Can the rule of law restore peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
The U.S. State Department is focusing on that, and Ashley Kushner, a Squirrel Hill native, is working hard to make that happen.
“A transparent, effective justice system with due process and human rights guarantees is a cornerstone of democracy,” she said.
As the Senior Rule of Law Advisor of the United States Agency for International Development, West Bank/Gaza Mission, Kushner oversees the Palestinian Authority legal reform and development package for the State Department. She also advises the U.S. government on security sector reform, criminal justice and human rights issues in the region.
It’s a long way to the West Bank from the comfortable Jewish neighborhood where Kushner grew up.
Her parents, Louis and Sandy Kushner are both lawyers. Today they are partners with the Downtown firm Rothman Gordon.
But there was a time, when their three children were young, and Louis was the chair of the American Civil Liberties Union. He took the kids on protest busses to Washington D.C.
“People were always at our house,” Louis said. “We’ve always been involved.”
At the early age of 3, Kushner said she was learning about “respect for people, right from wrong, minorities and Israel.” She went on to attend the Ellis School and Taylor Allderdice where she grew up with a wide variety of friends from all backgrounds.
As Rule of Law Advisor and Deputy Director, she is focused on strengthening the Palestinian Authority’s justice sector.
“We support community organizations who are engaged in civic education, and youth awareness and empowerment,” she said.
Not only is she influential in local governments in the West Bank and Gaza, she offers support to Israeli-Palestinian dialogue groups, and grass roots/community organizations.
“We cannot, nor do we try, to replicate the U.S. legal system in other countries, as our legal system is a reflection of our unique historical experience,” she said. “Rather, we work to find areas of commonality and other regional or global examples that may provide a developing democracy with examples of how other countries have structured their legal systems or grappled with particular issues.
“In the case of the Palestinian Authority,” Kushner continued, “Jordan has a very similar legal system to the West Bank (Gaza has a different legal tradition). So, the way the Jordanian legal system deals with an issue may be more similar to the Palestinian laws than, say to the US.
“For this reason, I think the most critical aspect of legal development work is to understand and respect the culture within which you are working. I work extremely closely with Palestinian legal professionals and governmental representatives who understand the needs and challenges of their society and can help articulate where U.S. assistance programs can be most effective and impacting.”
“Ashley brings an extraordinary blend of intelligence, toughness, and style to some the most complicated issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said R. David Harden, deputy director USAID West Bank/Gaza Mission. “She has earned the respect of top Palestinian jurists and U.S. military officials. Ashley makes Pittsburgh proud.”
“The ability of people to seek redress through a court system is a fundamental aspect of a society living under the rule of law,” said Kushner. “I am a lawyer and I love the challenge of learning about another society’s legal system. A society’s laws are a deep reflection of culture and can show what that society aspires to be.”
“In the case of the Palestinian Authority, for example, Jordan has a very similar legal system to the West Bank (Gaza has a different legal tradition),” she continued. “So, the way the Jordanian legal system deals with an issue may be more similar to the Palestinian laws than, say to the U.S.”
(Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)