The court-appointed translator is largely an invisible actor in the legal space. The Israeli context provides an extreme example of this invisibility: apart from a general statutory definition of the court's obligation to translate criminal proceedings, the work of translation in the Israeli courtroom is mostly unregulated by state law, rendering it highly susceptible to informal manifestations. This article offers a critical empirical investigation into the micropractices of translation performed in the Jerusalem criminal trial court in 2002. On the face of things, the court-appointed translator performs a technical task in the everyday working of the court. Expected to mediate between the defense, the prosecution, and the judiciary, the translator is usually not perceived as an active participant in the legal procedure. Problematizing this perception, the article examines the multiple tasks of court-appointed translators in the Jerusalem criminal trial court, thereby challenging traditional court roles and legal perceptions. Not exactly court officials yet also not outsiders to the courtroom, the translators exercise a mixed bag of formal and substantive roles. They act not only as linguistic intermediaries, but also as intermediaries between formal legalities and commonsense discourses.
The article is divided into three parts. The first part sketches three primary linguistic challenges, as those are identified by the translators interviewed for this study. The second part of the article adds the perspective of other court practitioners so as to depict a dynamic picture of the particular loyalties of the translators. Finally, the third part of the article examines the liminal, "third space," of translation. Precisely for its extreme articulation of sovereign ideologies, the Israeli/Palestinian setting provides an intriguing geohistorical context within which to think about translation. This last part ties the article together by highlighting the dynamic relationship between language, law, and space, as these are constructed and subverted through practices of translation within the particular setting of the Jerusalem courtroom.
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