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Over 50 Countries Testify Before ICJ Against Israel’s Occupation of Palestine

Ahmed Abofoul of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq discusses the case and what comes after the ruling.

Arguments are underway at the International Court of Justice, where more than 50 countries are asking the World Court to issue a nonbinding legal opinion against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967. The request is separate from South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ. “Israel has been instrumentalizing the rules of international humanitarian law … to further its settler-colonial project in Palestine,” says Ahmed Abofoul of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, which submitted an advisory opinion on the case. “I have no doubt that the court will decide that Israel’s occupation is illegal,” he says. We also discuss what comes after the ruling and Israeli society’s reaction to the war.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We go now to The Hague, where the International Court of Justice is holding a six-day hearing as over 50 countries are testifying against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. It’s the largest-ever participation in the World Court’s history.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said Monday, quote, “The genocide underway in Gaza is a result of decades of impunity and inaction.” Riyad Mansour, Palestinian envoy to the U.N., delivered emotional testimony Monday.

RIYAD MANSOUR: The state of Palestine appeals to this court to guide the international community in upholding international law, ending injustice and achieving a just and lasting peace, to guide us towards a future in which Palestinian children are treated as children, not as demographic threat, in which the identity of the group to which we belong does not diminish the human rights to which we are all entitled, a future in which no Palestinian and no Israelis is killed, a future in which two states live side by side in peace and security. The Palestinian people only demand respect for their rights. They ask for nothing more. They cannot accept nothing less and nothing else. The future of freedom, justice and peace can begin here and now.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Palestine’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, addressing the International Court of Justice Monday. Earlier today, South African Ambassador Vusi Madonsela addressed the court.

VUSI MADONSELA: The inordinate delay in achieving a fair and just settlement has resulted in an unending cycle of violence. A clear legal characterization of the nature of Israel’s regime over the Palestinian people can only assist in remedying the ongoing delay in achieving a just settlement. … We, as South Africans, sense, see, hear and feel to our core the inhumane discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli regime as an even more extreme form of the apartheid that was institutionalized against Black people in my country.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined from The Hague, where the ICJ hearing is taking place, by Ahmed Abofoul, legal research and advocacy officer at the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq. He contributed to their advisory opinion on the case.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. This is historic, what’s taking place right now, Ahmed, at the International Court of Justice. More than half the world’s countries are participating in this. Talk about the significance of this. And although we just played the South African envoy’s comments, this is not to be confused with that other case, the South Africa bringing the case around genocide against Israel in the court, that just happened a few weeks ago.

AHMED ABOFOUL: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you for having me again, Amy, and congratulations on Democracy Now!’s 28th anniversary. In this dystopian age of misinformation and biased media, especially in the West, we value your work, and we congratulate you and hope your viewers will continue to support your important work.

You’re absolutely right, Amy. This is a historical moment. For over 57 years, Israel has been perpetuating its occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, dominating every aspect of their lives and maintaining this occupation to further facilitate and impose this apartheid regime, imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole. One of the important features of this occupation is that it is colonial in nature. So, it’s combined with the continued, unabated building of settlements and the theft of land and the demographic manipulation and engineering of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in an attempt to empty it from its Indigenous people — a very common feature of colonial regimes and projects trying to steal the land without the people.

This is a historical moment, Amy, because this is, as you mentioned, the most — the case with the most interest by states in the history of the advisory opinion procedure before the court. And it shows you that the world has something to say about this occupation.

The whole body of occupation — of the law of occupation shows us that occupation was not intended to last that long. Occupation is temporary in nature. But the way Israel perpetuated the occupation shows that Israel is not interested in ending that occupation, but it actually needs that occupation to further implement its strategy to acquire more land by force with as least Palestinians as possible.

And therefore, the premise of this case, I think there are three main legal arguments that Israel is violating what we call international law, peremptory norms from which no derogation is permitted. So, the first norm that Israel is violating is the acquisition of territory by force or the threat of the use of force. The second is Israel’s violations of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, which is also a peremptory norm. And the imposition of regime of racial discrimination and demographic manipulation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and beyond, that is a regime of apartheid imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole, denying them their unalienable rights, including Palestinian refugees, who continue to be denied their right to return to their homes and villages.

