Seminar: "Update on Constitutional Building Process in Palestine"

30 July 2019

On Tuesday, 30 July, Dr Sanaa Alsarghali, a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellow at Melbourne Law School who has been collaborating with the Constitution Transformation Network during her fellowship, was invited by the Palestinian Delegation in Canberra to deliver a lecture at Parliament House on the constitution-building process in Palestine. Dr Alsarghali is also Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Constitutional Studies Centre at An-Najah University in Palestine.

To an audience of Federal MPs and Senators, political staffers and diplomats, Dr Alsarghali outlined the role and importance of constitutional principles as Palestine navigates a course towards statehood and democracy. The first half of her lecture focused on the relatively un-seen constitutional moment that Palestine is having and shed light on the Palestinian constitutional framework that has not been in the spotlight in comparison to the political instability and the occupation. Dr Alsarghali emphasised that having a solid constitution is of a huge importance. She added:

"A constitution may not build a school or a hospital, but it guarantees certain rights, like gender equality and education. There is a danger, however, that constitutions are drafted for purely symbolic reasons; used only to indicate the sovereignty of the state without focusing on making them the supreme law that protects citizens and constrains power. Part of my advocacy work in Palestine is to ensure that its newly drafted constitution becomes more than a symbolic exercise’.

The second part of her lecture focused on the awareness campaign that was initiated by civil society actors to ensure that Palestinians, regardless of their age and gender, are aware of their rights, duties and how they could be true owners of their constitutional document. The campaign launched by the Constitutional Studies Centre at An-najah University and the NGOs ‘Women Media and Development’ (TAM) and ‘The Palestinian Initiative for Democratic Dialogue’ (Miftah), has involved more than thirty NGOs and women’s development organizations and has already  begun establishing key constitutional principles for the future constitutional document. Dr Alsarghali added that perhaps the biggest achievement so far is to have lobbied to include in the draft constitution the notion of ‘founding mothers’, as well as ‘founding fathers’, which is part of a wider project to ensure the future Palestinian constitution is engendered i.e. gender sensitive, recognising the equal status of both men and women.