Displaced Palestinians gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday, amid ongoing strikes by Israeli forces.—AFP
Displaced Palestinians gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday, amid ongoing strikes by Israeli forces.—AFP

THE HAGUE: Palestinians are suffering “colonialism and apartheid” under the Israelis, foreign minister Riyad Al-Maliki told the UN’s top court Monday, urging judges to order an immediate and unconditional end to 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 told the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ICJ is holding hearings all week on the legal implications of Israel’s occupation since 1967, with an unprecedented 52 countries, including the United States and Russia, expected to give evidence.

Israel will not participate in the hearings but submitted a written contribution dated July 24, 2023, in which it urged the court to dismiss the request for an opinion.

Tel Aviv says fighting to continue during Ramazan unless Hamas frees prisoners

Speaking in the Peace Palace in The Hague, where the ICJ sits, the minister appealed to the judges 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.”

Summing up, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour struggled to hold back his tears as he called for a “future where Palestinian children are treated as children, not as a demographic threat.”

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 the war in Gaza.

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

Israel warns of attacks during Ramazan

Meanwhile, deadly fighting raged on in Gaza after Israel warned that, unless Hamas frees all prisoners, it will push on with its offensive during the holy month of Ramazan, including in the far-southern Rafah area.

Global concern has mounted over the fate of 1.4 million Palestinians who have been forced into Rafah near the Egyptian border, enduring bombardment and dire food shortages as they live in crowded makeshift shelters and tents.

Overnight strikes and battles in Gaza killed more than 100 Palestinians, mostly women and children, pushing the death toll past 29,000, said the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, with fighting heaviest in Khan Yunis, just north of Rafah.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz warned on Sunday that the Israeli army is ready to push deeper into Rafah during Ramazan which, based on the lunar calendar, starts around March 10.

“The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know: if by Ramazan the prisoners are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere to include the Rafah area,” said Gantz, a former military chief of staff.

The spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza has forced some Palestinians to grind animal feed into flour.

“My children are starving, they wake up crying from hunger,” a Gaza woman said. “Where do I get food for them?” The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which has been bitterly at odds with Israel, said nearly three quarters of Gazans are drinking contaminated water and warned that “the speed of deterioration in Gaza is unprecedented”.

Heavy fighting has raged in and around Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, which has been besieged for more than a week and which the World Health Organisation said is no longer operational.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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