So, this is an important moment, where for the first time we would have the principal organ of the United Nations telling us the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation. And it will be extremely difficult for Israel’s allies after that to justify Israel’s actions in any way possible. Israel has been instrumentalizing the rules of international humanitarian law, the body of law that governs the situation of occupation, to further its settler-colonial project in Palestine. I think after this decision, which I have no doubt that the court will decide that Israel’s occupation is illegal, it will be very difficult to support Israel and its policies by Israel’s allies, including the U.S. So, all eyes on the U.S. and how it will react to this important ruling.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ahmed Abofoul, I wanted to ask you: For those who are not familiar with these international legal bodies, could you briefly summarize the difference between the International Court of Justice proceedings and the separate case that South Africa filed, the complaint of genocide at the International Criminal Court [sic] against Israel, especially in terms of the jurisdiction or the powers of the court to have any direct effect on Israel’s actions?

AHMED ABOFOUL: Yes, absolutely. I think you meant South Africa’s genocide case before the very same court, the International Court of Justice, and these are two different proceedings. The International Court of Justice can look into advisory proceedings, where any organ of the United Nations can ask the court to provide a legal opinion on what the court thinks of a certain matter. Usually such rulings are nonbinding for states, but they are of particular importance as they guide the whole United Nations and the member states in how to approach a certain matter or a certain question.

The other type of procedure is contentious cases, where states take each other to court when they have a disagreement on a matter of international law, so, for example, a disagreement on the interpretation of a particular convention to which both are parties and have accepted the court’s jurisdiction. And that’s exactly what South Africa did in the genocide case against Israel on the interpretation of the Genocide Convention, where it took Israel to court. So it’s a case between South Africa and Israel, while in the advisory opinion proceeding, there are no two parties. There is only the court that is deciding on the matter of question. And all states around the world are invited to provide their written statements, their oral interventions, to tell the court what is their position, what is their interpretation of the law on that particular matter, because international law is made by the practices of these states and what states around the world have accepted to be customary international law and have accepted to be the common interpretation of international law.

So, the law on occupation, as I said, is clear that occupation was not intended to last that long and is temporary in nature, but it didn’t set any time limit in which occupation has to end. So, that’s how Israel has been perpetuating this, often described as, prolonged occupation — it’s the longest occupation in modern history — claiming, under the mutual security pretext, that it needs to continue its control and needs to continue its domination of the Palestinian people and its violations of the peremptory norms.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is the role of the public in these cases? Is there any?

AHMED ABOFOUL: Of course, of course, absolutely. The public, you know, don’t have a standing in procedure, or, like, civil society organizations, for example, like the one I’m proudly associated with — that is, Al-Haq — can always submit to the court, but these submissions are not part of the proceedings. They are available at the seating of the court for states participating in the proceedings, but also for judges to read them and consult them. And we have already published a position paper outlining the key legal arguments in this case and our view on how the court should approach this case.

But if you’ll allow me, these rulings are usually of particular importance to be used after, so how, for example, the state in question will utilize this ruling in its diplomatic efforts, whether taking this ruling to the General Assembly to adopt a resolution to the same effect, or perhaps to the Security Council, although there will always be the U.S. veto. So, what comes after that decision, I think, is also of particular importance.

And historically, the ICJ cases have served in a way to provide guidance on what international law says and how states should behave. Obviously, not always the states have listened to such rulings, or they tried to disobey them. But, for example, in the situation in South Africa and the ruling on the illegal presence of South African apartheid in Namibia, it served and it created momentum for the mobilization on the ground which eventually led to the end of that regime. So, hopefully, this advisory opinion is also another step forward to ending Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Ahmed Abofoul, about the response of the court? This is when it was run by Joan Donoghue, and important to point out. She came out of the State Department. She’s the head of the International Court of Justice. But she is no longer the head of the Court of Justice, but it was under her and it was her reading of the preliminary decision around South Africa bringing its genocide case to the court. If you can talk about who’s the new head of the court? And then I want to ask you about what just happened in Israel in the Knesset, voting not to expel Ofer Cassif, the lawmaker who’s a member of the Hadash party supporting the genocide case against Israel at the ICJ. I just wanted to play a clip of the Knesset member, Cassif, speaking to Democracy Now! about facing expulsion, which didn’t happen.

