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Panel 4 of the Conference of Civil Society Organisations Working on the Question of Palestine

Meeting Summaries

Ensuring Compliance with International Mechanisms After the International Court of Justice Rulings 

Introductory remarks

THEMBELA NGCULU, Counsellor at the South Africa Permanent Mission in Geneva, in opening remarks, said South Africa knew all too well the important role played by civil society, and it was thanks to the solidarity played by civil society in the struggle against apartheid that he was present before the Conference today. It was Israel’s failure to comply with initial provisional measures and the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza that caused South Africa to approach the International Court of Justice on 6 March to request further measures. Accordingly, on 28 March, the International Court of Justice handed down new measures, including that Israel should take all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in cooperation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision to all concerned of humanitarian and aid assistance to Palestinians throughout Gaza, including opening a greater number of land crossing points, and keeping them open for as long as necessary. Further, Israel must ensure that its military did not impede the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.

Without full compliance, it was predicted that the deaths would increase exponentially. All parties to the Genocide Convention must take the necessary measures to live up to their commitments. South African remained concerned that Israel continued to avoid its commitments and to not live up to its commitments under the Genocide Convention. General Assembly resolution 27/28 proposed a cease-fire during the Holy month of Ramadan, and that this lead to a permanent ceasefire. All measures reinforcing international law must be respected. Few countries had demonstrated the political will to force Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice orders. South Africa maintained the view that the only way to end the suffering was to end the illegal occupation, as well as its apartheid practices. This would allow the Palestinian people to enjoy their inalienable human rights, including the right to self-determination, political independence, and economic emancipation. Human rights should be respect for all, everywhere, without respect of colour, creed, property, or other status. Human rights were universal, indivisible, and inter-related. South Africa’s determination to support the people of Palestine remained unflinching, and it supported the Palestinian people’s quest for independence.


AHMED ABOFOUL, Legal Expert at Al-Haq, said that genocide was taking place amidst shameful indifference and complicity of some Western States that sometimes lectured others about human rights and international law, making these States an Axis of Genocide. Out of respect for the Palestinian people, especially in Gaza, Western hypocrisy, double standards and selectivity must be pointed out. Unlike what some States wished to believe, history did not start on 7 October: the current situation did not happen in a vacuum but was the result of 76 years of Zionist settler colonialism and apartheid, of 57 years of belligerent military occupation of Palestinian territory, of over 17 years of suffering military blockade of a population, many of whom were refugees that had been ethnically cleansed from their lands by the Nakba. Atrocity crimes must not go unpunished, as was established by the Nuremburg Trials. Guided by Zionism, expansionism, settlerism, colonialism and extremism, Israel was an extension of Western colonialism and exceptionalism in the region. The statements of the founding fathers of Zionism left no doubt as to their settler and European origins. By now it should have become clear to the whole world that Israel was an extension of European colonialism.

Israel was telling its allies “You did this before, including to indigenous persons across the world – why can’t we do it?” Structural injustices continued to plague the world, and Israel’s activities were a window on this. This was not a post-colonial world, rather a neo-colonial world. The world owed the Palestinian people a lot, especially the people of Gaza, and would wake up one day to realise that they were spear-heading the resistance to this formula and had been fighting on behalf of the world for a better future for all. This was a struggle for all, against the brutality of the Axis of Genocide. But the West had responded by a relentless campaign to undermine international law, distorting it, in order to support their stance through legally incorrect lies, such as on the right to self-defence. There was absolutely no doubt that an occupying power did not have the right to self-defence against the people it was occupying, as those people, in accordance with international humanitarian law, had the right to self-defence. The International Court of Justice had been clear on this since the beginning. 

