Israel’s occupation of Palestinian Territory breaches international law, Ireland tells ICJ

UN and EU must not enter economic agreements that would support settlement activity in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Attorney General says

Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian Territory and its settlement activities there for more than half a century involves serious breaches of international law and of the right to the Palestinian people to self-determination, Ireland has told the International Court of Justice.

The UN secretary general has noted the coercive environment created by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory amounts to forcible transfer, a “grave breach” of the Fourth Geneva Convention which amounts to “a war crime”, Attorney General Rossa Fanning told The Hague-based court.

The law of state responsibility requires Israel to end the serious breaches outlined by Ireland, including by reversing its settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and making reparation for the damage caused, he said.

The “straightforward” international law obligations of UN member states and of international organisations with external trade competence, including the EU, require them to work to bring these breaches to an end and not to enter into economic or trade agreements that would support them, he said.


In Ireland’s view, this requires states and entities like the EU to review their trading relationship with the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to take steps to prevent trade that assists in maintaining the situation created by the settlement activity or serves to legitimise Israel’s settlement or annexation of that territory.

The Attorney was speaking on Thursday on behalf of Ireland in continuing public hearings before the ICJ, the principal court of the UN, concerning the ‘Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’.

The public hearings began last Monday on foot of a request from the UN General Assembly for an advisory opinion on questions arising from the Israeli occupation.

Ireland is among 55 countries intervening in the proceedings, set to conclude on Monday next.

Opening his address, the Attorney said Ireland has condemned the October 7th “reprehensible” Hamas attacks on Israel unequivocally and those responsible must be held accountable for the serious violations of international law involved, including the rape and murder of civilians and taking of hostages.

However, Ireland considered the limits imposed by international law on the use of force in self-defence have been exceeded by Israel in its military response to the Hamas attacks, he said.

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

Ireland has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, he said. Because any enduring solution to this tragic conflict requires each side to respect the equal rights of the other, Ireland has been “a consistent and vocal supporter” of a comprehensive two state solution to the conflict.

While lamenting the lack of progress towards achieving that objective, Ireland believes clarification by the ICJ, of the international issues raised by the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian Territory “will assist in building a stable foundation upon which to build a just resolution”.

The defining feature of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory since 1967 has been continuous settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, he said.

Israel has used different means to take control for non-military purposes over as much land in the Occupied Palestinian as possible before undertaking permanent construction on it and incentivising large numbers of its citizens to transfer there. There were 700,000 Israeli citizens living in settlements in the West Bank in 2022 and Israel has extended the application of domestic Israeli law to those living there.

By transferring part of its own civilian population into the OPT, Israel has violated Article 9.6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has continued to do this notwithstanding the ICJ confirmation it is unlawful and despite being exhorted by the UN security council and general assembly to cease the practice, he said. It also continues to unlawfully destroy and appropriate property as part of its policy to encourage and facilitate settlement expansion.

There was a “recent and marked” increase in reports of Palestinian civilians being subject to serious and sustained violence by Israeli settlers with little or no protection from the security forces contrary to international humanitarian law, he noted.

Israeli security forces have been recorded on some occasions as participating in this violence, he noted. This has escalated since October 7th with tensions reported to be at “boiling point” and Palestinians being compelled to leave their homes, farms and grazing grounds.

Ireland believes, and the ICJ has held, that, where a State breaches an international obligation, it commits an international wrongful act with legal consequences and obligations for all states, he said.

That included obligations not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the serious breach, not to render aid or assistance in maintain the situation created by the breach and to bring the serious breach to an end, he said.

The ICJ ruled in an earlier case that Israel is obliged to end the breaches of its obligations, to respect the right of Palestine to self-determination and to make reparation for the damage caused by its breaches, he noted.

In this hearing, the law of state responsibility requires Israel to end the serious breaches, including by reversing its settlement activity and making reparation for the damage caused.

The legal obligations for all states arising from Israel’s serious breaches are, in Ireland’s view, “straightforward”, he said.

All States are obliged to co-operate to bring the breaches to an end through lawful means, not to recognise as lawful the situation created by them and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining it. States are particularly obliged to bring to an end Israel’s serious breach of the obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self- determination or to see that any impediment to the exercise of that right is brought to an end.

Concluding his submission, the Attorney said Ireland remains committed to realisation of the two state solution endorsed by the UN security council; to a safe and secure Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestine state, living side by side within secure and recognised borders based on those of 1967 with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. The recent statement by Israel’s Prime Minister rejecting a two-state solution had caused international dismay, he said.

The solution, he stressed, must be built on a foundation of respect for international law but “especially the right to self-determination”.

Ireland believes that clarification now, by the ICJ, of the legal consequences of the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian Territory “will assist in building a stable foundation upon which to build a just resolution”, he said.

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Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times