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Palestinians accuse Israel of colonialism, apartheid at ICJ

Palestinians accuse Israel of colonialism and apartheid at top UN top court
4 min read
19 February, 2024
The world's top court is holding hearings all week on the legal implications of Israel's occupation since 1967, with 52 countries expected to give evidence.
The hearings are separate from the genocide case brought by South Africa against Israel [Getty]

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki told the UN's top court Monday his people were suffering "colonialism and apartheid" under the Israelis, as judges weigh the legal consequences of Israel's occupation.

"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.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is holding hearings all week on the legal implications of Israel's occupation since 1967, with an unprecedented 52 countries expected to give evidence.

Nations including the United States, Russia, and China will address judges at the Peace Palace in The Hague, seat of the ICJ.

The minister urged the court to declare the occupation illegal and order it to stop "immediately, totally and unconditionally."

"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."

In December 2022, the UN General Assembly asked the ICJ for a non-binding "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem."

While any ICJ opinion would be non-binding, it comes amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over its brutal war on Gaza sparked by the October 7 Hamas attack.

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The hearings are separate from a high-profile case brought by South Africa alleging that Israel is committing genocidal acts during the current Gaza offensive.

The ICJ ruled in that case in January that Israel must do everything in its power to prevent genocide and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.

On Friday, it rejected South Africa's bid to impose additional measures on Israel, but reiterated the need to carry out the ruling in full.


The UN General Assembly has asked the ICJ to consider two questions.

Firstly, the court should examine the legal consequences of what the UN called "the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination".

This relates to the "prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967" and "measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem".

During a six-day war in June 1967, Israel seized the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

Israel then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometres (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory. The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal. Cairo regained Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.

The ICJ has also been asked to look into the consequences of what it described as Israel's "adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures."

Secondly, the ICJ should advise on how Israel's actions "affect the legal status of the occupation" and what are the consequences for the UN and other countries.

The court will rule "urgently" on the affair, probably by the end of the year.


The ICJ rules in disputes between states and its judgments are binding although it has little means to enforce them.

However, in this case, the opinion it issues will be non-binding although most advisory opinions are in fact acted upon.

The ICJ has previously issued advisory opinions on the legality of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and apartheid South Africa's occupation of Namibia.

It also handed down an opinion in 2004 declaring that parts of the wall erected by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory were illegal and should be torn down.

Israel is not participating in the hearings and reacted angrily to the 2022 UN request, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it "despicable" and "disgraceful".

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that while advisory opinions are non-binding, "they can carry great moral and legal authority" and can eventually be inscribed in international law.