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'Famine is setting in': Top UN court orders Israel to stop blocking Gaza aid

Additional provisional measures ordered by the ICJ contradict Israel's claim that it does not hinder humanitarian aid deliveries to the besieged Palestinian enclave
A boy pushes a young girl in a wheelchair past a destroyed building in Gaza City, on 28 March 2024 (AFP)
A boy pushes a young girl in a wheelchair past a destroyed building in Gaza City, on 28 March 2024 (AFP)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced on Thursday additional provisional measures, unanimously mandating Israel to "ensure, without delay" that humanitarian aid is provided to Gaza, encompassing essentials such as food, water, electricity, and other fundamental necessities. 

The decision comes amid several deaths by starvation and warnings by UN and international NGOs of imminent "man-made" famine in the Gaza Strip due to Israel's prevention of the entry of aid through land crossings. 

The top UN court said in its legally binding decision that Israel must 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”. 

The decision runs contrary to Israel's claim that it is not blocking aid deliveries to Gaza and orders Israel to do so by increasing the number of land crossings into Gaza and keeping them open for "as long as necessary". 

In the order from 28 March, the court said that since the provisional measures declared on 26 January “the catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated further, in particular in view of the prolonged and widespread deprivation of food and other basic necessities to which the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been subjected".

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The court added that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer facing only a risk of famine, "but that famine is setting in".

The court issued the provisional measures which include Israel taking all steps to provide basic humanitarian aid to Gaza, and ensuring with "immediate effect 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."

The court also added that Israel must submit a report on all measures taken to give effect to this order, within one month from the date of the order.

South Africa has been among the staunchest opponents of the Israeli war on Gaza, and has led the case before the ICJ accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in the besieged enclave, and requesting provisional measures to end the war.

On 26 January the ICJ issued provisional measures calling on Israel to refrain from impeding the delivery of aid into Gaza and improve the humanitarian situation. It also ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide in the besieged enclave and to punish incitement to genocide.

'Man-made starvation'

Thursday's decision comes just two weeks after South Africa requested that the ICJ issue additional provisional measures against Israel in light of reports of widespread starvation.

According to the document from South Africa on 6 March, the country wants the court to indicate further provisional measures and/or to modify its provisional measures to “ensure the safety and security of 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, including over a million children”.

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“Palestinians in Gaza are no longer at ‘immediate risk of death by starvation.’ At least 15 Palestinian children - including babies - in Gaza have already died of starvation in the past week alone, with the actual numbers believed to be much higher,” South Africa wrote.

The country added that Palestinian children are starving to death as a direct result of the “deliberate acts and omissions of Israel - in violation of the Genocide Convention and of the Court’s Order”.

“This includes Israel’s deliberate attempts to cripple the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (‘Unrwa’), on whom the vast majority of besieged, displaced and starving Palestinian men, women, children and babies depend for their survival."

Last week, a coalition of aid groups warned that famine is imminent in Gaza, in what Unrwa described as "man-made starvation".

The latest food security report by a UN-backed initiative found that the entire population of Gaza, estimated to be around 2.3 million, is enduring "acute" food insecurity while half the population suffers from a greater level of food insecurity classified as "catastrophic".

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a multi-partner initiative, concluded that the hunger level in Gaza is the "highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country".

The UN and other aid agencies have warned that Gaza is on the brink of famine due to Israel's prevention of the entry of life-saving aid through the enclave's land crossings.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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