The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday began historic hearings on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967. The six-day proceedings of the historic hearings involve 52 countries and three organisations.

On the first day, Palestinian representatives urged an immediate end to the occupation, claiming that the right to self-determination is non-negotiable. Legal representative Paul Reichler stated that the occupation’s fundamental goal is the “permanent acquisition of the maximum amount of Palestinian territory with the minimum number of Palestinians.”

Palestinian delegates called for the ICJ to declare Israel’s actions as apartheid, insisting on the illegality of the occupation and demanding its immediate and unconditional cessation.

Proceedings continue tomorrow at 09:00 GMT, with representatives from various countries presenting their arguments. However, these hearings progress against the backdrop of Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement of a prospective ground offensive against Rafah in Gaza. Over half of Gaza’s population, around 2.3 million people, currently consider Rafah their last place of relative safety.

Gantz conditioned the threat on Hamas releasing remaining Israeli hostages before Ramadan in three weeks.

As Israel contemplates a ground offensive in Rafah during Ramadan, concerns mount over the possibility of a humanitarian catastrophe and increased violence in the region. Ramadan historically marks a tense period, with past clashes over access to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem triggering violent Israeli crackdowns on Palestinian worshippers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of restrictions on Palestinian access to the holy site has ignited anger among Arab religious and political leaders. The restrictions extend to Israel’s Muslim minority, which constitute approximately 18% of the population. Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Knesset’s left-wing Arab Taal party, criticised Netanyahu’s decision as a “gross blow to the freedom of religion”.

As Ramadan begins on 10 March, security restrictions at the Temple Mount will be determined based on situation assessments, according to Defence Minister Gantz.

Netanyahu’s office claimed that it allows for religious freedom within the security limits set by the establishment. However, accusations suggest Netanyahu’s prioritisation of far-right coalition partners may influence decisions to avoid concessions to Hamas or Palestinians.

In its war on Gaza, which began on 7 October, Israel, backed and armed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and other western governments, has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded nearly 70,000 others, with 85% of the population displaced due to widespread destruction caused to civilian infrastructure in Gaza.