Palestinian FM Accuses Israel of Apartheid, Asks UN Court to Declare Its Occupation Illegal

Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), speaks during a public hearing held by ICJ to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion in The Hague, Netherlands, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), speaks during a public hearing held by ICJ to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion in The Hague, Netherlands, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Palestinian FM Accuses Israel of Apartheid, Asks UN Court to Declare Its Occupation Illegal

Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), speaks during a public hearing held by ICJ to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion in The Hague, Netherlands, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Judge Nawaf Salam, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), speaks during a public hearing held by ICJ to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion in The Hague, Netherlands, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)

The Palestinian foreign minister on Monday accused Israel of apartheid and urged the United Nations' top court to declare that Israel’s occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state is illegal and must end immediately and unconditionally for any hope for a two-state future to survive.

The remarks came at historic hearings into the legality of Israel’s 57-year occupation. The case opened against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, which immediately became a focal point of the day — even though the hearings were meant to center on Israel’s open-ended control over the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and annexed east Jerusalem.

Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Malki told the International Court of Justice that "2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, half of them children, are besieged and bombed, killed and maimed, starved and displaced."

"More than 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, including in Jerusalem, are subjected to colonization of their territory and racist violence that enables it," he added.

International law expert Paul Reichler, representing the Palestinians, told the court that the policies of Israel's government "are aligned to an unprecedented extent with the goals of the Israeli settler movement to expand long term control over the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in practice to further integrate those areas within the territory" of Israel.

The hearings follow a request by the UN General Assembly for a non-binding advisory opinion into Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. Judges will likely take months to issue an opinion.

Israel's representatives were not scheduled to speak but submitted a five-page letter to the court last July that was published after Monday's hearing.

In the letter, Israel said that the questions put to the court are prejudiced and "fail to recognize Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens," address Israeli security concerns or acknowledge Israel-Palestinians agreements to negotiate issues, including "the permanent status of the territory, security arrangements, settlements, and borders."

"While the request made to the Court seeks to portray it as such, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a cartoon narrative of villain and victim in which there are no Israeli rights and no Palestinian obligations," it said. "Entertaining such a falsehood can only push the parties further apart rather than help create conditions to bring them closer together."

In court, Malki cited the right to self-determination enshrined in the UN charter as he told judges that "for decades, the Palestinian people have been denied this right and have endured both colonialism and apartheid."

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

"This occupation is annexation and supremacist in nature," Malki said and appealed to the court to uphold the Palestinian right to self-determination and declare "that the Israeli occupation is illegal and must end immediately, totally and unconditionally."

After the hearing, Malki said that the court's opinion could increase chances for peace. "This ruling could help both Palestinians and Israelis to finally live side by side in peace, mutual security and dignity," he told reporters.

An unprecedented 51 countries and three international organizations will address the court in the coming days.

Palestinians and leading rights groups argue that the occupation goes far beyond defensive measures. They say it has morphed into an apartheid system, bolstered by settlement building on occupied lands, that gives Palestinians second-class status and is designed to maintain Jewish hegemony from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel rejects any accusation of apartheid.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for an independent state. Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory, whose future should be decided in negotiations.

It has built 146 settlements across the West Bank, according to watchdog group Peace Now, many of which resemble fully developed suburbs and small towns. The settlements are home to more than 500,000 Jewish settlers, while around 3 million Palestinians live in the territory.

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

Israel withdrew all of its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but continued to control the territory's airspace, coastline and population registry. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza when the Palestinian militant Hamas group seized power there in 2007.

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 recognized.

It’s not the first time the court has been asked to give an advisory opinion on Israeli policies.

In 2004, it said a separation barrier Israel built through east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank was "contrary to international law." It also called on Israel to immediately halt construction. Israel has ignored the ruling.

Also, late last month, the court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in its campaign in Gaza. The order came at a preliminary stage of a case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide, a charge that Israel denied.

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour, at times overcome with emotion, concluded Monday's hearing with an impassioned plea to the 15-judge panel to "guide the international community in upholding international law, ending injustice and achieving a just and lasting peace."

He urged judges to "guide us towards a future in which Palestinian children are treated as children, not as (a) demographic threat, in which the identity of the group to which we belong does not diminish the human rights to which we are all entitled."



Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
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Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

The Middle East was reeling Sunday from deadly violence with Israel bombing Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen in quick succession in response to attacks from Iran-backed militant groups.
Despite Washington's top diplomat asserting a deal is near the "goal line" to end more than nine months of devastating war between Israel and Gaza rulers Hamas, the Israeli military said it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen, as it pressed on with its offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory, Agence France Presse reported.
Dozens have been killed since Saturday across the Gaza Strip, the civil defense agency said, including in strikes on homes in the central Nuseirat and Bureij areas and displaced people near southern Khan Yunis.
Residents said a major operation was underway in the district of Rafah in the south, reporting heavy artillery and clashes.
The deadly strikes in Gaza came hours after Hezbollah and its ally Hamas said they fired at Israeli positions from south Lebanon, while Yemen's Houthi group vowed to respond to Israeli warplanes hitting a key port.
The fire left raging by the strikes on Hodeida port "is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Detailing the first strikes claimed by Israel in Yemen, Gallant warned of further operations if the Houthis "dare to attack us" after a Houthi drone strike killed one in Tel Aviv on Friday.
In Hodeida three people were killed and 87 wounded, health officials said in a statement carried by Houthi media.
Netanyahu travels to Washington
The trio of militant groups has vowed to keep up attacks on Israel until a truce ends the violence in Gaza, which lies in ruins, with most residents forced to flee their homes.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's military retaliation to wipe out Hamas has killed at least 38,919 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The war has also unleashed hunger and health crises in Gaza, with Israel and the United Nations trading blame for vital aid supplies failing to reach those in need.
After the detection of poliovirus in Gaza sewage, though no individual cases, the World Health Organization said there were "monumental" constraints to mounting a timely response.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday the agency believes many more diseases are "spreading out of control" inside Gaza.
The premier is due to address US lawmakers Wednesday in Washington, where he will be under pressure to reach a ceasefire with Hamas.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday a truce was within reach.
"I believe we're... driving toward the goal line in getting an agreement that would produce a ceasefire, get the hostages home, and put us on a better track to trying to build lasting peace and stability," he said.