International Law Scholar Shabtai Rosenne Dies
(L-R) Foreign Ministry officials Abba Eban, Shabtai Rosen and Reuven Shiloah meeting in the Israeli President’s office in 1949. Photo: National Photo Collection of Israel

September 21, 2010

Legal expert and diplomat Shabtai Rosenne, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University, dies of a heart attack at age 92. He is considered one of the most important international lawyers of the second half of the 20th century, a major contributor to the law of treaties and the law of the sea, and a lawyer who never shirked from tackling complicated questions.

Rosenne was born in London in November 1917, served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, earned a law degree from the University of London and moved in 1947 to Palestine, where he worked for the Jewish Agency. Rosenne drew on biblical precepts in practicing law and was driven by command “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” He formulated Israel’s armistice agreements of 1949, was the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry from 1948 to 1967, and served as an ambassador to the United Nations in New York from 1967 to 1971 and in Geneva from 1971 to 1974. He wrote the four-volume series “The Law and Practice of the International Court 1920-1996,” published beginning in 1997.

Although he never served as one of the 15 judges on the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the judges consulted him and considered him the authority on the court’s operations and jurisprudence. He received the first Hague Prize for international law in 2004 and focused in his acceptance speech on the effects of international agreements such as trade pacts on the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Rosenne’s final public service was membership on the Turkel Commission, formed in June 2010 to investigate the Israel Defense Forces’ violent seizure of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara while it tried to break the naval blockade of Gaza the month before.