Your web browser is no longer supported. To improve your experience update it here

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

The Palestinian foreign minister has 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 on Monday at the start of historic hearings into the legality of Israel's 57-year occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state.
The case stands against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, which immediately became a focal point of the day — even though the hearings were meant to centre on Israel's open-ended control over the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip and annexed east Jerusalem.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority, Riad Malki, third left, waits for the United Nations' highest court to open historic hearings in The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
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 colonisation 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 recognise 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."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel does not recognise the legitimacy of the hearings at the International Court of Justice. (AP)
"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."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday that Israel does not recognise the legitimacy of the hearings at the International Court of Justice about Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.
"The discussion at The Hague is part of the Palestinian attempt to dictate the results of the political agreement without negotiations," he said.
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 Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority, Riad Malki, right, speaks to Riyad Mansour, left, representative of the Palestinian National Authority at the UN. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
The Palestinians argue that Israel, by annexing large swathes 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".
The Palestinian delegation also said a move by the UN court could increase the chances for a peace that would allow the Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side.
"This ruling could help both Palestinians and Israelis to finally live side by side in peace, mutual security and dignity," Malki told reporters outside the hearing.
Reichler said: "The best and possibly the last hope for the two state solution that is so vital to the needs of both peoples is for the court to declare illegal the main obstacle to that solution: the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine."
After the Palestinians' address, an unprecedented 51 countries and three international organisations will speak.
The United Nations' highest court with presiding judge Nawaf Salam, fifth from right, opening historic hearings in The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Yuval Shany, a law professor at Hebrew University and senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said Israel will likely justify the ongoing occupation on security grounds, especially in the absence of a peace deal.
It is likely to point to the October 7 attack in which Hamas-led militants from Gaza killed 1200 people across southern Israel and dragged 250 hostages back to the territory.
However, 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.
More than 100 Palestinian militants left Nir Oz with some 80 of its roughly 400 residents.
Eight weeks on, Israelis bring new focus to hostages taken from Nir Oz
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 neighbourhoods 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 recognised.
Journalists are seen outside the Peace Palace, housing the United Nations' top court, in The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
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.
South Africa's governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank to the apartheid regime of white minority rule in South Africa, which restricted most Black people to "homelands" before ending in 1994.

Send your stories to

Auto news: Mob in San Francisco burn $150k robo-taxi to the ground.