Israel Is Ignoring UN Court Ruling Ordering It To Prevent Deaths In Gaza, Says South Africa

Gaza Protest
Protesters in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, gather on Jan. 24, 2024, to demand an end to the Israel-Hamas war. (Adel Hana / Associated Press)

Israel has ignored the ruling by the U.N.’s top court last week by killing hundreds more civilians in a matter of days in Gaza, South Africa’s foreign minister said Wednesday, adding that her country has asked why an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been issued in a case South Africa filed at the separate International Criminal Court.

Israel’s offensive in the Palestinian enclave has caused the world’s most acute humanitarian crisis, with 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants homeless, large numbers starving and others falling sick.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa would “look at proposing other measures to the global community” in a bid to stop Israel killing civilians during its war in Gaza against Hamas militants, but did not go into details.

“I cannot be dishonest. I believe the rulings of the court have been ignored,” South Africa’s foreign minister said. “Hundreds of people have been killed in the last three or four days. And clearly Israel believes it has license to do as it wishes.”

Pandor said there was a danger of the world doing nothing to stop the civilian casualties in Gaza and said similar inaction contributed to the horrific death toll in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in the East African country.

“We are allowing this to happen again, right before our eyes, on our TV screens,” Pandor said.

Pandor also said South Africa was eager to pursue the case it has lodged with the separate International Criminal Court, an indication the country will continue its legal pressure on Israel. In the ICC case, South Africa accuses Netanyahu of war crimes and asks the court to order his arrest.

“The (ICC) prosecutor assured us the matter is in hand and being looked at by his office,” Pandor said of South Africa’s allegations against Netanyahu. “What I felt he didn’t answer me sufficiently on was, I asked him why he was able to issue an arrest warrant for Mr. Putin while he is unable to do so for the Prime Minister of Israel. He couldn’t answer and didn’t answer that question.”

An AP report said:

The preliminary ruling by the U.N.’s International Court of Justice in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide against Palestinians in the territory. It stopped short of ordering a cease-fire. It also ruled Israel must urgently get basic humanitarian aid to Gaza and submit a report on steps taken to abide by the ruling within a month.

A top official in South Africa’s foreign ministry has said the country hopes that Friday’s ruling, and whether Israel is abiding by it, will be discussed on a wider level at the United Nations, possibly as early as Wednesday.

Since the ruling, Israel has continued its military offensive, which it says is aimed at Hamas, and hundreds more Palestinians have been killed, according to figures from the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. The ministry said Wednesday that 150 people were killed in the territory in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of Palestinian deaths in the war to more than 26,700.

The Health Ministry’s count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians. It says the majority of the dead are women and children.

The court’s ruling is binding on Israel, and the country could face U.N. sanctions if it is found to be breaching its orders, although any sanctions may be vetoed by close ally the United States.

Netanyahu has said that Israel “will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people.” Israel says the offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas after its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Israel says it has abided by international law and is doing its best to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. It says it has killed more than 9,000 militants and accuses Hamas of embedding in civilian areas, making it difficult to avoid civilian casualties.

South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

The ICJ and ICC are both based in The Hague but deal with different cases. The ICJ is a U.N. court that decides disputes between countries. The ICC prosecutes individuals.

A South African delegation met with the ICC court president and prosecutor while in The Hague last week for the ICJ ruling, Pandor said, and stressed “our concern at the slow pace of action on matters that we referred to them as urgent matters.”

South Africa filed its case against Netanyahu at the ICC in November. The ICC is the same court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year over alleged war crimes relating to the removal of children from Ukraine.

Israel, like Russia, is not a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC and does not recognize the court’s authority.

Donors Seek Fast Answers To Allegations Over U.N. Agency In Gaza crisis

A Reuters report said:

Any halt to operations by the U.N. Palestinian agency over Israeli accusations that some of its staff took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack could hamstring the entire humanitarian effort in devastated Gaza, aid agencies say.

Donors are demanding a swift investigation before resuming funding, though they have praised the work of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza and its response so far to the allegations.

