators."[10] Tsemel was a participant in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.[11]

She was a candidate for the Joint List in the 2015 general election.

Tsemel’s career as an Israeli human-rights lawyer defending Palestinians is the subject of the 2019 documentary, Advocate, directed by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche.[12][13]


Tsemel, together with Palestinian lawyer Raji Sourani, received the 1996 "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" award,[14] the highest human rights award granted by the government of France.[2][15] Tsemel, together with Palestinian advocate Mohammad Na'amneh, received the 2004 Hans Litten prize from the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights.[16]


  1. ^ Ciotti, Paul (April 27, 1988). "Israeli roots, Palestinian clients: Taking the Arab cause to court has earned Jewish lawyer Lea Tsemel the wrath of her countrymen" Los Angeles Times Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c American Friends Service Committee (March 30, 2010). Leah Tsemel Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Ravit Hecht,'The Israeli Lawyer Who Defends the Most Violent Fighters Against the Occupation ,' Haaretz 25 May 2019
  4. ^ a b c Hajjar, Lisa (2005). Courting conflict: The Israeli military court system in the West Bank and Gaza, pp. 168-69. University of California Press, Berkeley. ISBN 0520241932
  5. ^ Salokar, Rebecca Mae and Volcansek, Mary L. (1996). Women in law: A bio-bibliographical sourcebook, pp. 313-20. Greenwood Press, Westport. ISBN 9781567509144
  6. ^ a b c d Haaretz (22 December 2005). A humble house in the hills Haaretz Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Ben-Ami, Nina (December 23, 2008). Affaire Salah Hamouri: la réponse de l'ambassade d'Israël, Le Nouvel Observateur. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  8. ^ Berg, Raffi (July 24, 2003). The Israeli who defends suicide bombers BBC News Online Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  9. ^ BBC News (December 2, 2003). Israel court lifts prison secrecy BBC News Retrieved on February 2, 2014
  10. ^ Cook, Jonathan. Facility 1391: Israel's Guantanamo, Le Monde diplomatique (November 2003), reprinted Archived 2006-08-06 at the Wayback Machine in CounterPunch (12 November 2003) Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  11. ^ Russell Tribunal on Palestine (November 2011). Lea Tsemel Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  12. ^ "Rachel Leah Jones, Lea Tsemel • Director and protagonist of Advocate". Cineuropa - the best of european cinema. Retrieved 2019-06-18.
  13. ^ Stern, Itay (2019-05-30). "Documentary on Israeli Lawyer Who Defends Palestinians Wins at DocAviv Festival". Haaretz. Retrieved 2019-06-18.
  14. ^ Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme, Prix des droits de l'homme Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  15. ^ Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (December 7, 1996). Palestinian centre for human rights wins France’s highest award for human rights endeavours. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.
  16. ^ European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (February 5, 2005). European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights awards HANS-LITTEN-PRICE to Lea Tsemel and Mohammad Na'amneh Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

External links[edit]