Indonesia, Malaysia demand ICJ declare Israel’s presence in Palestinian lands unlawful

Tria Dianti
Indonesia, Malaysia demand ICJ declare Israel’s presence in Palestinian lands unlawful Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (center) delivers a speech during a meeting on the situation in Gaza Strip, at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, Dec. 12, 2023.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Indonesia and Malaysia on Friday urged the International Court of Justice to rule as illegal what many, including the United Nations, call Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and demand that the Jewish state pull out its troops and pay reparations.

The proceedings in The Hague are separate and distinct from the case South Africa brought to the same court. South Africa’s case relates to the Israel-Hamas war that began after the Oct. 7 attacks by the Palestinian militants, and alleges that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention.

The top diplomats of Indonesia and Malaysia spoke at the ICJ, the U.N.’s top judicial body, on the legal question of Israel’s post-1967 occupation of Palestinian territories, based on a January 2023 request from the U.N. General Assembly.

In a passionate speech, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi accused Israel of using excessive force, seizing parts of the occupied territory, building unlawful settlements and discriminating against the Palestinians.

“The Court must pronounce that Israeli Occupation is illegal as a whole. It follows that we must bring this illegal situation to an end,” she said.

“Israel must cease completely, unconditionally and immediately all of its unlawful actions and policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” she added.

She said Israel had zero intention of respecting its legal obligations and had been obstructing a negotiated two-state solution. She also accused Israel of using unjustified force, expanding illegal settlements, and imposing what she described as an apartheid policy against the Palestinians.

There was no immediate response from the Israeli government to Retno’s speech.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and Malaysia, where Muslims are also a majority, are staunch supporters of Palestinian statehood and have no diplomatic ties with Israel. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Dec. 24, 2023. [Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, AP]

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in June 1967, and formally annexed east Jerusalem in 1980, a move not recognized by the U.N. and many of its member states.

Israel has since built more than 200 settlements in the occupied areas, where more than 700,000 Israelis live in defiance of international law and U.N. resolutions, according to the world body. 

The Palestinians want those territories and the Gaza Strip for their future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

The ICJ’s last advisory opinion at the request of the General Assembly was in 2004 and narrower in scope, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Feb. 16. Israel rejected the 2004 opinion. 

Assessing legal consequences 

The latest request gives the court the opportunity to assess the situation two decades later, according to the New York-based rights watchdog group. 

The ICJ “could [now] also assess Israel’s conduct under international human rights law, including prohibitions on racial discrimination, and international criminal law, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” it added.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution seeking the ICJ’s “advisory opinion” on the “Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki (center) speaks to reporters on the day of a public hearing held by The International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of what the U.N. calls Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 19, 2024. [Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

The ICJ began hearing oral statements on this matter on Monday and was to hear them over six days from 52 countries and three organizations – “more than in any other case” it has ever heard, Human Rights Watch said.

Israel submitted a written statement last July and decided not to participate in the oral hearings, the rights watchdog said.

“The International Court of Justice is set for the first time to broadly consider the legal consequences of Israel’s nearly six-decades-long occupation and mistreatment of the Palestinian people,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch.

The court’s advisory opinions have no legal force but can sway public opinion.

According to HRW, “they can carry great moral and legal authority and can ultimately become part of customary international law, which is legally binding on states.”

Based on similar previous cases, the court may deliver its opinion before the end of the year, HRW said.

The ongoing war, meanwhile, started on Oct. 7, when Palestinian militants launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,139 people, including hundreds of Israeli civilians. 

Israel responded by bombing Gaza and launching an invasion that has killed more than 29,000 people, many of them women and children, according to Palestinian officials.

The war has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 2 million people live under an Israel-imposed blockade that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. 

Since Oct. 7 more than 80% of the population here has been displaced.

‘Never again means never again’

Instead of focusing on the current Israel-Hamas war, Friday’s statements by the Indonesian and Malaysian foreign ministers talked broadly about Israel’s decades-old control of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future state. 

Malaysian Foreign Minister Mohamad Hasan, for instance, accused Israel of breaking multiple international laws and denying the Palestinians their basic right to decide their own fate through its actions and policies, such as building a wall, occupying land, destroying homes, imposing a blockade, and exploiting resources.

He said that Israel must cease all its policies and practices in Palestinian territories and withdraw immediately. It must “offer full reparation,” including restitution, compensation, and guarantees of non-repetition, to Palestinians, he said at the ICJ.

Israeli soldiers pose for a photo on a position along the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel, Feb. 19, 2024. [Tsafrir Abayov/AP]

Malaysia and Indonesia have also made strong statements criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas. 

The two Southeast Asian nations have come together with Arab countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member-states to push their call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. The United States, Israel’s steadfast ally, meanwhile has vetoed a series of U.N. resolutions calling for a ceasefire. 

The Palestinian question is front and center of the neighboring Southeast Asian nations’ foreign policy.

Indonesia’s top diplomat Retno, for instance, said in her statement, that she had left a G20 meeting in Brazil to attend the public hearing at the ICJ, and was speaking on behalf of the Indonesian government and people to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

“Indonesia believes that this legal motion is also a motion of global conscience,” she said.

“It should not be another item on the list, another proceeding to dismiss, another call to go unheeded, ignored blatantly by Israel. 

Never again means never again.”

Eddy Pratomo, a professor of international law at Pancasila University in Jakarta, said Indonesia made a strong case against Israel’s breaches of the law of war and humanitarian law.

“Although the ICJ’s opinion will not be binding, it will be a moral force for the U.N. General Assembly to pressure Israel to comply,” Eddy told BenarNews.

“We can only pursue all means through political and legal channels.”

Iman Muttaqin Yusof in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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