ICJ Instates Further Provisional Measures Against Israel

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has instituted further provisional measures against Israel, fulfilling a request from South Africa earlier in March for the court to do so. The additional measures are largely aimed at ordering Israel to expand aid entry into Gaza, after repeated accusations that they are obstructing the entry of aid.

The court has 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 and humanitarian assistance.”

Israel has continually been accused of obstructing aid entry into Gaza. They have been insistent that all aid entering the Gaza strip, through the limited amount of crossings where that is a possibility, goes through rigorous security checks, checks which aid organizations claim is oftentimes arbitrary, slow, and unneeded. Israel insists the security checks are necessary in order to ensure no supplies get in which could benefit Hamas. They have denied the accusations that they are obstructing aid.

The court further instituted an order for Israel to ensure “that its military does not commit acts which constitute a violation of any of the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza as a protected group under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, including by preventing, through any action, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.”

The ICJ’s order also demanded the release of Israeli hostages still held by Hamas.

The orders are technically legally binding, however the ICJ has no means of enforcing its orders, and ICJ orders have been ignored by a number of different countries in the past.

After one month, Israel is to file a report to the ICJ detailing how it has followed the ICJ’s ruling.

Lior Haiat, the spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused South Africa of attempting to “exploit the ICJ in order to undermine Israel’s inherent right and obligation to defend its citizens,” and reaffirmed that “Israel is committed to international law.”

He again denied that Israel is obstructing aid, stating that “Israel places no limitations on the amount of essential humanitarian aid that enters the Gaza Strip, including in particular food, water, shelter equipment and medicines.”

Regarding the order, he said that “Israel will continue to promote new initiatives, and to expand existing ones, in order to enable and facilitate the flow of aid to the Gaza Strip.”

Notably, he partially blamed humanitarian supply issues on “Hamas’s active and abhorrent efforts to commandeer, hoard, and steal aid.”

The spokesman further blamed “the Hamas terrorist organization” for “the situation in the Gaza Strip,” adding that “Israel goes to great length in order to mitigate the harm to the civilian population while fighting Hamas, in the complicated circumstances that Hamas created.”

The spokesman’s statement finished by stating that “Israel is committed to meeting it’s legal obligations, including with respect to humanitarian assistance.”

The court’s order comes as reports by the UN say that a famine is “imminent.” The court itself stated that “famine is setting in” in it’s order, hence the need for an expansion to humanitarian aid.

“The court observes that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer facing only a risk of famine … but that famine is setting in” -Excerpt from the ICJ’s order

The order also comes as yet another hospital within Gaza has completely halted operations. The Al-Amal hospital in Gaza’s Khan Younis announced on March 26th that it was ceasing functioning due to ongoing fighting around the hospital. This means only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are at least partially functional, with no hospitals remaining fully functional.

Medical aid is one of many different kinds of essential aid that Gaza is in a severe shortage of.

A Wider Case

The new provisional measures instated are an expansion on measures instituted in January by the ICJ against Israel that are a part of South Africa’s case against Israel in which they accuse them of several breaches of the Genocide Convention.

South Africa first brought the case against Israel in December of 2023, and was originally seeking the instatement of provisional measures which would order Israel to stop the war, as well as halt actions which South Africa was claiming were genocidal in nature.

A photo of South Africa’s legal team at the South Africa v Israel ICJ case (Photo from AN/ICJ).

The ICJ issued orders in relation to the case close to the end of January, in which they did not order Israel to halt the war, but instead ordered them to take action to prevent genocide, as well as to expand humanitarian aid entry into Gaza. Notably, the court also established the “plausibility” of genocide when determining the validity of South Africa’s case.

Despite the court order, humanitarian aid in February was half that of January. Humanitarian aid entry into Gaza has remained distinctly low, prompting a number of different countries to find different ways to deliver aid into Gaza. Several different countries have opted to air drop aid into Gaza, and the US has committed to constructing a pier on Gaza’s coast in order to facilitate the receival of aid via the sea.

Israel has accused South Africa of abusing the court and the genocide convention, and has maintained that its actions are self defence and not in breach of the genocide convention.

A Worsening Situation and a Missing Ceasefire

When instating their orders, the ICJ noted that “at least 31 people, including 27 children, having already died of malnutrition and dehydration according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.” Notably, Hamas claimed that one Israeli hostage, a 31 year old man, died due to a lack of food and medicine.

For several weeks now UN experts and humanitarian organizations have been warning on an impending famine, a famine which the ICJ and the UN is saying is now here.

The court order for the expansion of aid is in an attempt to mitigate this situation, which is worst in northern Gaza. The UN halted aid to northern Gaza in late February, citing the “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order,” as well as Israeli military action. As such, northern Gaza has been reliant upon Israeli aid deliveries as well as air drops, both of which have been wholly inadequate to meet the needs of the population.