South Africa’s case before the International Court of Justice represented the Global South’s impatience with Western hypocrisy. The body of law was not Western property, it could be used against the West. By focusing on the provisional measures, and what they did not address, namely the ceasefire, Western countries were distorting the dialogue. The provisional measures order invoked a positive obligation by all States party to the Genocide Convention, but after their issuing, Israel had accused UNRWA of supporting Hamas. The Western liberal democracies moved so fast to suspend funding, without waiting for evidence, that some later had to reverse this, when they realised that Israel was lying. Israel had targeted an aid convoy, causing the aid organisation to suspend its assistance, allowing Israel to continue to starve the population of Gaza.

Security Council resolution 2728 demanded an immediate ceasefire – the US representative had claimed it was not binding. The West’s complicity and distortion of the situation had made Gaza not only a graveyard of children, but the graveyard of international law, with Western governments in clear violation of international and customary law, including United Nations treaties and the four Geneva Conventions. The vast majority of Western States, including the Axis of Genocide, were not to this moment signatories to the Apartheid Convention and refused to sign it: it seemed that they were committed to repeating their shameful history, refusing to put an end to apartheid, despite the will of the people. What was at stake was not only the very existence of the Palestinian people facing genocide, but the very system of international law and the so-called rules-based order. In providing this distorted interpretation of international law, the West was joining Israel in making a mockery of it. The Axis of Genocide knew exactly what needed to be done, and had shown, in regard to Ukraine, how the entire body of international law could be mobilised to support a people’s right to self-determination and the call for accountability. But not when this happened in Palestine. The West’s hypocrisy, double-standards and selectivity were shameful.

The West had a historical responsibility when it came to the situation in Palestine. Successive governments in the West had learned nothing from their history and needed to live up to their responsibility to the Palestinian people. History would not be kind to them. Civil society organizations around the world were challenging these governments from within their own legal systems. Efforts were coming from the people of the world – this was a moment where the people of the world were united against the Israeli apartheid genocidal regime, and Western complicit governments had to respond to popular demand and would one day live up to their legal obligations and moral responsibilities.

SALEH HIJAZI, Apartheid-Free Policy Coordinator, Palestine BDS Committee, said 17 years ago, when Israel began its criminal siege of Gaza, Palestine had been said to be a litmus test of the international legal system and human rights. The United Nations had been failing this system for 76 years of apartheid, and Israel’s systematic crimes against international law. Israel’s live-streamed and automated genocide, supported by the United States, Germany and other Western powers, could be the final blow against the international law system. And yet, the right thing had been crystal clear from the outset: sanctions. There must be an instant arms embargo, and sanctions put in place, as Israel had failed to comply with the International Court of Justice ruling, and economic and other measures put in place to ensure an immediate ceasefire and respect for international law, ending the unlawful status quo that were the root causes of the escalation and the Gaza genocide. This corresponded to demands from the absolute majority of Palestinian society, which welcomed the International Court of Justice decision, and called upon States to adopt a two-way arms embargo, and other punitive measures that would put an end to the genocide. Lawful and proportionate economic sanctions must be imposed on Israel, and an end put to free trade agreements, until Israel lived up to its commitments and obligations. Governments, Parliaments and political parties in the Middle East must commit to dismantling Israel’s system of apartheid, and consider Israel’s leaders as war criminals, banning them from their countries, and putting pressure on the international courts to try them as such.

Failing to prevent genocide and to provide assistance to put an end to that genocide made States complicit. Millions of people had taken to the streets over past months demanding that Israel put an end to its actions. The BDS movement had grown and was having an ever-greater impact. Over the last 18 years, it had built a massive network worldwide, representing tens of millions, and had had a large impact on isolating apartheid Israel, by making some multinationals end their involvement and complicity with Israel and its war crimes. It was only through pressure, building people power, that the change wanted could be forced. Recent actions, such as in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Chad, Turkey, Belgium, Spain, Jordan, Norway, Denmark, Canada, and others, showed that it was possible to do the right thing. Despite the domination of Israeli genocide-supporting propaganda, the movement was spreading across the world. Israel’s total impunity presented a threat not just to Palestinians but also to the international legal system and world peace: this impunity had been built up by the complicity of United Nations Member States and corporations, and it must come to an end.

