Palestinian diplomat accuses Israel of apartheid and asks UN court to declare its occupation illegal

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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.


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