Volume 12, 2007 : Immigrant Scholars Write about Identity and Integration

Encounters with Law: Russian-Speaking Israelis in Court
Larisa Fialkova
Department of Hebrew and Comparative Literature
Haifa University, Israel

Maria Yelenevskaya
Department of Humanities and Arts
Israeli Institute of Technology - Technion, Haifa, Israel


This essay is part of a project in legal anthropology investigating external legal culture—the perceptions of the law by members of the lay public. Material is drawn from in-depth focused interviews with FSU immigrants of the 1990s in which the subjects relate their courtroom experiences in Israel. On the whole, ex-Soviets are reluctant to bring their problems to court. This paper attempts to show that partially this attitude stems from deep distrust of the law and authorities bred in pre-emigration life and reinforced by experience in Israel. It also reflects legal incompetence: immigrants have to adjust to the legal system markedly different from the one in their origin country. Stories about various legal offences, morality, rights, and civil responsibilities, as well as cheating and swindling, are a common item in the immigrants’ narratives. Our goal is to reveal mental structures related to the concepts of “law”, “justice”, “rights”, etc., and analyze how they contribute to the feelings of social integration or alienation.

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