China tells ICJ that Palestinians have the right to armed struggle

Beijing says armed struggle is distinct from acts of terrorism, while Iraq rails against Israel's 'systematic killing machine'

Ma Xinmin, centre, of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on February 22. AFP
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Senior Chinese official Ma Xinmin told the International Court of Justice on Thursday that China believes Palestinians have the right to engage in armed struggle because they live under an illegal Israeli occupation.

Israeli policies in occupied territories have violated international humanitarian law, said the official, who was speaking on the fourth day of hearings into the legality of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories acquired in 1967.

“The Palestinian people fight against Israeli oppression and their struggle for completing establishment of an independent state in the occupied territories are essentially just actions for restoring their legitimate rights,” said Mr Ma, who is director general of the department of treaty and law at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He told the panel of 15 judges in The Hague that armed struggle was distinct from acts of terrorism. “During legitimate armed struggle, all parties are obliged to comply to international humanitarian law and in particularly refrain from committing acts of terrorism,” he said.

China's support of Palestinian armed struggle was not echoed by other countries despite many of them displaying critical opinions of Israel's occupation since hearings started on Monday.

The highly political hearings are scheduled to continue until February 26 due to the record number of countries – over 50 – that have asked to give an oral statement.

The court will then issue a non-binding advisory opinion which is expected to take up to six months.

Ireland, which was represented by Attorney General Rossa Fanning, said Israel had committed “serious breaches” of international law during its five decade-long occupation of Palestinian territories.

In addition to encouraging settlers to move illegally to occupied territories, Israel has applied domestic law in illegal settlements and transferred administration in certain areas from military to civilian control.

In its continuing war on Gaza, which has killed more than 29,400 Palestinians, Israel has “exceeded” its right to the use of force in self-defence following Hamas-led attacks on Israel on October 7, said Mr Fanning.

“This is manifest from the spiralling death toll, the extensive destruction of property including homes throughout Gaza, the displacement of up to two million people and the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

Around 1,200 people died during the Hamas attacks. The group also took back to Gaza about 240 hostages, of whom 100 were released and 30 are believed to have died.

The war in Gaza is unrelated to the current ICJ hearings, which are linked to a request made in 2022 by the UN General Assembly.

But most countries have referred to the conflict during their intervention as an important backdrop to discuss the occupation of Palestinian territories, which include Gaza.

Jordan and Iraq harshly condemned Israel's actions.

“Palestinians are being killed in the hundreds every day in Gaza and in the West Bank because Israel is not being held accountable of its war crimes and violations of international law,” said Jordan's Foreign Affairs Minister Ayman Safadi.

Mr Safadi called on the court to “rule that this brutality can be no more”. “The source of all evil must end,” he said.

Hayder Shiya Al Barrak, head of the legal department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Iraq, asked the court “to stop the systematic killing machine against the Palestinian people”.

Israel did not request to speak during the hearings – a position that Ireland “very much regrets”, said Mr Fanning. It has submitted a written statement which has not been made public.

But Israel's strongest ally, the US, insisted during its intervention on Israel's right to self-defence.

“We were all reminded of those security needs on October 7 and they persist. Regrettably those needs have been ignored by many of the participants,” said Richard Visek, acting legal adviser for the US Department of State, on Wednesday.

For China, the right of an occupying power to self-defence hinges on the legitimacy of its occupation.

However, “this does not rule out the possibility for the occupying power … as a last resort to take necessary law enforcement measures against individuals or entities in the occupied territories,” said Mr Ma. “These acts must stay within the limits cited by international law.”

Mr Fanning reiterated Ireland’s belief that all countries should refrain from supporting Israel’s occupation. This includes a call for the EU, to which Ireland belongs, to review its trade agreement with Israel due to suspicions of human rights breaches.

In a letter to the European Commission sent on February 14, Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez asked that the EU review the trade agreement.

But such a decision would have to be taken unanimously by the bloc's 27 member states – a move that remains highly unlikely due to deep divisions over the Middle Eastern conflict.

Updated: February 23, 2024, 4:01 AM