ICJ to hold hearings on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories

Hearings into the legality of Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestine are separate from the genocide case brought by South Africa.

An Israeli soldier operates in Gaza, January 8, 2024.
An Israeli soldier operates in Gaza on January 8, 2024 [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The United Nations’s highest court is set to open historic hearings into the legality of Israel’s 57-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The week-long proceedings, which begin at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Monday, come as Israel continues its devastating war on Gaza.

The assault has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians since October 7.

The case is separate from the genocide complaint South Africa filed at the ICJ against Israel for its alleged violations in the ongoing war.

It focuses instead on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since 1967.

The Palestinians seek all three areas for an independent state.

Palestinian representatives, who speak first on Monday, will argue that the Israeli occupation is illegal because it has violated three key tenets of international law, the Palestinian legal team told reporters on Wednesday.

They say Israel has violated the prohibition on territorial conquest by annexing large swathes of occupied land, violated Palestinians’ right to self-determination and imposed a system of racial discrimination and apartheid.

“We want to hear new words from the court,” said Omar Awadallah, the head of the UN organizations department in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.

“They’ve had to consider the word genocide in the South Africa case,” he said, referring to the separate case before the court. “Now we want them to consider apartheid.”

Awadallah said that an advisory opinion from the court “will give us many tools, using peaceful international law methods and tools, to confront the illegalities of the occupation”.

The court will likely take months to make a ruling.

After the Palestinians present their arguments, an unprecedented 51 countries and three organisations – the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union – will address the judges in the wood-panelled Great Hall of Justice.

Israel will not present an oral argument, although it has sent written observations.

The case arrived at the court after the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted by a wide margin in December 2022 to ask the 15-judge panel for a non-binding advisory opinion on the Israeli occupation.

The request was promoted by Palestinians and opposed vehemently by Israel, which said any potential decision from the court would be “completely illegitimate”.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967 during a war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but still controls the enclave’s borders.

In the occupied West Bank, it has built 146 settlements, according to the watchdog group Peace Now, which are home to more than 500,000 Jewish settlers. The West Bank settler population has grown by more than 15 percent in the last five years, according to a pro-settler group.

Israel also has annexed East Jerusalem and considers the entire city to be its capital. An additional 200,000 Israelis live in settlements built in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be neighbourhoods of its capital. Palestinian residents of the city face systematic discrimination, making it difficult for them to build new homes or expand existing ones.

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements to be illegal. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, is not internationally recognised.

The case marks the second time the UNGA has asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, for an advisory opinion related to the occupied Palestinian territory.

In July 2004, the court found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled, though it still stands to this day.

Source: News Agencies