An Israeli team from the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, recently beat out 44 universities to take first place in the 2010 edition of the Jean-Pictet Competition on international humanitarian law.

The week-long international competition, held between March 20-27 in Quebec, Canada, matched up teams from universities around the world to test their knowledge in the field of international humanitarian law (IHL) – commonly referred to as the laws of war.

“For an Israeli team to win a competition in the field in which Israel is so often criticized is significant,” said the team’s academic supervisor, Daphné Richemond-Barak. “The Jean-Pictet is the most prestigious competition in the field worldwide.”

In the competition, teams role-played as representatives from foreign affairs, military advocates or the Red Cross. They were questioned by judges and judged by jury. Among the “judges” for the event was Philippe Kirsch, first president of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Rigorously trained and given access to the highest government officials, the team and its supporters ultimately attributed the victory to “teamwork, teamwork, teamwork,” according to Jonathan Braverman, a member of the IDC team along with Danielle Brown and Uri Feldman.

To make it to the competition, the IDC team first had to win the national competition. The IDC enlisted coach Ido Rosenzweig, who won the award for best speaker in the national competition two years ago.

“Ido is not 100-percent, but 1,000% responsible for us understanding teamwork,” said Braverman. “The amount of time he spent drilling us, [teaching us] how to work as a team, getting into the role-play as a group rather than a person... that’s what set us apart.”

In a nutshell, said Rosenzweig, IHL might be summarized as, “Do the most damage to the enemy [while] minimizing harm to civilians.”

He explained the four core principles of IHL as follows: distinction of soldiers from civilians; military necessity as a rule in evaluating targets; proportionality; and humanity to the enemy.

Rosenzweig and Richemond-Barak drew up a detailed course for the team.

“Each section was composed of one or more simulations, like in the competition. You’re going to be the legal adviser of the prime minister, or a commander in the field, etc. I challenged them to answer them according to the role,” said Rosenzweig.

Then, toward the end of the course, Rosenzweig
played to Israel’s “home field advantage” – a wealth of practical experience in the laws of war.

“We gave them what I refer to as a kind of bonus. We set meetings with the highest practitioners in Israel, from the Foreign Ministry, Military Advocate-General’s Office, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC),” he said.

“A week before the competition, we got a four-minute fake radio broadcast,” recalled Braverman. “We had to figure out who’s going to war and who’s going to be fighting whom. We didn’t get a map of the area until the third day. You have partial information that gets built up as you go through the simulations.”

Nations and continents are fictional in the competition. The nation of Batogour was the one featured in the final, and a wide range of people and places were invented, including the commander of the armed forces, named Col. Yes We Can.

Braverman said the most trying section of the competition was “the long day,” during which the team acts as a military legal adviser during an ongoing war from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Quizzing the panel for the final were a mock prime minister, a speaker of the house, and the chairman of the opposition, played by Kirsch. A jury of nine heard the competitors’ answers, and gave the win to the IDC.

The final round was held against New York University and the University of Montreal.

After winning, the IDC team received a five-minute standing ovation from the other teams, including those from Iran, Lebanon and Jordan.

For the closing ceremony, the IDC team brought out an Israeli flag.

“I don’t think anyone’s done that before,” said Braverman. “There were cheers from the Americans. It really was the one of the best experiences one could have, regardless of the victory. Just having been there makes you a better person.”

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