Internet InfoMedia middle east crisis top u n court orders israel to allow unhindered aid into gaza
Internet InfoMedia 29mideast briefing header tkqz facebookJumbo

In its strongest language yet, the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday ordered Israel to stop obstructing humanitarian aid to Gaza as starvation there spreads, calling for Israel to increase the number of land crossings for supplies and provide its “full cooperation” with the United Nations.

The ruling is part of a case filed by South Africa at the I.C.J., the United Nations’ highest court, that accused Israel of committing genocide, an allegation that Israel has categorically denied. In an interim ruling on Jan. 26, the court ordered Israel to ensure that more aid would be allowed into Gaza. Since then, the “catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated further,” necessitating further measures, the court said on Thursday.

Israel, the court ruled, must ensure that its military doesn’t violate Palestinians’ rights under the Genocide Convention, “including by preventing, through any action, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.”

South Africa requested this month that the court issue further emergency orders to lift Israeli restrictions on aid amid warnings from experts that Gazans have been facing a looming famine. The South African government welcomed the new orders on Thursday as a “significant” step by the I.C.J., saying the ruling indicated that the court agreed that Israel’s failure to comply with the previous order had worsened conditions in Gaza.

Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement in response to the ruling that Israel had gone to great lengths to mitigate harm to civilians and to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza, accusing South Africa of attempting to “exploit” the court to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself.

In its new ruling, the I.C.J. unanimously ordered Israel to “take all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full cooperation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services,” including food, water, fuel and shelter as well as medical and sanitation supplies. Israel must also increase the capacity and number of land crossing points and keep them “open for as long as necessary,” the court said.

The ruling touches on some issues that leading aid organizations have called Israeli impediments contributing to the risk of famine in Gaza. Those groups have cited inspection backlogs at the few open border crossings, problems in the Israeli military’s system for coordinating with aid workers, and outright denials of missions to bring in food, fuel and sanitation supplies. Palestinians, U.N. officials and aid workers have voiced concerns about diseases spreading, hospitals collapsing and children beginning to starve to death.

The court said on Thursday that Palestinians in Gaza were “no longer facing only a risk of famine,” as it noted in its interim ruling, “but that famine is setting in.” Among the evidence the court cited was a report from the global authority on food security that found a full-scale famine was imminent in northern Gaza, and a U.N. report that found acute malnutrition among children under 2 years old in that region had doubled over the course of the past month.

The court also noted that at least 31 people across the enclave, including 27 children, had already died from malnutrition and dehydration, according to reports from the U.N. and local health officials.

The judges have not yet taken up the core question of whether a genocide has been taking place in Gaza, a complex charge that would likely take months or years to decide.

Despite the court’s authority and the weight of the allegations before it, the court does not have any means of forcing Israel to comply with its orders. But it is the highest arbiter of international law, and its decisions carry moral and symbolic weight. “If there is noncompliance, the global community must ensure adherence when it comes to the sanctity of humanity,” the South African government said in its statement on Thursday.

Since finding the dangers of genocide “plausible” in January, the court has ordered a series of measures, which amount to temporary injunctions, aimed at protecting Palestinian civilians. Aharon Barak, the ad hoc judge Israel appointed to the court for the genocide case, argued in a separate opinion on Thursday that the court was, with some of the measures it ordered, “leaving the land of law and entering the land of politics.”

Several judges assessed the war in stark terms in separate opinions, including Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf from Somalia, one of the court’s more senior judges and a former president of the court.

“The alarm has now been sounded by the court,” he wrote in his opinion. “All the indicators of genocidal activities are flashing red in Gaza.”

The court’s current president, Nawaf Salam, strongly hinted at the risk of genocide in his opinion. The court, he said, was “faced with a situation in which the conditions of existence of the Palestinians in Gaza are such as to bring about the partial or total destruction of that group.”

But judges also wrestled with what influence they could exert in the conflict. “The court cannot order a cease-fire, as the conflicting parties are not all before it,” Hilary Charlesworth, an Australian judge, wrote, referring to Hamas and other armed groups.

But, she wrote, the court “can at least mitigate” the risk to Palestinians by directing the parties before it: South Africa and Israel.

Johnatan Reiss and Victoria Kim contributed reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *