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World Court to hear arguments on Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will speak first in the legal proceedings at ICJ in The Hague
Protesters hold a Palestinian flag as they gather outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as judges rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. Reuters
Protesters hold a Palestinian flag as they gather outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as judges rule on emergency measures against Israel following accusations by South Africa that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide, in The Hague, Netherlands, January 26, 2024. Reuters

The United Nations’ top court on Monday opens a week of hearings on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, with more than 50 states due to address the judges.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will speak first in the legal proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

In 2022, the U.N. General Assembly asked the court for an advisory, or non-binding, opinion on the occupation.

While Israel has ignored such opinions in the past, it could pile on political pressure over its ongoing war in Gaza, which has killed about 29,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Oct 7.

Among countries scheduled to participate in the hearings are the United States - Israel’s strongest supporter, China, Russia, South Africa and Egypt. Israel will not, although it has sent written observations.

The hearings are part of a Palestinian push to get international legal institutions to examine Israel’s conduct, which has become more urgent since the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and Israel’s military response.

They also come amid mounting concerns about an Israeli ground offensive against the Gaza city of Rafah, a last refuge for more than a million Palestinians after they fled to the south of the enclave to avoid Israeli assaults.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - areas of historic Palestine which the Palestinians want for a state - in the 1967 war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighbouring Egypt, still controls its borders.

It is the second time the U.N. General Assembly has asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, for an advisory opinion related to the occupied Palestinian territory.

In July 2004, the court found that Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank violated international law and should be dismantled, though it still stands to this day.

Judges have now been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation…including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”

Since 1967, Israel has greatly expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank - an action Palestinians say compromises the creation of a viable Palestinian state. It has also annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised by most countries.

The General Assembly also asked the ICJ’s 15-judge panel to advise on how those policies and practices “affect the legal status of the occupation” and what legal consequences arise for all countries and the United Nations from this status.

The advisory opinion proceedings are separate from the genocide case that South Africa filed at the World Court against Israel for its alleged violations in Gaza of the 1948 Genocide Convention. In late January the ICJ in that case ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.

The outcome of the advisory opinion would not be legally binding but would carry “great legal weight and moral authority,” according to the ICJ.

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