/ 21 February 2024

Palestinians suffering extreme form of apartheid, SA tells International Court of Justice

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Hearings on the advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal consequences of Israel's practices in the Palestinian territories at The Hague, Netherlands on February 20, 2024. (Photo by Nikos Oikonomou/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The Palestinian people are enduring a form of apartheid more severe than South Africans suffered and redress must go beyond the recognition of their right to statehood, Pretoria’s ambassador to The Hague told the International Court of Justice on Tuesday.

Stressing that South Africa has always supported a two-state solution, ambassador Vusi Madonsela said it would not undo the injustices of “settler colonialism” if Israel was not made to relinquish land rightfully due to Palestinians.

“Unless such an approach deals with the inequitable offering of land to Palestinians, the dismantling of all the illegal settlements, the right of return of all Palestinian refugees, such a solution may solidify the disenfranchisement of the indigenous people of Palestine.”

The court is hearing submissions from 52 nations following a request from the United Nations to advise it on the consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land for more than half a century. South Africa was the first to make its oral submission.

Madonsela said South Africans have long seen a parallel with their past in the plight of the Palestinian people but believed that the ongoing oppression and violence inflicted in the occupied territories was worse still than what they endured under the apartheid regime.

“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 institutionalised against black people in my country,

“It is clear that Israel’s illegal occupation is also being administered in breach of the prohibition of the crime of apartheid. 

“It is indistinguishable from settler-colonialism, which has no place in the 21 st century. Israeli apartheid must end.”

Madonsela said because of its history, South Africa believed that it bore a particular responsibility to denounce racial oppression wherever it is practised in the world and to ensure those who perpetuate it be held accountable. 

“We must ask: when will Israel’s decades-long impunity for widespread and systematic human rights violations and violations of peremptory norms of international law end, if not now?”

It was a travesty, he added, that 19 years after the ICJ held that Israel’s construction of the segregating wall surrounding Palestinian territory was contrary to international law, it remained, along with discriminatory zoning policies and punitive home demolitions.

So did violent raids, arbitrary arrests and detention without trial, Madonsela said.

“South Africa beseeches this court to examine the institutionalised regime of discriminatory laws, policies and practices applied by Israel alongside the definition of the crime of apartheid, and to find that Israel subjects Palestinians to what constitutes an apartheid regime.”

Madonsela said South Africa was pressing for an unambiguous legal characterisation of Israel’s actions as a way of ending the delay in finding a just settlement. That ongoing delay perpetuated the violence Palestinians suffered and left them vulnerable to genocide.

The international community’s failure to punish Israel for refusing to withdraw from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he said, “emboldens Israel to cross a further threshold: namely, to commit the crime of crimes – genocide”.

South Africa last month asked the court to find that it has prima facie jurisdiction to order a ceasefire and other measures to prevent genocidal acts by Israeli forces against the Palestinian people in its military onslaught on Gaza. 

It also asked the court to agree to consider whether Israel is violating its obligations under the genocide convention.

In a preliminary ruling, the court in late January ordered Israel to take proactive steps to ensure that its armed forces do not commit genocide and to enable humanitarian assistance to Gaza but declined to order the ceasefire South Africa sought. 

A final ruling could take years.

This week’s unprecedented hearings are expected to see the court deliver an advisory opinion within a few months. It will be non-binding.

Israel has questioned the court’s jurisdiction in the matter and said it would not participate. The United States’s submission will be heard on Wednesday.