South Africa appeals to ICJ for further measures against Israel

Pretoria accuses Israel of ‘egregious breaches’ in genocide convention, urges court to order Israel to urgently enable delivery of aid in Gaza to address ‘widespread starvation’

Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings through a street in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians carry their belongings through a street in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Citing “widespread starvation” in Gaza, South Africa on Wednesday urged the United Nations’ top court to order Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the war-torn region as part of an ongoing case alleging that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza breaches the Genocide Convention.

South Africa — which filed the genocide case against Israel late last year — approached the International Court of Justice again on Wednesday and said it was compelled to seek more preliminary orders “in light of the new facts and changes in the situation in Gaza — particularly the situation of widespread starvation — brought about by the continuing egregious breaches” of the convention by Israel.

While aid groups say all of Gaza is mired in a humanitarian crisis, the situation in the largely isolated north stands out. Many of the estimated 300,000 people still living there have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive, according to some accounts. The UN says that one in six children under the age of two in the north suffers from acute malnutrition.

“South Africa respectfully calls on this Court to act again now — before it is too late — to do what is within its power to save Palestinians in Gaza from genocidal starvation,” South Africa said in a written request.

It is the second petition South Africa has made to the court, seeking motions against Israel, in less than a month. In mid-February, South Africa requested urgent measures to safeguard southern Gaza’s Rafah amid Israeli plans for a campaign in the city, Hamas’s last bastion in the enclave. That request was denied.

At hearings in January, lawyers for Israel argued that its war in Gaza was a legitimate defense of its people and that it was Hamas who was guilty of genocide.

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the UN, delivers its order on the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by South Africa against Israel over its actions in the Gaza Strip, January 26, 2024. (International Court of Justice)

The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment Wednesday night to South Africa’s latest request.

Israel has strongly denied breaching the Genocide Convention and, together with its Western allies, has rejected the allegation as baseless. It has asserted its right to self-defense following Hamas’s October 7 shock attack, which sparked the war, and says it does all it can to spare civilians while targeting Hamas terrorists in Gaza. It says Hamas’s tactics of deliberate embedding in civilian areas and institutions make it more difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

The ICJ ruled in late January that there was “plausibility” to South Africa’s claims that Palestinians require protection from genocide but stopped short of ordering an immediate, unilateral ceasefire.

The order clarified that the decision was not a determination on the merits of South Africa’s allegations — which may take years to get through the judicial process — and asked Israel to report to the court short-term, detailing the measures it has and is taking to comply. The ICJ asked Israel to prevent actions in the Gaza war that could violate clauses of the Genocide Convention and ordered regular updates. Israel’s report was not made public.

On Wednesday, South Africa accused Israel of violating the provisional measures imposed by the court including that Israel immediately enable urgently needed services to address starvation and other issues. It called on judges to make orders without first holding a hearing, due to the “extreme urgency of the situation.”

The delivery of aid to Gaza has been a central issue in the ongoing war. Israel, which checks all trucks entering Gaza from both the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings, has blamed the United Nations for not delivering the aid fast enough after they are cleared, and for leading to a general fall-off in deliveries over the past month.

A Palestinian man transports sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement Wednesday that despite “facing extreme challenges,” aid workers were able to significantly ramp up humanitarian efforts in February. It cited a 48% increase in humanitarian missions over the previous month.

But the office added that humanitarian efforts were “undermined by a cessation of operations to the north and an overall decline in the security of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers.”

According to COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs, 257 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza on Wednesday, a significant increase from the number of trucks passing into Gaza during February.

Over the last week, over 550 packages carrying humanitarian aid were airdropped over Gaza in cooperation with Jordan, Egypt, France, USA, UAE and Israel, COGAT added. Aid officials have said that airdrops are not an efficient means of distributing aid and are a measure of last resort.

A Jordanian military aircraft (not pictured) drops humanitarian aid over Rafah and Khan Yunis in the skies of the southern Gaza Strip on February 27, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

In its request Wednesday, South Africa also again urged the court to order “all participants in the conflict” to “ensure that all fighting and hostilities come to an immediate halt, and that all hostages and detainees are released immediately.”

In an attempt to further ratchet up international pressure on Israel, South Africa also asked the court to order all countries that have ratified the convention to “refrain from any action, and in particular any armed action or support thereof, which might prejudice the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.”

The war began with a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 in which thousands of Palestinian terrorists killed around 1,200 people and took 253 hostages. More than 100 of them were released during a weeklong temporary ceasefire in November. Among the remaining hostages, over 30 are dead, according to military intelligence.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said Wednesday the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,717, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

The ministry is part of the Hamas-run government and does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tallies. But it claims women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

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