UNRWA believes it has responded rapidly and transparently to Israel’s allegations, which came as Israel faced a genocide case at the International Court of Justice over the Gaza war, and after years of it calling for the agency to be disbanded.

UNRWA is at the heart of all aid work in Gaza through its 13,000 employees in the enclave, its clinics and schools, many now acting as packed shelters, and its logistics hubs.

“The entire aid system in Gaza will be closer to the point of collapse,” said Shaina Low, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, calling UNRWA “vital in coordinating aid and providing shelter”.

“No other organisation than UNRWA has the infrastructure to do the work that they do,” said the U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

Some 15 of the agency’s most important donors, including top two the United States and Germany, have suspended funding over Israel’s allegations.

About $440 million is at risk, said UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma.

“The decision to suspend funding from these countries is tantamount to a death sentence for Palestinians,” the charity Action Aid said.

The agency and the wider U.N. now face a race to persuade donors they have responded appropriately to Israel’s accusations before money runs out at the end of February.

It is not clear how long the investigation by the U.N.’s oversight office may take. It was important for it to be thorough and “unimpeachable”, but also swift, U.N. spokesperson Dujarric said.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy accused UNRWA of acting “as a front for Hamas” and said it was “not bad apples” that were the problem but a systemic failure to address accusations of support for extremism in its ranks.

Responding to those comments, Touma said UNRWA had on Jan. 17 ordered an independent review to establish the truth of longstanding claims about UNRWA and its staff.

Inside the organisation, the accusation that 12 staff members took part in the Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel had come as a deep shock.

“If these allegations are true, they are a betrayal of U.N. values and a betrayal of the people we serve,” Touma said.

The organisation believes it has acted quickly despite Israel only making direct accusations to it about 12 staff while allegations were leaked to media that a larger number of employees have Hamas links.

“UNRWA took a very proactive approach,” said Touma the UNRWA spokesperson. Its head Philippe Lazzarini went to the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and to the U.S. and other top donors after Israel verbally told him on Jan. 18 it had evidence against 12 UNRWA staff, she said.

Lazzarini fired those allegedly involved, an unusual step he is allowed to take “in the best interests of the agency”, Touma said.

“UNRWA then went public with the information before anyone else,” she added.

Neither Israel nor any other official source has shared with UNRWA a dossier alleging that 190 of the agency’s staff members in Gaza are Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants, but learned about it only when reported in the press, Touma said. Reuters viewed and reported on the Israel intelligence dossier on Monday.

UNRWA regularly shares lists of its employees with Israel and with the governments of countries hosting Palestinian refugees. It last did so in May 2023, Touma said. Israel has never provided a response to those lists “let alone an objection”, she said.

A spokesperson for Israel’s government did not respond to Reuters questions on what information they had shared with UNRWA and the UN and major donors or about how long it had known about Hamas links to UNRWA employees.

Israel has long criticised UNRWA and says its mandate should be given to other U.N. agencies. Its 30,000 staff provide schooling and primary health clinics for Palestinian refugees in several Middle East countries.

The first ever U.N. agency, UNRWA was established by a resolution of the body’s General Assembly in 1949 to look after refugees who fled or were pushed from their homes when Israel was created.

Israel has long criticised the curriculum taught in schools UNRWA runs and disputes the agency’s count of refugees – an important political issue in any eventual peace talks, with Palestinians demanding a right of return.

“Israel would like there to be an existential threat to UNRWA because they mistakenly think if you get rid of UNRWA then you suddenly get rid of the refugees and their right to return,” said former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

“Palestinians have been told across U.N. facilities that they are still refugees from a war that took place decades ago, that they possess a right that does not exist,” said the Israeli spokesperson Levy.

However, UNRWA’s mandate was renewed by the U.N. General Assembly in 2023 until mid 2026 and the agency could only be disbanded by a new General Assembly resolution.

Israel’s Limits

The ABC News report said:

Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, a nonprofit policy institute focusing on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, said Israel’s intensive campaign against Hamas was now showing its limits, with Hamas still intact.

