With ICJ Decision, Israel Must Urgently Take Steps to Facilitate Delivery of Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

Statement from Refugees International: 

“Refugees International welcomes the International Court of Justice’s order today that Israel must immediately take measures to effectively enable the provision of humanitarian aid and basic services to Palestinians in Gaza. With famine rapidly approaching, the court rightly cited the risk of irreparable harm toward Palestinian civilians if the present practices of the Israeli government continue. Israel has one month to report back to the court on the measures it has taken to comply with the court’s order. We welcome as well the Court’s call on Hamas to unconditionally release all hostages, and we reiterate our longstanding calls for their release. Additionally, we urge both Israel and Hamas to halt the ongoing fighting as a necessary precondition to adequately scaling up the humanitarian operation. There is no way to realistically address the Court’s concern over the spiraling “adverse conditions of life” for Palestinians without an enduring cease-fire.

Obstruction of humanitarian aid, and the massive humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the Israeli military campaign, were a central focus of arguments before the Court earlier this month. 

A large part of Israel’s three-hour defense centered on claims that it is acting in good faith to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza. However, recent field research by Refugees International directly contradicts these claims. Refugees International conducted intensive interviews with government representatives, humanitarian officials, and individuals directly affected by the humanitarian crisis. Our research found clearly that Israel is extensively obstructing humanitarian assistance in its conduct of the conflict and routine violations of international humanitarian law, its siege tactics, and its extensive ongoing restrictions on humanitarian operations. Examples of this include:

  • The continuing absence of a functional system of humanitarian deconfliction, despite recurring U.S. government and United Nations demands to establish such a system. The absence of an effective deconfliction channel means that humanitarian personnel cannot safely conduct aid operations in most of Gaza nor can affected communities safely receive aid—particularly in the hardest hit areas of the north.
  • Routine and arbitrary rejections of legitimate humanitarian supplies via Israeli government inspections. Lifesaving materials are regularly rejected by the Israelis, including shelter materials, water and sanitation supplies, critical medical supplies including insulin pens, and many other items. The Israeli government also refuses to provide a definitive list of prohibited items, leaving humanitarian operators to guess at what will be accepted or rejected.
  • Routine denial of humanitarian deliveries and movements within Gaza, particularly toward the north where an estimated 300,000 Palestinians are subjected to famine-like conditions.
  • Persistent failure to protect humanitarian and medical facilities as required by International Humanitarian Law. Hospitals and healthcare facilities, which have become shelters to thousands, are routinely hit by aerial bombardments, as are the routes civilians use to access them. In some cases, hospitals are being besieged, with no way in or out for those in need of critical care. 
  • Israel forces have struck humanitarian operational and residential facilities, even after the protected locations had been officially conveyed to the Israeli military. As recently as this week, a UN aid warehouse and a UN facility housing displaced people was struck in Khan Younis, killing at least twelve people. 
  • Continued, and publicly acknowledged, use of siege tactics against the civilian population. Israel has shut off or struck water supplies, power supplies, and internet and communication networks – all critical systems that Palestinian civilians depend on for day to day survival and that humanitarians depend on for the delivery of lifesaving aid. 
  • Destruction of food availability due to Israeli conflict practices. Israel has sharply limited fuel imports, and also struck many bakeries in attacks, rendering nearly all bakeries in Gaza non-functional. Israel has also severely limited commercial food imports on which Gaza depends. Virtually all households in Gaza are now skipping meals, and many report going days without access to food. .

The net effect of Israel’s failure to facilitate meaningful humanitarian action is self-evident: Palestinians are struggling to find food, shelter, and medicine they need to survive. The definitive global monitoring body on famine, which is backed by the U.S. government, has assessed that famine-level hunger is already widespread in Gaza and worsening rapidly. The threat of mass secondary mortality looms in the near future.  

Notwithstanding Israel’s claims before the Court, the bottom line is that it remains nearly impossible for humanitarians to adequately help the 2.2 million Palestinians at risk in Gaza.

We urge that Israel immediately take the following steps to comply with the Court’s order, avert the looming famine, and save civilian lives:

  • Guarantee humanitarian deconfliction for all civilian and humanitarian personnel, infrastructure, and hospitals.
  • Facilitate full humanitarian access for relief efforts including aid convoys inside Gaza and civilian access to hospitals. 
  • Open additional border crossings, particularly the Erez crossing in the north to alleviate famine-like conditions threatening the survival of as many as 300,000 people beyond reach. 
  • Simplify the inspection process for cross border aid delivery and provide clear guidelines on permissible and banned items.
  • End the use of siege tactics against civilians.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Etant Dupain at edupain@refugeesinternational.org

Featured Image: Palestinian people reach out for food with empty containers at a food distribution while Israeli attacks continue in Rafah City, Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Photo by Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images)