Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from non-violent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for five decades, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible. As far as Palestinians are concerned, she’s more than an attorney, she’s an advocate.


Rachel Leah Jones Born in Berkeley, California in 1970 and raised between Berkeley and Tel Aviv, Jones is a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on Israel/Palestine.
She has a BA in Race, Class and Gender Studies and a MFA in Documentary Media Arts. Her directing credits include: 500DUNAM ON THE MOON (2002) commissioned by France Channel 2; ASHKENAZ (2007) commissioned by Israel Channel 8; TARGETED CITIZEN (2010) commissioned by Adalah: the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; and GYPSY DAVY (2012) commissioned by Israel Channel 8(Sundance 2012). In addition to making her own films, Jones has produced extensively with others, e.g. WALL by Simone Bitton (Cannes 2004; Special Jury Prize Sundance 2005) and has been affiliated with progressive media outlets such as DEMOCRACY NOW! in New York.  

Philippe Bellaiche Born in Paris, France in 1967, Bellaiche is an award-winning DP whose credits include BETWEEN FENCES (Berlin 2016); ONCE I ENTERED A GARDEN (Rome 2012); Z32 (Venice 2008); and AVENGE BUT ONE OF MY TWO EYES (Cannes 2005) by Avi Mograbi; THE SETTLERS (Sundance 2016) and HOTHOUSE (Special Jury Prize Sundance 2007) by Shimon Dotan; GYPSY DAVY (Sundance 2012) by Rachel Leah Jones; THE FLAT (Tribeca 2012; Israel Academy Award 2011) by Arnon Goldfinger;
INCESSANT VISIONS (Jerusalem 2011), THE JOURNEY OF VAN NGUYEN (IDFA 2005) and RAGING DOVE (First Prize Doc Aviv 2002; Certificate of Merit SFIFF 2002) by Duki Dror; ROUTE 181:FRAGMENTS OF A JOURNEY THROUGH PALESTINE/ISRAEL (Second Prize Yamagata 2005) by Eyal Sivan and Michel Khleifi; FROM LANGUAGE TO LANGUAGE (First Prize Doc Aviv 2004) by Nurith Aviv; FORGET BAGHDAD(FIPRESCI Award Locarno 2002) by Samir Jamal al-Din. A cinematography lecturer and master class teacher, Bellaiche also received the Cinema Arts Award in 2013.  

Directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche
Produced by Home Made Docs
Co-Production FilmOption and Close Up Films
Producers Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaiche, Joelle Bertossa, Paul Cadieux
Director of Photography Philippe Bellaiche
Edited by Yael Bitton
Length 108′
Language: Hebrew, Arabic
Country: Israel, Canada, Switzerland
Year: 2019


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ADVOCATE follows Tsemel’s caseload in real-time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work as well as the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.”

When they aren’t busy chasing Tsemel through the courthouse halls, directing duo Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche assume the privileged position of a fly on the wall in her office, where a year of documenting is like gathering a lifetime of evidence. This evidence attests to the wrongs of occupation but also to the faults of those who try to resist it, the failings of those who try to defend them, and the fundamental flaws of a legal system that purports to serve justice but in fact serves the powers that be.

Tsemel spoke truth to power before the term became trendy and she’ll continue to do so after fear makes it unfashionable. As such, she’s a model we’re hard-pressed to preserve in Israel/Palestine, and elsewhere.

On the one hand, she’s the boy calling the Emperor naked, i.e. naming i.e. i.e. exposing the underbelly of Israeli security jurisprudence: the occupier is judging the occupied. On the other hand, she’s the boy with his finger in the dam, doing her utmost to uphold the rule-of-law before the flood of injustice drowns us all. As one judge is said to have put it: “If Lea Tsemel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent her.”