“What we are seeing is the law of diminishing returns kick in,” he told ABC News. “There has been some killing of Hamas fighters. There has been a clear reduction in the Hamas rocket capacity. But Hamas is very much present.”

Many observers from the beginning of the war have questioned the feasibility of destroying Hamas given its nature as a movement within Palestinian society, and Israel’s operation itself would potentially fuel more support for it, according to Levy.

“Hamas is a resistance movement. It is an idea,” Levy said. “So the idea that that can be defeated was never a realistic Israeli reading of the reality it lives it.”

The Hostages

The report said:

Concerns have also grown in Israel itself over whether the goal of destroying Hamas may be in conflict with rescuing the remaining hostages held in Gaza.

About 136 hostages remain captive by Hamas, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office and the IDF. At least 33 of those hostages are believed to be dead in Hamas captivity, with their bodies still held in Gaza, the Israeli prime minister’s office and IDF say. There was a temporary cease-fire at the end of November during which Hamas freed over 100 of the more than 200 people its militants took hostage during the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel. In exchange, Israel released more than 200 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

In the most high-profile dispute within the war cabinet so far, retired Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, whose son was killed fighting in Gaza, openly criticized Netanyahu’s leadership in comments this month to Israel’s Channel 12 News, saying the highest chance of securing the hostages’ release would be to agree to a cease-fire, and that the likelihood of a military rescue was “extremely low.”

Since Hamas took more than 230 hostages into Gaza on Oct. 7, only one — Pvt. Ori Megidish — was rescued by the Israeli military.

“There is today a growing tension between the two, let’s say, goals of the war. On the one hand, to crush Hamas, and on the other hand, to release the hostages,” Eiland said. “Hamas understood this very well.”

Negotiations to release the remaining hostages continue, but Hamas’ insistence they be released in exchange for a permanent cease-fire, and Israel’s full withdrawal from Gaza, would represent a defeat for Israel, Eiland said.

“If Israel agrees to this formula, then maybe we will get the hostages back. But [it means] we have lost the war,” he said.

Isolation And A Wider War

The ABC News report added:

Israel has found itself isolated on the international stage, according to Levy, after launching a major offensive in Gaza he said has “played into Hamas’ hands.”

“Not only in terms of failures to succeed on the ground, but also the narrative,” he said. “The mass mobilization around Palestine, Palestine becoming almost an avatar for injustice in the global order, the global South siding in, as it has done, South Africa taking Israel to the International Court of Justice. Israel has lost this war, and it is a question now of cutting its losses, because I fear that from an Israeli perspective, this only gets worse.”

The United Nations has warned that disease and hunger are spreading across the Gaza Strip, with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) saying earlier this month that 570,000 Gazans are currently facing “catastrophic hunger.” International organizations have also said hospitals in Gaza are experiencing “catastrophic” situations and operating far beyond capacity.

The IDF has said it is only targeting Hamas and other militants in Gaza and alleges that Hamas deliberately shelters behind civilians, which the group denies.

A dossier from the Israeli military recently revealed new allegations against employees of the UNRWA who are accused of being involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The report obtained by ABC News alleges that 13 UNRWA employees participated in the Oct. 7 attack, including six employees who allegedly infiltrated Israel.

The specter of a wider, regional war, involving the likes of Hezbollah and Iran, has haunted the conflict.

U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region have focused on preventing escalation, but some in Israel have advocated for deeper strikes into Lebanon.

Since Oct. 7, tensions have simmered in the north with militant group Hezbollah, with both sides trading fire and tens of thousands of people forced to leave their homes on either side of the Lebanese border.

Senior Israeli officials have repeatedly warned the situation is unacceptable and that Israel could be forced to take military action to push Hezbollah forces back unless a diplomatic solution can be found. The Biden administration has dispatched an envoy to try and seek such a solution, but many in Israel remain skeptical it can succeed. For the likes of former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, the perilous situation in the north means they feel containment efforts are unlikely to succeed.

