TEL AVIV -- For 23 years, ever since Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a tenacious lawyer named Felicia Langer has haunted the crowded courtrooms where the army administers justice to rebellious Palestinians. Prosecutors seeking summary convictions have had to bear her interference; defendants, with little hope of mercy, have counted on her passionate summations to affirm their dignity.

Langer, a 59-year-old Holocaust survivor, has rarely won a case. And yet for years, when Arabs have been arrested on political charges, faced deportation or the demolition of their homes, or fallen victim to soldiers' brutality, their families have looked for justice at her shabby Jerusalem office.

Now, as Israel's military machine relentlessly grinds down the 30-month-old Palestinian intifada, or uprising in the occupied lands, Langer has decided to quit. She has closed her Jerusalem office, packed her thousands of files and retreated to the modest apartment she shares with her husband in a drab Tel Aviv high-rise. Two months from now, she is leaving for Germany to take an appointment as a university lecturer.

But first, Langer has one last appeal to make. Sitting formally in a desk chair, neatly attired in a flowered print dress, she delivered a long, well-prepared testimony of a career she described as a failure.

"I want my quitting to be a sort of demonstration and expression of my despair and disgust with the system, and maybe as a proof that something must be done to grant protection to the Palestinians in the occupied territories," she said, speaking smoothly in accented but precise English. "Because for the Palestinians, unfortunately, we can't obtain justice."

Langer's last pleading describes a judicial system in the occupied territories that, swamped by the army's mass arrests, has lost every semblance of due process or respect for human rights since the onset of the intifada. It lambastes a series of rulings by Israel's Supreme Court that have institutionalized house demolitions, deportations and detention without trial as legitimate tools of order. And, with a touch of melancholy, it describes a 23-year effort by one attorney to make the judicial system into a legitimate channel for the anger and frustration of the Palestinians -- a crusade Langer says has achieved almost nothing.

"I realized that all this time, by bringing Palestinians to the courts, I had been legitimizing the system, but the system had not brought the Palestinians any justice," she said with glistening eyes. "And I decided I couldn't be a fig leaf for this system anymore. It was very painful for me to see this, but I couldn't avoid it."

Israeli officials tend to see Langer as an extremist, a fanatical opponent of the army's presence in the occupied territories who exaggerates her charges of injustice for political effect. She concedes that her views and work have been isolated and unpopular in Israel throughout her career. Yet Langer, a longtime Communist who says she has been deeply disappointed with that cause, argues that her intention always has been primarily to strengthen her adopted homeland.

Born in the Polish city of Tarnow, she lost her entire family in the Holocaust and emigrated to the new state of Israel in 1950 as a 20-year-old. When Israel won the 1967 Six Day War, Langer was two years into a new career as a lawyer. And from the beginning, she said, the notion of Israel's occupation of territory inhabitated by an alien Arab population struck her as offensive.

"I never experienced the euphoria that reigned here after the war," she said. "From the beginning I felt I couldn't stand by and watch the occupation of the territories. So I went there to fight the injustice through the system. Of course, what I understood is that maybe it would last one year and then peace would come. I never imagined that I would be compelled to stay there 23 years."

She was, she said, the first Israeli attorney to begin working in the occupied territories, and over the years she was present at the most memorable courtroom dramas there. In 1968, she said, she represented the first Palestinian family to have its house demolished by the army as a punishment; hundreds have since been carried out on the basis of landmark rulings against Langer's appeals by the Israeli Supreme Court.

In the late 1970s, Langer became involved in the most celebrated scandal ever to engulf Israel's secret police, the Shin Bet, after Arab suspects who hijacked an Israeli bus died in police custody, prompting a subsequent coverup. Langer represented the families of the Arabs who died.

She also defended leading Palestinian political figures and argued for the rights of Palestinian universities and economic institutions.

Much of the time, she said, she was proud of her work. "Those years were exhausting and trying," she said, "but I can't say it was completely futile. It was worthwhile to try it, worthwhile to explore; sometimes you could ease somebody's pain, sometimes people just wanted to have a trial and show their own dignity, and sometimes you could just show the wrongful evidence of the prosecution."

Even those modest satisfactions, however, disappeared once the intifada began in December 1987.

"We were always aware that these were military courts appointed by the military authorities with the clear aim to impose military order on the territories," she said. "But when the intifada began, the situation became impossible. The courts started to be overwhelmed by the massive arrests, and it started to resemble a factory, or a supermarket for setting punishment that only slightly resembled the administration of justice."