The United Nations General Assembly should hold an emergency session to expel Israel from the United Nations and reconvene the Special Committee Against Apartheid, he concluded.

BETHANY ELLIS, Watchlist Global Advocacy Advisor, said the Children And Armed Conflict Agenda was one of the General Assembly’s most important agendas. Watchlist worked on every situation in the CAAC Agenda, and child protection concerns in Israel and Palestine had been included every year since 2005. The overwhelming majority of these were due to Israeli armed forces’ activities, and the overwhelming majority of victims were Palestinian children. Neither Israeli Government forces nor any other party had nevertheless ever been included in the list of perpetrators. Israel was one of eight particularly severe examples of inconsistencies in the report and the listing of examples. In response to this disconnect between the information contained in the report and those included in the Annexes, Watchlist began to publish lists remedying this situation, whilst recommending and strongly advocating for Israeli’s Government forces to be listed for killing and maiming children.

Listing a perpetrator sent a signal – no Government wished to appear on the same list as Islamic State or Boko Haram. This climate of impunity which many speakers had addressed clearly thus also extended into the CAAC Agenda, despite years of clear United Nations data. Since 7 October, over 13,000 children were reported killed: more than all those verified as killed across the world in the CAAC Agenda from 2019-2022. Children had been abducted, detained, schools and hospitals decimated, 92 per cent of educational buildings had been damaged, and there was an appalling denial of humanitarian access, which was particularly harmful to children. The protection of children in conflict should be an issue on which all agreed. In coming weeks, the Secretary-General and the Special Representative of CAAC would be finalising the 2023 report, and making their decisions on the list of perpetrators. It was clear that children were not being protected under international law in Gaza. All Member States must stand up and demand that the list of perpetrators be complete – a continued failure to list Israeli Government forces and Palestinian armed groups would deal a significant blow to the effectiveness and credibility of the CAAC Agenda. All Member States must exert their influence to end these violations and ensure the availability of resources to provide long-term support for all children affected by the conflict.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers raised such issues as the South African steps to put an end to the war, which consolidated the legal approach to settling disputes, whilst being committed to the United Nations principles. Was there a need for additional legal measures to enforce country’s compliance with the rulings of the ICJ, a speaker asked, and what could the United Nations do to enforce their application. Another speaker said the United Nations had often gathered to discuss the question of Palestine for over 75 years – it should move to discussing the answer of Palestine. Palestinians and Jews had lived in peace for hundreds of years – understanding what happened after the Zionist movement began would help to solve the question of Palestine. Masses of Jews around the world stood in opposition to the State of Israel and their actions, and it must be made clear that these were not in the name of all Jews. When these two things were done, then it would help provide the answer of Palestine.

Another speaker pointed out that it was quite clear and unambiguous that it was not Judaism at the root of the issue – it was Zionists who were intimidating the world into providing them with support, using the religion as a pretext, saying that those who opposed it were against that religion. It was an evil that masqueraded in the garb of an angel and was unacceptable. As nothing was being accomplished, and every day that passed saw the death of more people, with over 30,000 dead – maybe instead of waiting another day, another week, another resolution, maybe it was time that distinguished representatives of the various countries gathered at the gates of Rafah with trucks of food and announced that they were going in, despite Israel.

AHMED ABOFOUL, Al-Haq Legal Expert, responding to questions posed, said the problem was not institutions, the problem was the lack of political will. Where there was a mechanism, whose only job was to issue a statement in case of genocide, and it did not do so, then it was a clear case of political influence. The problem was not, he repeated, with the mechanisms, it was political will, and he was convinced that people’s actions on the ground would eventually lead to change and to force governments to change. There were a lot of things to be done within the United Nations, but this also required States’ political will. It was important to note that in 1975 the General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that Zionism was a form of racism and racial discrimination, but it had had no effect. The Jewish people had always been an integral part and component of the social fabric of Palestine, considering themselves Palestinians and part of the community, and this was the case until Zionism was imported from Europe. Zionism was the problem in this situation, it was indeed a form of racism and racial discrimination, and the only way forward was the de-Zionisation of Israeli society, as it brainwashed Israelis into believing that their only way to survive was to oppress the Palestinians. Opposing Israeli policy was not against the Israeli people.