Oren said he advocates for a preemptive strike on Hezbollah, which possesses a far stronger and more advanced force than Hamas. He argued Israel must be given the time to continue the war and complete Hamas’ destruction — even if Israel has to go it alone, without the United States’ support.

“To paraphrase John Lennon in a way that John Lennon would not like, you have to give war a chance here, because if you do not give war a chance, you will not have any peace,” Oren said. “There will be no peace as long as Hamas is a force in this region, and there will be no peace between Israel and Arab states if we are not shown to be strong.”

Asked whether that meant the war would go on for many months, with thousands more civilian casualties, he said: “We have no choice.”

Rage In Gaza Is Not Directed Only At Israel. Some Are Angry With Hamas Too

A Los Angeles Times report said on Wednesday, January 31, 2024:

By the 100-day mark of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Abu Ahmad Al-Gharabli and his 13 family members had been displaced four times before settling in Rafah, at the besieged enclave’s southern end.

Forced to sell cigarettes on the street to get by, the 56-year-old blacksmith is angry. At his inability to provide food and shelter for his family. At the scant humanitarian aid he’s received.

And, most of all, at Hamas.

“Before they launched Oct. 7, they should have secured food, drink and money so that we would not suffer like this,” Al-Gharabli said of the militant group’s assault on Israel that triggered the war.

“It seems Hamas did not consider the consequences,” added Al-Gharabli’s wife, Umm Ahmad, who, like most people interviewed for this story, gave only her nickname for safety reasons. “They believe they planned for everything, but when it came to us, they did not. The poverty, the displacement — all this Hamas didn’t think about.”

More than three months into the most devastating assault Gaza has ever experienced, many residents — 85% of whom are displaced and almost all of whom are at risk of starvation — are growing exasperated with Hamas amid a war that has left no one in the enclave unaffected.

Although the majority of the 2.3-million population hold Israel principally responsible for their suffering, and Hamas retains the support of a significant portion of society, many Gazans feel caught between fealty to the resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and a war strategy by their militant rulers that seemed to overlook them.

“Any organization or state that plans for a military attack should have a feasibility study, if you will,” said Abu Tawfiq, 35, speaking with the clear diction of the voiceover artist he was before the war. “We have started to ask, ‘You go on a military adventure — did you fortify the home front? Did you prepare the simplest means of life for citizens in Gaza?'”

On Oct. 7 — when Hamas commandos killed at least 1,200 people and kidnapped about 240 others, Israeli authorities say — most Gazans celebrated, Abu Tawfiq said, seeing it as a moment of fighting back against Israel and its long siege of the coastal strip.

But since then, “it has been a nightmare from which we cannot wake up,” Abu Tawfiq said. “We are angry. And Hamas neglecting citizens is compounding that anger.”

Examples of that neglect abound, he said. With Israel restricting the number of aid trucks going into the Gaza Strip, price gouging was to be expected, which is why, in past confrontations with Israel, Hamas officials or police would be out in marketplaces penalizing offending merchants. This time, with Israeli drones and armor a constant threat, Hamas authorities barely have a presence in the streets — and an ineffectual one at that.

Sugar, at almost $3 a pound, costs seven times more than it did before the war; onions, 13 times; canned goods, six times. Diapers for Al-Gharabli’s two grandsons surged to a staggering $38 a pack — and he has to walk two miles to find them.

“There is no supervision. You just do not get a sense there is a government,” said Abu Amir Tafesh, 42, who was searching for bottled water for his family.

Problems also riddle the distribution of what few supplies make it into Gaza, some say. During other wars, aid organizations linked to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, another militant group, would give out packages or cash not just to members but also supporters. That’s not happening this time.

“Even if you are sitting inside the mosque, you get nothing,” Abu Tawfiq said.

The sense of abandonment by Hamas is exacerbated, many say, by the fact that the only gain from the Oct. 7 operation has accrued to the occupied West Bank, where hundreds of imprisoned Palestinians were freed from Israeli prisons in November during a weeklong truce in Gaza.

