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Gaza: Israel failing to comply with ICJ order on humanitarian aid

Palestinians in Rafah with flour distributed by UNRWA © Anadolu via Getty Images

Month on from International Court of Justice saying Israel must allow humanitarian aid to avoid genocide, deliveries have actually fallen and entire population faces an engineered famine

People in Gaza describe empty market-places and non-functioning hospitals with no supplies for babies

‘Israel has failed to take the bare minimum steps humanitarians have desperately pleaded for’ - Heba Morayef

One month after the International Court of Justice ordered “immediate and effective measures” to protect Palestinians in Gaza from the risk of genocide by ensuring sufficient humanitarian assistance and enabling basic services, Israel has failed to take even the minimum steps to comply, Amnesty International said today. 

In its case to the court, South Africa argued that Israel’s deliberate denial of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza could constitute one of the prohibited acts under the Genocide Convention by “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

The order to provide aid was one of six provisional measures ordered by the court on 26 January and Israel was given a month to report back on its compliance with the measures. Over that period Israel has disregarded its obligation as the occupying power to ensure the basic needs of Palestinians in Gaza are met. Supplies entering Gaza before 26 January had already been woefully insufficient, yet in the three weeks after the order the number of trucks entering Gaza actually decreased by about a third, from an average of 146 a day to an average of 105. Before 7 October, on average, about 500 trucks entered Gaza every day, carrying aid and commercial goods, including food, water, animal fodder, medical supplies and fuel, itself still insufficient for the needs of Gaza’s population. 

Unicef has reported that acute malnutrition is currently surging among children in Gaza, with 15% of children under two acutely malnourished in northern Gaza, and 5% of the same group in Rafah in the south. Unicef said the speed and severity of the decline in the population's nutritional status within just three months was “unprecedented globally”.

Amnesty has spoken to ten workers from five humanitarian agencies or organisations in mid- and late-February who described horrifying conditions in Gaza, as well as ongoing, severe access restrictions. All said their ability to get aid into and around Gaza had either remained the same or actually declined since the 26 January ruling. 

One of the aid workers interviewed said: 

“There’s basically no access [to the north]. We had the ceasefire in November where we pushed a lot of trucks north. Other than that we have not been able to get trucks north at any scale. In 2024, it has been even less. Some people are already starving.”

Hamza, from northern Gaza whose wife Kawthar gave birth to their fourth child on 17 February, told Amnesty last week that his family of six was barely able to secure half a meal per day amid severe shortages of food and water. After flour and corn supplies ran out, they’ve resorted to grinding barley and animal feed to make bread. “Now even the [animal] fodder is becoming scarce,” he said. His wife gave birth at the no-longer-operational Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia. She had no breast milk after delivery and has struggled to feed her newborn baby.

Hamza said:

“After an anxious search around the hospital, a woman gave us a small quantity of milk which we fed the baby through a syringe. My aunt managed to find us some milk today, I don’t know how, and she didn’t say how much it cost her. There is no rice, no meat. I went to the market yesterday to look for food and came back home empty-handed: no meat, no chickpeas, nothing.”

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:

“Time and time again, Israel has failed to take the bare minimum steps humanitarians have desperately pleaded for that are clearly within its power to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

“As the occupying power, under international law, Israel has a clear obligation to ensure the basic needs of Gaza’s population are met. 

“No human being should be forced to suffer the inhumane conditions Gazans are being subjected to. 

“Instead of lifting their brutal blockade, the Israeli authorities are planning to escalate their attacks with a deadly military operation into Rafah that will have horrific consequences for civilians and risks cutting off the only lifeline for aid entering Gaza. 

“Only an immediate and sustained ceasefire can save lives and ensure that the ICJ’s provisional measures, including the delivery of lifesaving aid, can be implemented.

“Countries with influence over the Israeli government - including the USA, UK, Germany and other allies - must not stand by and watch as Palestinian civilians die preventable deaths due to bombardment, lack of food and water, the spread of diseases and lack of healthcare.”

Amnesty is also calling on all countries to ensure that UNRWA receives adequate funding to continue its operations after a number of nations - the UK included - suspended funding to the organisation based on allegations that some of its members took part in the 7 October attack. UNRWA has long served as a sole lifeline for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East, offering indispensable humanitarian aid, shelter and education. 

Fathia’s plight

Fathia, a mental health support practitioner, told Amnesty of the challenges she faces with her family and work. She described the difficulty of trying to get her 78-year-old mother who has developed a form of dementia since they were displaced to understand why they don’t have enough food. 

Fathia said:

“My sons are hardly earning any money and we can’t find or afford even basic food. There is nothing and the little there is unaffordable. My mother cannot comprehend this; she thinks we are neglecting her. I have come to the point that I wish my own mother died rather than see her suffer thinking we are neglecting her. All around me people are broken because they can’t feed their children, their families, and I am unable to offer them any useful advice or support because I, myself, am broken.”

Humanitarian organisations blamed

Israeli officials repeatedly blame humanitarian organisations for any gaps in aid delivery, alleging they are incapable of dispatching and distributing more aid, or due to looting in Gaza. But humanitarian groups have described numerous ways in which the Israeli authorities have impeded their work, calling for Israel to allow the delivery of sufficient and essential supplies, to open checkpoints and to respect basic security guarantees for aid convoys, aid workers and aid offices, which have instead come under recurrent attack.  

Fuel shortages

In addition to goods, Gaza desperately needs fuel to allow people to purify water, process food and run medical equipment such as incubators. Since 11 October, Gaza has been under an electricity blackout as a result of Israel cutting off Gaza’s electricity supply. Israel also completely blocked the import of fuel from early October until 18 November. While it has now allowed some fuel to enter Gaza, the quantities remain grossly insufficient. As of late-February, the Israeli authorities also continued to reject requests to bring in other power sources, like solar panels, generators and batteries. 

Seventeen-year-long blockade

Today’s humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is the result of Israel’s 17-year-long blockade and its further intensification and recurrent devastating military operations. Since 2007 Israel has maintained control of Gaza’s air space, land borders and territorial waters, tightly restricting the movement of basic goods and people in and out, fuelling a humanitarian disaster. Israel has forced Gaza’s population to live in increasingly dire conditions, which have, since last October, deteriorated with such speed and severity that the entire population now faces an engineered famine. Israel’s blockade is a form of collective punishment and is a war crime. It is one of the key ways in which Israel maintains its system of apartheid against Palestinians, which is a crime against humanity. 

On 7 October, Hamas and other armed groups launched indiscriminate rockets, sent fighters into southern Israel and committed war crimes. According to Israeli authorities, at least 1,139 people were killed and more than 200 people, mostly civilians, including 33 children, were taken hostage by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza. As of 1 December, 113 hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza had been released.

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