The ICJ’s call for the release of hostages and an increase to humanitarian aid echoes a UN Security Council resolution that passed on March 25th. The resolution demanded “an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a permanent sustainable ceasefire.” This ceasefire has thus far not been implemented.

A photo of the US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, addressing the UN Security Council on March 22nd, 2024 (Photo from Mike Segar/Reuters).

Combat has continued between Israeli forces and Hamas and other associated militant organizations within Gaza, several days after the passage of the resolution. Ramadan is due to end on April 9th.

An Operation in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again reiterated that Israel plans on launching a military operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, despite warnings from a multitude of international entities, including the US.

When speaking to relatives of hostages still held within Gaza on March 28th, Netanyahu claimed that Israeli forces are “preparing to enter Rafah.”

“Only continuation of the forceful military pressure that we have applied, and will yet apply, will return our hostages, will return everyone” -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel, and Netanyahu personally, have been warned against carrying out an operation in Rafah.

Rafah was previously established by Israel to be one of the safe areas within Gaza to which civilians evacuating from the north could go to. As such, it has become host to approximately 1.4 million people, more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. Rafah sits on the Egyptian border, and has also been the primary entry point for aid entering Gaza.

Many fear that an Israeli operation in Rafah would be immensely costly in civilian lives due to the large amount of civilians residing there. On top of this, it would pose significant challenges to humanitarian operations in Gaza due to the importance that Rafah plays in humanitarian operations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that an operation in Rafah would be the “nail in the coffin” for humanitarian operations that already face extensive challenges within Gaza.

Netanyahu has been insistent, however, that an operation in Rafah is necessary to completely defeat Hamas. Israel claims that Rafah is host to an extensive tunnel network, host to large amounts of Hamas militants as well as the remainder of the Israeli hostages still held by Hamas.

The US and Israel have continually clashed over the issue, with the US having on multiple occasions publicly declared their opposition to such an operation. In a recent visit to Israel, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that the operation posed to great a risk to civilians, and risked isolating Israel completely on the world stage, more so than they have been already.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to media in Tel Aviv on March 22nd, 2024 (Photo from Evelyn Hockstein, Pool Photo via AP).

The US and Israel have been in discussions for US proposed alternatives to an Israeli operation in Rafah, with the US having stated that while they understand, and support Israel’s wish to destroy Hamas, that “a major military ground operation in Rafah is not the way to do it.”

Netanyahu has said that the operation will carry on with or without the US’ support. He has claimed that Israel recognizes the threat posed to civilian populations, and that Israel has a plan to evacuate civilians and address the humanitarian issues that would arise.

What is unknown, however, is where exactly civilians would evacuate to. The Israeli and Egyptian borders remain closed, and strikes continue throughout much of Gaza, leaving very few areas of Gaza safe.

Political Reformations

Another area which the US and Israel have clashed as of late is the administrative fate of Gaza after the war, assuming an Israeli victory in the war. The US has insisted upon a reformed Palestinian Authority holding governmental authority over Gaza after the war, however Israel has insisted that they should hold security over Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority has been working on these reforms. In early March, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed a new Prime Minister, Mohammad Mustafa. The new PM will also serve as the Foreign Minister. His appointment came after Mohammed Shtayyeh, along with large portions of the Palestinian Authority’s government, resigned in February citing the need for change amidst the war.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pictured with the newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa (Photo from the Palestinian Presidential Office).

Abbas announced the formation of a new government on March 28th in replacement of the government which resigned, as well as a part of the larger reforms.

Mustafa has announced the first priority of the new government is to establish a ceasefire in Gaza, followed by the withdrawal of Israeli forces. He has a plan to build an independent trust fund in order to assist in rebuilding Gaza.

Regardless of the US’ wishes, it is unlikely that a Palestinian Authority government, even a reformed one, would see much success within Gaza. The Palestinian Authority is deeply unpopular with large sectors of Palestinian society due to what many perceive as co-operation with Israeli forces, and failure to properly halt Israeli settlements that are growing in the west bank.

The Palestinian Authority technically holds jurisdiction over much of the West Bank, and will oftentimes remove their security forces from the area prior to Israeli raids in militant hotbeds such as Jenin and Nablus. Clashes between Palestinian Authority security forces and Palestinian militant groups happen with semi-frequency. The Palestinian Authority also regularly cracks down on large gatherings in the West Bank, such as protests or funeral processions for militants.

Abbas is the leader of Fatah, a Palestinian political organization which has historically been at odds with Hamas, the head of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has no power or presence in Gaza, with Fatah having been removed from Gaza by Hamas in 2007, when Hamas seized power there.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announcing the formation of the new government (Photo from Amr Nabil/AP).

As such, the Palestinian Authority is likely to be more unpopular in Gaza than it already is in the West Bank, posing a significant problem for any future administration they may try to build there.

Despite their lack of popularity, the Palestinian Authority is largely recognized as the international representative of the Palestinian people. They maintain an uneasy relationship with Israel.