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Palestinians walk past Israeli border police after crossing an Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank town of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 2001 Alamy Stock Photo
Occupied Palestine

UN top court hears Israel's 'colonialism and apartheid' must end in first day of hearings

The Court will hear from over 50 countries over the course of the week. It will hear from Ireland on Thursday morning.


SUCCESSIVE ISRAELI GOVERNMENTS have offered the Palestinian people three choices: “displacement, subjugation or death”, the International Court of Justice heard this morning. 

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki was the first speaker before the UN’s top court on the first day of hearings on the legal status of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. 

He urged the Court to deem Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land illegal, saying “it must end immediately and unconditionally”. Malaki also made reference to the second-class status of Palestinians living in Israel, which he described as a system of apartheid. 

“The Palestinians have endured colonialism and apartheid… There are those who are enraged by these words. They should be enraged by the reality we are suffering,” he told the Court. 

The UN General Assembly made a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 30 December 2022 for an advisory opinion on the “legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”. 

More than 50 countries are due to contribute to the hearings, with Ireland set to make a presentation on Thursday. 

Justice delayed and denied 

Malaki said there is a “legal and moral obligation” to bring Israel to account for what he described as multiple violations of fundamental tenets of international law. 

“Justice delayed is justice denied and the Palestinian people have been denied justice for far too long,” he said.

“It is time to put an end to the double standards that have kept our people captive for far too long.”

Much of Malaki’s opening statement focussed on the historical timeline of major events in the region, beginning with the founding of the state of Israel and expulsion of native Palestinians from their homes in the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.  

As part of his contribution in the hearing, Malaki presented a series of maps of Palestine that showed the annexation of more and more land by Israel since its founding in 1948.

“Israel wanted the geography of Palestine, but not its demography,” he said. 

Palestine maps The four maps of Palestine shown during the hearing Palestinian submission to the ICJ Palestinian submission to the ICJ

The Court was then shown a fifth map, one held up before the UN General Assembly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September last year. Palestine was absent from that map. 

The new middle-east - Netanyahu A picture of Israeli PM Netanyahu holding a map of the Middle-East without Palestine. Part of Palestine's submission to the ICJ. Palestine ICJ sumbission Palestine ICJ sumbission

“He called this the new Middle-East,” Malaki said of the photo of Netanyahu. “There is no Palestine at all on this map, only Israel.”

“This shows you what the prolonged, continuous Israeli occupation of Palestine is intended to accomplish, the complete disappearance of Palestine and the destruction of the Palestinian people,” he said.

While this is separate to the case brought before the ICJ by South Africa accusing Israel of committing “genocidal” acts in Gaza, Malaki said in court today that “the genocide underway in Gaza is a result of decades of impunity and inaction.”

“Ending Israel’s impunity is a moral, political and legal imperative,” he said.

Summing up, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour struggled to hold back his tears as he called for a “future where Palestinian children are treated as children, not as a demographic threat.”

Irish participation 

There are another five days of hearings to come and more than 50 states are slated to make presentations to the Court. Israel will not participate in the hearings but submitted a written contribution last July, in which it urged the court to dismiss the request for an opinion.

Ireland will make a presentation to the court on Thursday, which it’s understood will argue that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are contrary to international law.

Ireland was one of the relatively few member states to put in a written submission to the ICJ on foot of the UN’s request. It did so in July 2023.

Thursday’s hearing will orally present the Irish written statement – which hasn’t yet been made public – to the court.

Once the court has heard the oral proceedings, it will decide whether the statements that have been provided to it (including Ireland’s) can be published.

It’s understood that Ireland’s written statement largely focuses on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and concludes that settlement activity constitutes both a process of annexation of the West Bank and also a denial of the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, contrary to international law.

Contrary to judgements made by the ICJ, the Court’s advisory opinions are generally not binding. 

According to the ICJ, advisory opinions “carry great legal weight and moral authority”. 

The Court says: “They are often an instrument of preventive diplomacy and help to keep the peace. In their own way, advisory opinions also contribute to the clarification and development of international law and thereby to the strengthening of peaceful relations between States.” 

With reporting from David Mac Redmond and AFP.

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