This Israeli attack on Gaza had been catastrophic, and Al Haq had not been able, for the first time, since its establishment in 1979, to cover the situation properly on the ground. But thanks to the excellent coordination of civil society, it was still able to do some of the work. The whole Israeli apartheid regime was based on the lack of accountability for its soldiers and their actions in oppressing the Palestinians.

SALEH HIJAZI, Apartheid-Free Policy Coordinator Palestine BDS Committee, said on the issue of Zionism, this was a racist ideology that was at the heart of the settler-colonial regime currently perpetrating genocide, and racist ideologies were confronted with education and culture, but where it came to the structure of oppression, apartheid and genocide, it had to be dismantled, and how this was to be done was, according to the majority of Palestinians, through boycott, divesting, and sanctioning, first through the community and finally by States. This was the most ethical and strategic action that people around the world could take. Zionism needed to be dismantled from its heart.

BETHANY ELLIS, Watchlist Global Advocacy Advisor, said there were a range of really robust tools and mechanisms available to the CAAC Agenda, but the full range of these was not being used right now.

THEMBELA NGCULU, Counsellor, South Africa Permanent Mission in Geneva, said the struggle continued: the tools were there. The world was mobilising, but much remained to be done. Civil society must continue to work together to achieve the political emancipation of the people of Palestine.

Further questions and issues raised included a request to elaborate what would happen if no appropriate listing was done on the CAAC Agenda, and what could be done to ensure this listing was made to unblock the issue and protect the rights of children in armed conflict, including in Palestine. Another speaker said he had been working on this crisis since November 2023, and had come up with the idea of a flotilla of ships to go to Gaza and challenge the blockade and illegal occupation, and he was now being asked by the United States State Department how this could be done. The crisis was growing, and organisations and Member States were moving into panic mode. Human life must be valued higher. Another speaker addressed sanctions and the lack of political will, asking the panellists to elaborate on political leadership for an arms embargo and diplomatic sanctions, as well as banking sanctions, as evidenced by the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The denial of education and healthcare were grave and compromised for decades to come – it needed to be included in the watchlist on Israeli crimes. It was time to cross into Rafah, another speaker said. The international community needed to think about creative ways to hold perpetrators accountable, a final speaker noted, urging that domestic accountability be ensured in all ways possible.

AHMED ABOFOUL, Legal Expert at Al-Haq, answering these issues and in concluding remarks, said on what could be done, this was again a matter of political will. South Africa had provided a model of true leadership, showing what States could do in terms of true leadership, issuing warnings to its dual citizens who were in the Israeli Army that they could be complicit in genocide and would be prosecuted. What was needed immediately was an arms embargo: Israel was acting as a rogue State, defying international law. There also needed to be meaningful sanctions. There was no point in sanctioning individual settlers, but not the settlements themselves. Meaningful sanctions should be about settlements, and there needed to be a complete and immediate ban on their goods: their price was Palestinian blood. The recourse to domestic accountability also represented the frustration of the people and was a test to all liberal democracies of the system and how it could deliver. Palestinians were determined to hold on to their humanity, despite the world giving them every reason not to. Israel could not define Palestinians or who they were and would never have a veto on their humanity. Palestinians were not the West’s idea of them: they were not colonial subjects, they were free people, with the right to self-determination and the right to return. They were not asking for more than their human rights and would not settle for less: they were not even asking, they were demanding, as they were entitled to these rights, despite what their oppressors and the world thought. Palestinians were on the right side of history and would prevail, whereas history would judge Israel and those who stood by watching the genocide for the blood on their hands.

