U.N.'s top court concludes final day of hearings on Israel's occupation

The 15 judges of the International Court of Justice ended a week of hearings on Monday concerning Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and will now deliberate on an opinion advisory. Photo courtesy of International Court of Justice/Website

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The United Nations' top court on Monday concluded its week of public hearings involving an unprecedented number of countries speaking on the legality of Israel's near six-decade occupation of Palestinian territories.

The high-profile case comes as Israel wages a divisive war against Iran-backed Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, which hastened the court to bring the case before the bench.

The 15 judges have been tasked to produce a non-binding advisory on the consequences of Israel's occupation, settlement and annexation of Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem that has been ongoing since 1967, as well as the legal consequences of it for all countries and the United Nations.

The court in The Hague heard presentations from a record 52 countries and the three international organizations of the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union, and Judge Nawab Salam, the court's president, said Monday after the final speakers had spoken that deliberations will now begin with their advisory opinion to be made public at a later date.

Israel did not participate, rejecting the proceedings as an effort to infringe upon its right to self-defense. In a written statement presented to the court, it described the questions put before the judges as "a clear distortion of history and the present reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Though Palestine was the first to speak, arguing for more than three hours on Feb. 19, the opening day of the hearings, many of the dozens of countries that followed agreed with its stance that for more than a century the Palestinian people have been denied their inalienable right to self-determination by the policies and occupation of its territories by Israel.

On that first day of hearings, Raid Malik, the foreign minister for the State of Palestine, described Israel's ongoing war in Gaza as genocide that was the result of decades of impunity and inaction, which there is a "moral, political and legal imperative" to end.

"Successive Israeli governments have given the Palestinian people only three options: displacement, subjugation or death; these are the choices -- ethnic cleansing, apartheid or genocide," he said.

"But our people are here to stay, they have a right to live in freedom and dignity in their ancestral land. They will not forsake their rights."

The proceedings were initiated by a late 2022 resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly that ordered the International Court of Justice to examine the Middle Eastern country's illegal occupation after a U.N. Human Rights Council-commissioned report produced that October found "reasonable grounds" to conclude that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory was illegal under international law "due to its permanence and the Israeli government's de facto annexation policies."

The war in Gaza, which began Oct. 7, has resulted in a growing Palestinian death toll that has reached 29,782 as of Monday, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.