At U.N. high court, Palestinian foreign minister calls Israel occupation 'colonialism,' 'apartheid'

By Darryl Coote & Chris Benson
The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The International Court of Justice on Monday is to begin six days of hearings on the legality of Isreal's occupation of Palestinian land. File Photo by Guus Shoonewille/EPA
1 of 2 | The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The International Court of Justice on Monday is to begin six days of hearings on the legality of Isreal's occupation of Palestinian land. File Photo by Guus Shoonewille/EPA

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Nearly a week of hearings began Monday at the United Nations' high court on the legality of Israel's nearly 60-year occupation of Palestinian territories as the war with Iran-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip continues.

Palestine's Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called Israel's occupation "colonialism" and "apartheid," while telling the 15 international judges that for over a century "the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination has been denied and violated."


The historic six days of hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague will end on Feb. 26, with more than 50 nations and three international organizations expected to speak, which began with arguments by the State of Palestine.

"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," al-Maliki said to the panel sitting next to Palestine's UN envoy Riyad Mansour.


Using five different maps that depicted the progressive loss of Palestinian territory since 1920, the foreign minister stated that Palestine "was not a land without people. It was not, as Israeli leaders have described it, a wasteland. There was life on this land."

He said the maps show what the "prolonged, continuous Israeli occupation of Palestine is intended to accomplish" which he said is the "complete disappearance of Palestine and the destruction of the Palestinian people."

A final opinion is expected to take several months while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the proceedings "despicable" and "disgraceful." Fifty-two nations and three international organizations -- including the U.S. and Russia -- are expected to speak, which Human Rights Watch said was "an unprecedented number."

Also on Monday, Amnesty International said in a statement that Israel's Palestinian occupation "is the longest and one of the most deadly military occupations in the world," and among other entities used the word "apartheid."

Though non-binding, the opinion will have great symbolic meaning and could become integrated into international law.

"For decades it has been characterized by widespread and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty's Secretary General, who added that the occupation "has also enabled and entrenched Israel's system of apartheid imposed on Palestinians."


An Al Jazeera senior political analyst said there is little debate about if Palestine is being occupied but called the process to get the advisory opinion "hugely important."

"There is no dispute over the fact that Israel occupies the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem except in the minds of certain Israelis," said Marwan Bishara. "(Israel's) claims are not in line with the international community."

Though occurring during Israel's war in Gaza, which began in early October, the court hearings are the result of a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 30, 2022 which asked the court to give an advisory opinion on the matter.


The request for an advisory opinion followed a U.N. Human Rights Council-commissioned report published in October of 2022, which was led by South Africa, that found "reasonable grounds" to conclude that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory was illegal under international law "due to its permanence and the Israeli government's de facto annexation policies."

The 15 international judges are tasked with answering two questions: What are the legal consequences of Israel's ongoing violation of the Palestinians' right to self-determination by its occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territory since 1967? And, how do Israel's policies and practices affect the legal status of the occupation and what are the legal consequences for all countries and the United Nations?


According to the report, occupation of territory in wartime is only temporary and must not deprive the occupied power of its statehood. The commission found while reviewing Israeli policies and actions used to maintain occupation by force that "Israel incurs international responsibilities and remains accountable for violations of the rights of the Palestinians individually and as a people."

Israel has argued that the issue is outside the court's jurisdiction and its foreign ministry lambasted the U.N.-commissioned report as "partial," "biased" and "disqualified by its hatred for the State of Israel."

The Middle Eastern country has been waging war for over 135 days now against Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza since Oct. 7 when the Iran proxy militia launched a surprise and bloody attack that killed some 1,200 Israelis and saw another 240 kidnapped.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that the war will continue until "total victory" is achieved, which includes the destruction of Hamas, the release of all remaining hostages and the assurance "that Gaza doesn't pose a threat to Israel in the future."

As the war continues, the Palestinian death toll climbs. As of Sunday, nearly 29,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children have been killed, and another nearly 69,000 have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.


As more Palestinians are killed, Israel has come under increasing international criticism, and the International Court of Justice announced Oct. 23 that it had decided to hold public hearings on the questions asked in the late 2022 U.N. resolution.

"The International Court of Justice is set for the first time to broadly consider the legal consequences of Israel's nearly six-decades-long occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinian people," Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"Governments that are presenting their arguments to the court should seize these landmark hearings to highlight the grave abuses Israeli authorities are committing against Palestinians, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

The case opens after the International Court of Justice in late January held a genocide trial on the ongoing war. Though it did not issue a verdict on the charges of genocide, it did order Israel to take steps to end atrocities it was committing in Gaza.

The International Criminal Court has also announced its intent to investigate war crimes committed in both Israel and Gaza.

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Palestinians inspect in the destroyed house of the Fahjan family following an Israeli bombardment on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

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