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Wrapping Up ICJ Hearings: History Must Change to Hope

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Ms. Retno Marsudi. Credit: ICJ

Over the last two full days of hearings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Friday and Monday, Feb. 23 and Feb. 26, both the history of mankind as well as of the 75 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine was put in high relief. A total of 17 countries and three organizations testified over these two days, with a couple of these specifically scoring the roles of the United States and the United Kingdom for their obstructionist actions on the UN Security Council. Time and again, the argument was made that, in fact, “occupation” was nothing less than “annexation.” For example, Pakistan’s attorney argued, “Israel’s occupation is no longer, if it ever was, a military occupation; it is annexation.”

Indonesia’s attorney argued that the motion for an advisory opinion from this Court “is a motion of global conscience,” adding “Never again means never again.” Significantly, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Ms. Retno Marsudi, began her comments, “I left my G20 meeting in Rio de Janeiro to stand before you,” as these hearings are of “grave importance” due to “our fragile humanity” at this moment. “I stand before you today to defend justice,” as she referenced the “ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.” Later, Syria’s advocate requested that, over the decades of “occupation and wars,” the Court consider the “huge record” of UN resolutions that “Israel keeps violating.” Over those years that record is “180 resolutions of the General Assembly, and 227 resolutions of the Security Council.” Concluding, he argued that the very “stability of the Middle East” and “credibility of the United Nations” is at stake in this case.

More on the historical theme, Pakistan’s advocate referring to the matter of Israel’s occupation of “Jerusalem and its holy places,” pointed to the uniqueness of the Holy City of Jerusalem in that “it is sacred to all three Abrahamic religions.” Adding, that it is “the right of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities” to freely access the holy places. This, he asserted, was set forth by “Ottoman decrees [which] set out these rights in the 19th century.” He asked that the “historic status quo” be restored, noting this is of import to Pakistan being the “second largest Muslim population in the world.”

Spain took up the matter of economic justice. Citing the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, set up in 1966, which established the following rights: “to work,” “to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing,” “to be free from hunger,” “to health” and “to education.” These have all been usurped by Israel’s policies and practices, including Israel Defense Forces rounding up and detaining individuals, especially children, “without charge or trial.” Likewise, Palestinians lack freedom to choose or have a home, or ability to maintain “agricultural production,” or access to “sources of water.” These deprivations, Spain’s advocate argued, “infringe” on “rights of Palestinians” in the occupied territories “which cannot be justified neither by military exigencies, nor by” the “national security or public order.”

Finally, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the League of Arab States, each appeared on the last day. The OIC official began, “we condemn” the Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip which “have given rise to massive war crimes, and the risk of genocide.” He added, “we deplore the inability of the Security Council” to “halt this spiral of violence and bring justice to the Palestinian people.” The African Union’s representative insisted “the history of Palestine” is one of “dispossession, displacement, and dehumanization,” in short “a story of injustice.” She said that the African Union is before the Court feeling a “special responsibility” for the Palestinians since its “member states have emerged from the scourge of colonialism,” having led the fight versus “apartheid and racial discrimination.” The advocate for the League of Arab States began, “this prolonged occupation is an affront to international justice.” Having failed to end it “has led to the current horrors … amounting to genocide. There can be no moral or juridical justification for occupying lands, killing, terrorizing and displacing” this population. He ended quoting the “Shakespeare” of Palestine, Refaat Alareer, in his last poem 36 days before a drone strike killed him at home in December 2023:

If I must die,

you must live

to tell my story

If I must die

let it bring hope,

let it be a story.