SALEH HIJAZI, Apartheid-Free Policy Coordinator Palestine BDS Committee, said change would come from the bottom up. South Africa had provided moral and legal leadership but was also empowered by the millions that had gone out in the streets demanding change and an end to genocide, and for accountability for Israeli crimes. He saluted certain activists who were taking action to impede Israel. However, political leadership was growing around the world. Other countries must heed the call: sanction Israel, do not send to, buy from or transfer weapons to an apartheid State committing genocide. There was no need to reinvent the wheel on sanctions – the playbook already existed, for example with regard to Russia. All Israeli banks were complicit in violations of international law and complicit in the establishment of illegal settlements. There were financial crimes that could be examined both in national and international jurisdictions. What was needed was for politicians and governments to heed the calls of millions around the world and help to dismantle apartheid.

BETHANY ELLIS, Watchlist Global Advocacy Advisor, said on the question of what happened if there was no listing, unfortunately this had happened for several years, and Watchlist could only continue to support those on the ground working to remedy the situation. Given the scale of the violations seen this year, Watchlist genuinely hoped it would not see an absence of perpetrators listed for Israel and Palestine, and hoped they would be listed as appropriate in this year’s Report. She urged Member States to communicate to the Secretary-General that they expected these to be listed. Attacks on schools and hospitals were also a trigger for listing. States should work now to mobilise resources to ensure child health services, including mental health support.

THEMBELA NGCULU, Counsellor at the South Africa Permanent Mission in Geneva, in closing remarks, said South Africa was getting some very positive feedback on its action, and this served as a source of courage and motivation, and South Africa would stay the course on this principled decision. Many countries had expressed their wish to join the case, and were taking strategic decisions to recall their Ambassadors, to put pressure on Israel, and this pressure needed to continue at all levels: there should be economic sanctions to make Israel comply with the Provisional Measures. The ultimate goal was to end the Occupation itself, to make sure the Palestinians lived in peace, with economic and political freedom. The people of Palestine would prevail, and he believed that a free Palestine would be seen in our lifetime, with the two-State solution of both living side by side.


CHEIKH NIANG, Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations in New York, in his closing remarks thanked all speakers and the audience for actively participating in the Conference. Palestinians and international experts had spoken of how they worked to expose the gross violations of the Occupying Power, demanding a ceasefire and accountability for the war crimes. Accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was demanded by all. Justice was a pre-requisite for ending cycles of violence and for Palestinians and Israelis to take meaningful steps towards peace. Investigations were thus needed to investigate all human rights violations, under international law, including hostage-taking, wanton destruction of civilian property, collective punishment, forced displacement, incitement to hatred and violence, sexual assault and torture, among others. Many enlightening views had been heard over the past two days, highlighting once more the need for the international community to stand together and with civil society to put an end to the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian community. He lauded the initiatives of some Member States in this regard.

IBRAHIM KHRAISHI, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva, in final comments, said it was true, as had been said, that such a meeting was sorely needed, and he hoped it would act as a spur for Member States to be fully present in the Human Rights Council session when voting on resolutions on proposed texts on accountability, settlements, and self-determination. Civil society organizations often had information that official bodies lacked, and thus strengthened the fight for justice for the Palestinian people- absent accountability, there would be no end to crimes and criminality and human rights violations. Palestinians were victims of the end of the Second World War, despite not having any responsibility therein, losing any opportunity to craft their own independent status, instead facing an unjust divide of the country, followed by the ongoing Nakba, hand in glove with ethnic cleansing and genocide. The world had a responsibility to awaken its conscience and move to action, to stick to its principles to avoid the law of the jungle prevailing. Law and rights needed to be the guiding light to overcome all challenges. The work of the Committee must continue until the aspirations of Palestinians were steered into good harbour, with an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.