This project aims to compare through empirical enquiry the ways in which different codified texts of Islamic family law (IFL) are applied among the Palestinian Muslims resident in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Combining anthropological, legal and sociological approaches, it defines the shar‘î judiciary as a focal institution through which to examine the mutually constitutive relationships between law and social organisation. This dialectic will be analysed in four regions: Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the ‘grey zone’ now emerging between the 1967 border and the separation barrier/wall. In what was formerly Mandate Palestine, IFL today draws on distinct sources: In Israel, the Ottoman law of 1917 is still recognised in its original form and implemented by sharia courts. In the West Bank, the Jordanian Law of Family Rights of 1976 is applied, while, in Gaza, the 1954 Law of Family Rights proclaimed by the Egyptian governor still obtains. In East Jerusalem, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian judicial authorities compete, but in the ‘grey zone’, no court system is fully operative. Since late Ottoman times, the sharia courts’ legal sphere of intervention was progressively limited to the sole management of personal status issues, to the exclusion of penal and commercial matters; however, their social sphere of action, while impaired by territorial fragmentation, extended from towns into the countryside and, after 1948, the refugee camps.
While drawing upon archival research and legal/textual analysis, fieldwork will focus on the detailed ethnographic observation of courtroom proceedings and sociological enquiries in local communities. It will take into account a wide spectrum of constraints affecting personal status law, ranging from state power to personal interventions. A number of sharia courts will be situated in their often volatile socio-political settings in view of elucidating three major research issues: 1) the influence of foreign rule over Palestinians on the local application of IFL and its transformations; 2) the interplay of gender, proximity and social status in adjudication; 3) the central yet ambiguous role of the qadi as judge and community member in the processes of conflict resolution.
Research methodology will rest on three major pillars: 1) Textual analysis, thematic and diachronic, will cover all IFL texts, relevant regulations and ordinances applied or presently being developed in Israel and Palestine, bodies of case records constituted on the basis of local sharia court archives, as well as various published sources, press and unpublished material. 2) The comparative ethnography of courtroom proceedings will be complemented by observing the behaviour of judges and listening to them attentively. Researchers will thus come to understand how legal norms derived from revealed (Coranic) precepts can (or cannot) be adapted to contemporary social circumstances. 3) Finally, the implications of personal status conflicts will be analysed by studying litigants’ and judges’ roles in their wider networks of social proximity.