Israeli occupation’s immunity from international law must end, UAE tells ICJ

International law cannot be 'a la carte', says ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, while Palestinians suffer 'collective punishment'

Lana Nusseibeh to ICJ: 'Level of human suffering in Gaza on scale rarely seen in modern era'

Lana Nusseibeh to ICJ: 'Level of human suffering in Gaza on scale rarely seen in modern era'
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is “illegal and must end” with a desperately needed realisation of the two-state solution, the UAE's ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh told the world's top court on Wednesday.

“The horrors that have unfolded over the last few months, the 7 October attack on Israel, the destruction of the Gaza Strip, and the oppression in the [occupied] West Bank underscore the desperate need for realising the two-state solution,” said Ms Nusseibeh.

“In the context of this grim reality, the court’s advisory opinion is appropriate, it is urgent, and it is necessary.

“The Palestinian people have suffered for far too long under an occupation that is seemingly immune from international law,” she told a panel of 15 judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Ms Nusseibeh spoke as hearings into the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, entered their third day. The hearings are unrelated to the current war in Gaza and follow a 2022 request by the UN Security Council.

A record 52 countries asked to give oral statements in a signal of the political importance of the hearings. The ICJ will then issue an advisory opinion that is not binding.

Yet it will likely play an important role in discussions about the establishment of a Palestinian state, which have been imperilled by Israel's occupation, said Ms Nusseibeh.

Ms Nusseibeh started her half-hour speech by affirming the UAE's recognition of the ICJ's importance in clarifying legal frameworks, which she described as “critical at a time of growing polarisation over when and how international law is applied”.

Rafah offensive would leave the approximately 1.5 million displaced Gazans taking refuge in the city with nowhere to go
Lana Nusseibeh

“International law cannot be an à la carte menu; it must apply equally to all,” said Ms Nusseibeh. “And it is all the more essential in the long shadow cast by the Palestinian question: an injustice that has persisted for more than seven decades.”

The five-month long war in Gaza has highlighted the increasing violations in occupied Palestinian territories as Israel violates international law, including provisions laid out in the fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians, said Ms Nusseibeh.

“The level of human suffering faced by civilians in Gaza, primarily women and children, is on a scale seldom seen in the modern era,” she said.

Israel has imposed collective punishment against Palestinian people by repeatedly issuing "so-called evacuation orders" that in effect seek to transfer Palestinians forcibly. "Israel has also failed its duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population in Gaza," she added. "Israel has further failed to protect the wounded and sick."

Lana Nusseibeh: 'Israel's illegal acts cannot remain without consequence'

Lana Nusseibeh: 'Israel's illegal acts cannot remain without consequence'

The death toll in Gaza on Wednesday rose to 29,313 killed as aid agencies and a number of Israeli allies, including the US, continued to sound alarm bells about Israel's intention to launch a military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

“That offensive would leave the approximately 1.5 million displaced Gazans taking refuge in the city with nowhere to go,” said Ms Nusseibeh. “These plans have been met with the international community’s resounding rejection.”

In parallel, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has been on the increase, triggering largely symbolic US and UK sanctions in the past weeks against individual settlers.

“After decades of violent dehumanisation, dispossession and despair, the breaches resulting from the Israeli occupation in all parts of the occupied Palestinian territory are worsening at an alarming pace,” said Ms Nusseibeh.

She also highlighted Israeli violations in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. Jerusalem's “unique character” as a city that is holy for all three Abrahamic religions has been undermined by Israeli measures, including excavations and tunnelling, that have erased its cultural heritage, said Ms Nusseibeh.

By its very nature, occupation cannot be permanent, said Ms Nusseibeh. Yet Israeli officials have stated their desire to remain present in occupied territories and encouraged settler presence to expand – currently reaching 700,000 people in the West Bank.

“Israel’s occupation is – as the vast majority of participants in these proceedings have recognised – illegal and must end,” Ms Nusseibeh said.

Israel must comply with all its obligations as an occupying power, said Ms Nusseibeh. This includes bringing in food and medical supplies to the Gaza strip and ending forcible transfers of Palestinians. “In practical terms, it must mean a ceasefire,” she said.

Should the ICJ deem Israel's occupation illegal, countries would also be under the obligation to co-operate to bring an end to Israel's breaches, said Ms Nusseibeh. For the UAE, “diplomatic engagement and dialogue can be effective tools to encourage compliance and cessation of unlawful conduct,” she said.

“But where these tools fail, third States’ obligations remain, as do the other instruments of the international system, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Court that sits in this Great Hall of Justice,” she added.

As the permanent representative of the UAE, which just completed its term in the UN Security Council, Ms Nusseibeh invited the ICJ to consider the implications for states in the exercise of their vote.

“Voting against or preventing the adoption of a Security Council resolution that seeks to put an end to serious breaches of international law cannot be compatible with such obligations,” she said.

The US on Thursday blocked for the third time a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. It pushed instead for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 5:32 AM