“All the martyrs, the houses destroyed, the fear … we are paying the price,” Tafesh said.

He is happy that the Palestinian detainees were released. But with more than 26,000 people reported killed by the Israeli bombardment, entire families wiped out and much of the enclave destroyed, Gaza as he knew it is gone.

“People want a way to live in dignity. That’s it,” Tafesh said. “They are silent now because they are too aggrieved. Even if they want to shout at the government, what use would it be?”

Hamas’ Decision To Attack: “Incorrect”

The Los Angeles Times report said:

With little sense of Hamas’ endgame, many Palestinians are torn over what has happened since Oct. 7. A December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research — which involved 1,231 respondents, including 480 in Gaza — showed 37% of Gazans labeling Hamas’ decision to attack as “incorrect,” given the consequences so far.

A majority of Palestinians also say the killing of civilians is not permissible, but they do not believe the Israeli government’s allegations or evidence of atrocities by Hamas.

“If the 7th of October did not happen, we would have stayed humiliated, under the mercy of the occupation all our lives,” said 57-year-old Umm Mahmoud Zreik. “For us, the exchange of hostages is not much of an achievement. We need them to do more, like break the siege.”

Perhaps in response to such sentiments, Hamas on Sunday issued its first public report about its multipronged cross-border assault, a 16-page document titled “Our Narrative,” in which it cited a list of reasons for its attack, including the Israeli government’s right-wing policies, the expansion of illegal settlements, the increase in Palestinian detainees and the failure of negotiations over a Palestinian state.

Some Faults

The report said:

The report by Hamas also insists that, although “maybe some faults happened” during the “rapid collapse of the Israeli security and military system” during the assault and the “chaos caused along the border areas with Gaza,” Hamas fighters did not intentionally target civilians.

About 60% of the Israelis killed Oct. 7 were civilians. Israel accuses Hamas of wanton slaughter and says it has compiled abundant visual evidence and witness testimony that the militants engaged in torture and sexual violence against civilian victims. Hamas blames Israel, pointing to reports in Israeli media that the army was responsible for killing a number of civilians during the engagement with the group’s fighters.

Although there are growing signs in Gaza of disillusionment with Hamas, which has ruled the strip since 2007, it can still count on a loyal base. The December poll found that support for the group rose slightly, to 42% from 38% in Gaza; in the West Bank, it almost quadrupled to 44%.

Inside Gaza, researcher Abdalhadi Alijla sees two trends at work: skepticism of Hamas amid minimal improvements to life after 17 years of its rule and no moves to ease the enclave’s isolation, yet also the increasingly dominant belief among Palestinians that armed struggle is the only way to end Israeli occupation.

“The consensus in Gaza is that the resistance is a red line — that it will remain, with or without Hamas,” Alijla said, adding that Hamas has never resolved whether it is a governing authority able to provide order, stability and jobs or a liberation movement.

“The popularity of Hamas is greater in the West Bank than in Gaza because those in Gaza tried their rule. They know it,” Alijla said.

Hamas maintains that the chief aim of its Oct. 7 incursion was to kidnap Israeli soldiers in order to force a prisoner exchange. But its report makes clear that another goal was to refocus world attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report repeatedly castigates Israel’s allies and the United Nations for ignoring Palestinians’ plight.

As the war grinds on and the question of who will govern Gaza becomes more urgent, anger among some Gazans at Hamas has not translated into greater support for the rival Palestinian Authority, the much-reviled administration that exercises limited control over the West Bank and was violently ousted from the Gaza Strip by Hamas in 2007.

“The authority does not have the trust of the people. Even its own officials do not trust it,” Alijla said.

Whatever arises as an alternative, said Umm Ahmad, the wife of blacksmith Al-Gharabli, the priority should be providing stability for civilians.

“This living on the streets, this famine, our kids getting sick or injured with nowhere to be treated — for me, I would not accept it,” she said. “I need a government that takes care of its people.”


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