The ICJ order and Western revenge on UNRWA

unrwa funding Gaza

Andrew Mitrovica, an Aljazeera columnist had this to say on the ICJ court ruling: The ICJ ruling was a legal victory at the cost of Palestinian lives. He adds: “Of course, more than 26,000 Palestinians – and counting – no longer have a voice. They are dead. Annihilated by a fanatical Israeli cabinet that has killed hundreds more Palestinians while a gallery of white, Western columnists like me parse the significance and merits of the court’s just announced “provisional” measures. We must always remember that blatant and instructive fact”.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel on Friday to take action to prevent acts of genocide as it wages war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip but stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire. “At least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the (Genocide) Convention,” the judges said. The ruling required Israel to prevent and punish any public incitements to commit genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and to preserve evidence related to any allegations of genocide there. Israel must also take measures to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinian civilians in the enclave.

What has the ICJ ordered Israel to do on Gaza war, and what’s next? The court did not order a ceasefire, but effectively put Israel on notice over the war. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued Israel with six orders about its bombardment of Gaza on Friday, but stopped short of calling for a full ceasefire.

The emergency measures were announced as the court begins its deliberations on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, for which it heard evidence earlier this month. South Africa has described Israel’s actions in Gaza as genocide but Israel has rejected the allegation, claiming that its activities in Gaza stem from “self-defence”, and are necessary to root out Hamas. It has added that the war cannot end until that goal has been achieved. In a 45-minute judgement at the court in the Hague on Friday, presiding judge Joan Donoghue rejected Israel’s claim that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear South Africa’s case against it.

Israel said that South Africa failed to adequately communicate with Tel Aviv about the case before filing the application, as is required by the court’s own rules. However, the court rejected this argument, stating that South Africa had made a complaint to the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, to which Israel had clearly responded. Therefore a “dispute” over the interpretation of the law relating to genocide exists. South Africa has clear standing to submit its case, the court ruled.

Israel and its allies went full steam on a policy of revenge. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faced potentially crippling funding cuts after some of its staff was accused by Israeli authorities of being involved in the October 7 attack. These allegations then led to 9 Western countries to suspend funding to UNRWA, led by the US, which is the agency’s biggest donor. The timing of Israel’s allegations against UNRWA have struck many as suspect, given they came just hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled broadly in favour of South Africa in its genocide case against Israel.

However, Israel has long waged a veritable war against UNRWA, which provides a host of vital services for Palestinian refugees, including around 2 million people in Gaza. This includes hundreds of documented attacks on its facilities in Gaza, with over 150 UNRWA staff killed by the Israeli military during its current war on Gaza and 300 people in total being killed due to attacks on the agency’s facilities.

Israeli officials have openly said they want to destroy UNRWA and stop it providing services to millions of Palestinian refugees. Observers have called the response of the Western states an overreaction, as UNRWA employs over 30,000 people, including 13,000 in Gaza. The funding suspension also went ahead despite UNRWA announcing an investigation and firing 9 out of the 12 employees implicated by Israel.

UNRWA funding cuts condemned as ‘collective punishment’. The UN chief joins head of UNRWA calling on Western donor countries for ‘continuity’ in Gaza agency operations. The agency, with its 13,000 employees in Gaza, is the main organisation aiding Gaza’s population amid the humanitarian disaster. More than two million of the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people depend on the UNRWA for “sheer survival”, including food and shelter, Lazzarini said, warning this lifeline can “collapse any time now”.

The New Arab reports: “A UN expert warned that countries defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees were breaching a court order to provide effective aid in Gaza and could be violating the international genocide convention. A number of donor countries – including Australia, Britain, Finland, Germany and Italy – on Saturday followed the lead of the United States in suspending additional funding to UNRWA. That came after Israel alleged that several of the UN agency’s staff members were involved in Hamas’s 7 October attack. The Israeli allegations were based on confessions obtained in interrogations and have not been independently investigated. Israel has killed more than 150 UNRWA staff in Gaza since the start of its latest offensive on Gaza.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, warned that the decision to pause funding to UNRWA “overtly defies” the order by the International Court of Justice to allow effective humanitarian assistance” to reach Gazans. “This will entail legal responsibilities – or the demise of the (international) legal system,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. UNRWA reacted to the allegations by firing several staff and promising a thorough investigation into the unspecified claims, but Israel has nonetheless vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war. The row between Israel and UNRWA follows the UN’s International Court of Justice ruling on Friday that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the conflict and allow more aid into Gaza.

Albanese, who is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, but who does not speak on behalf of the United Nations, highlighted the timing of the defunding decisions.

Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator

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