Leading international lawyer Philippe Sands and Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen have been chosen as joint winners of the 2017 Jewish Quarterly Wingate literary prize in its 40th anniversary year, sharing the £4,000 winner’s pot.

Sands scooped half the prize with his East West Street, which is part-memoir, part-documentary detailing the origins of crimes against humanity, while Gundar-Goshen entered her second novel Waking Lions, about an Israeli neurosurgeon who moves to southern Israel and mistakenly kills an Eritrean while driving.

Chair of judges Professor Bryan Cheyette said: “Sands has undertaken a forensic exploration of how you can bring barbarism to account under law to challenge it and banish it, whereas in Gundar-Goshen’s novel we enter a world where barbarism exists side by side with civilization.”

He said Sands’ book was “tremendously accomplished and beautifully written work, important on so many levels as a memoir, a history of the term genocide and of why human rights are crucial today, and that Waking Lions was “an incredibly compelling and enjoyable read which tackles an unsettling issue which engages with the ethical core of present-day Israel”.

The annual prize is awarded to the best fiction or non-fiction of Jewish interest for the general reader, with Sands acknowledging that this was accidental in his case. “I can hardly claim that it was my intention to offer an idea of Jewishness to a general reader,” he said, “but I can see how in the result that consequence might have arisen.”

Gundar-Goshen said: “I am happy and honoured to be one of the winners of this year’s prize. The Jewish culture is a huge mountain, more than 2000 years old, and I’m pleased to be a grain of sand on this mountain.”