The backlog of cases at the three small military courts in Ramallah, Nablus and Gaza meant long delays in holding trials. Yet at the same time, "military judges adopted the policy of refusing to grant bail," Langer said.

So Palestinians spent months in overcrowded prisons or detention camps waiting for court dates. When their cases were finally called, Langer said, defendants often would not be brought to the court by the military, or the army's witnesses would not show up, prompting repeated postponements in the cases.

The result is that military justice in the territories is now almost always handled by plea-bargaining, in which Palestinians plead guilty to charges in exchange for ending, or at least setting a limit to, months of detention.

"I could not help these people by defending them," Langer said. "Because the defendant will simply have to make a plea bargain, or he will be in jail for a very long time. In order to get out you have to confess. And so you have to make a compromise with your conscience, because you know people are innocent, or at least not guilty of all the charges against them. After a while I couldn't do it anymore."

Official spokesmen said Langer's charges are exaggerated. They said that while the intifada has placed strains on the judicial system, the courts have adhered to normal legal procedures and Palestinian defendants have received fair treatment. The very fact that Langer and other Israeli attorneys are working freely as defenders of Palestinians accused of acts of violence in the occupied territories shows the relative openness of the system, official spokesmen said.

Nevertheless, official statistics and reports by human rights groups tend to support Langer's account. Of the 17,000 cases brought against Palestinians in the territories for disturbance of public order in the intifada's first two years, only about 400 had ended in acquittals by November of last year, the army said. Another 10,000 persons were convicted, while the other 6,500 cases were still awaiting trial. In the six months from May to November of last year, the army said, only 314 Palestinian suspects were released on bail.

Disgusted with the courts and exhausted from daily traveling from Tel Aviv to the territories on chancy public transportation, Langer abandoned the military trials a year into the intifada. Instead, she decided to concentrate on appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court, hoping to win decisions outlawing some of the army's most repressive tactics, or at least forcing investigations of cases of alleged excesses.

Again, she said, she failed. "I was going from one hospital to the next, writing complaints, and I was thinking maybe here and there a complaint will help stop this policy. But I didn't succeed. I didn't succeed in the Balata refugee camp, I didn't succeed in Gaza, I didn't succeed in Nahalin. Then I tried to stop the use of plastic bullets by the army, and I didn't succeed.

"Then I started taking cases of individual deaths of Arabs in which there was a clear-cut case of killing or murder. But with the exception of two {Jewish} settlers who were tried for wrongful killing, I didn't get anywhere. It was very hard to prove anything against the army; the local people were afraid to testify, and I could never get anything from the Israeli side.

"The last straw," Langer said, "was appealing the case of house demolitions. I had one case of several houses that were to be destroyed in Kalkilya as a collective punishment there. And when I went to the high court and tried to appeal against it under international law, I was cut off. The judges said, 'Felicia Langer, you know that we have already ruled under every conceivable circumstance that house demolitions are not a violation of international law.' And I realized that they were right, that we had lost all these battles long before and I had nothing more to argue.

"And so," she said, "I began to plead for mercy. I delivered this really emotional plea, describing how these families, which had old people and young children in them, would be exposed to the terrible sun in the summer and the rains in the winter with no protection. When I finished, the families came and said, 'You were wonderful.' And I said, 'No, I failed. I had no arguments to make, no course I could pursue. When you are reduced to pleading for mercy in the case of demolishing houses, you know you have failed as a lawyer.'

"And of course the judges came back and ruled the houses should be demolished. I was devastated. And when I came back to my office, I said to myself, enough, you are wasting your time. From this time on, when people came to my office I turned away their cases."

Instead, she wrote her autobiography, "Fury and Hope," which rests, fat as a phone book, on her small desk at home. She arranged the teaching appointment in Germany, which she plans to use as a platform for speaking about the system of justice in the territories. And she called in her contacts from the Israeli media to deliver one last piece of her mind.

"If this were a normal country," she said, "I should be a candidate for the Israel Prize. Because for so many years, I tried to channel so much anger and frustration into the judicial system, so many years I tried to show the other face of my country and my people, so many years when there were no peace groups, I tried to build bridges. But instead, I was declared public enemy number one."

Her one satisfaction, she said, is that she is no longer alone. A new generation of Israeli lawyers is now out in the territories, carrying on the quixotic work of defending Arab prisoners and appealing to the Supreme Court.

"I am quitting, but there are others who are not exhausted yet and will go on," Langer said. "I feel now that I will be succeeded, and that is something very gratifying."