OFER CASSIF: They want me and my friends to shut up. They don’t want us to raise our voice against any kind of violence, because, as I said a million times, as someone who continuously for years object and oppose the Israeli occupation and siege against the Palestinian people, we said, I said, explicitly, that even the crimes of the siege and the occupation cannot and will never justify the massacre committed by Hamas. We added that the massacre, the criminal massacre by Hamas, cannot justify the massacre and assault of Israel on Gaza, in which around 30,000 people are already dead, were killed. The vast majority, more than 70%, are innocent civilians, around 10,000 children.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s a member of the Knesset, who remains so because they lost the vote to expel him, Ofer Cassif. And if you can respond to the new president, Nawaf Salam, who’s replacing Joan Donoghue?

AHMED ABOFOUL: Yeah. Well, as you said, Judge Nawaf Salam, who’s a Lebanese judge, he has been a member of the court since February 2018 and newly elected as president of the court since 6th of February, 2024. He is now the president of the court.

But if you’ll allow me, whether him or the American judge, judges before the ICJ, they don’t serve as agents of their state of nationality. They serve as independent judges who provide their personal views about international law and the interpretation of international law, after hearing the positions of the states. So, it’s not — it is not, in a way, usual to presume that because of the nationality of the president of the court, that the position would be aligned with the foreign policy of the state of that judge. That is not the case, whether American or Lebanese or any other nationality of the president of the court. It is presumed, and the presumption is of their professional, you know, way of work and deliver on their mandate in accordance with the law.

As to the voting to expel Ofer, the member of Knesset, it also — in my view, it shows you how radicalized Israeli society has become. So, even the very tiny minority that you have, where Israeli Knesset members are calling for the end of the occupation, are calling for the bare minimum of human decency — that is, a ceasefire — the rest of Knesset members, from the Israeli members, are mostly against that, and such tiny minority of those who call for Palestinian rights are often attacked. And as you said, there was an attempt to even remove him from the Knesset.

And I think it’s very telling to see also how supportive Israeli society has been in the genocide against the Gaza Strip. Amy, we need not to forget that right before the war, the Israeli society mobilized hundreds of thousands in the streets because of Netanyahu’s plan to, you know, attack the judiciary or to minimize their authority in reviewing government’s decision. But when it comes to Palestinians who are being oppressed, who are only a few meters away, the Israeli society somehow is unable to mobilize or call for the end of the occupation. So, in a way, it seems that the Israeli society has been radicalized into believing that for them to enjoy the privileges of this apartheid regime, they don’t mind the Palestinians being oppressed.

And unfortunately, the foreign policy of states that claim to be friends to Israel, I think, have contributed profoundly to such radicalization, simply because they’ve been ensuring impunity for Israel and Israeli war criminals who have been committing crimes for the past decades. So, I think, in a way, the reason that we have such extreme government at the moment, one of the most extreme and right-wing in the history of Israel, which has ministers who are proudly self-described as Islamophobic and homophobes and fascists and racist ministers, like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, is a result of — in my view, of the U.S. and European foreign policy ensuring that Israel enjoys an exceptional treatment, that Israel is untouchable. It enjoys prevailing impunity where Israel can commit crimes, but no one is held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed, I’m so sorry that, well, when we last spoke, you had already lost some 60 members of your family. Born and raised in Gaza, you are. And I wanted just to ask, in this 30 seconds, about Benny Gantz’s comments, part of the war council, saying if the hostages are not home by Ramadan, which is like March 10th, the fighting will continue everywhere, including Rafah.

AHMED ABOFOUL: Yeah, well, it shows you also the character and the behavior of Israel. Israel is behaving like a pariah, is behaving like a rogue state, is not listening to anyone, is not listening to its closest allies.

Israel needs to have the humility to understand that the Palestine people are a free people, are not colonial subjects. They’re entitled to their rights. And Israel at some point will need to sit and listen with seriousness and consideration to the aspiration of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people, Amy, are not asking for a favor. They’re asking for their unalienable basic human rights. And I think the world for long has misunderstood the Palestinians. We’re not even asking. We’re demanding those rights. We’re entitled to those rights, regardless of what Israel think about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Abofoul, we want to thank you for being with us, legal research and advocacy officer at the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, speaking to us from The Hague.

Next up, we turn to a surgeon who’s just returned from Gaza, wrote an L.A. Times op-ed headlined “I’m an American doctor who went to Gaza. What I saw wasn’t war — it was annihilation.” Back in 20 seconds.

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