NETA PATRICK received her LL.M. from Columbia Law School in 2011 on a full Human Rights Fellowship. Following her graduation as a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, Patrick stayed on as a fellow with the Human Rights Institute, where she worked on a project that focused on housing land and property rights in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank. Patrick is now the executive director of the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din. Previously, Patrick practiced as a lawyer in Israel, specializing in Israeli constitutional and human rights law and worked as an associate in the law office of Michael Sfard as legal director of the “Rule of Law” project for Yesh Din. Since December 2012, Patrick has presided as chairperson of the board of directors of the Human Rights Defenders Fund, which affords human rights defenders with the necessary legal tools to prevent a “chilling effect” on participation in human rights activity.
What human rights work are you currently involved in?
I am the Executive Director of Yesh-Din, an Israeli human rights organization that is working to defend the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation. Yesh Din believes that the protracted military occupation of the Palestinian territories inherently leads to extensive and grave violations of the rights of protected civilians, and for this reason, the occupation must be ended. Yesh Din's activities focus on the extent of Israel's implementation of its duty to protect Palestinian civilians under its armed forces' occupation. These include: criminal accountability of Israeli civilians and members of the Israeli security forces in the West Bank, and human rights violations related to the use of Palestinian lands.
In what ways were you involved in human rights during your time at Columbia Law School?
During my time at CLS I worked on housing land and property rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Our work included a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur for adequate housing on indigenous communities that were facing displacement. Our work in the human rights clinic included an eye-opening field mission to the occupied Palestinian territories, where we collected testimonies from victims facing displacement. We also conducted research on the lack of access to justice in planning judicial and quasi-judicial systems that preside over a vast area of the West Bank.
What motivates you to be a human rights lawyer?
I would say my motivation has changed over the years. I used to see the law as an effective tool to fight for social change and justice. After years of experience, I have seen the law being used too many times in the opposite way—as a means of dispossessing and abusing people under the guise of legality. Today, I think the law should be used in a more strategic manner–to expose injustices or confidential policies, while realizing that it cannot, by itself, lead to meaningful change.
What advice would you have for students interested in pursuing a career in human rights?
Take a long, deep breath and remember that change does not happen within a day or two. Fighting for human rights takes belief and dedication, especially when things seem to be stuck, or going the other way. It helps me to remember what a long way the world has come in realizing and adopting the discourse of human rights over the past 60 years, and trying to imagine what the next sixty might look like. And lastly, surround yourself with people you enjoy working with. It makes the long struggle more fun and bearable.