- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2085
It beggars belief that Australia has suspended funding to the UN agency providing aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It did so following unsubstantiated accusations by Israel that 12 staff of the 13 thousand of the United Nations agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) working in Gaza were involved in the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023. In suspending funding, under international law, Australia is directly and illegally complicit in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
On Friday 26 January the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down an interim ruling that South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza is plausible.
South Africa brought the case to the ICJ last month, asking it to grant emergency measures to halt the fighting which has now resulted in close to 35,000 deaths including those missing under rubble and tens of thousands more injured. The majority of those slaughtered are children and women. 337 doctors and health workers, 119 journalists and 152 UNRWA employees have also lost their lives.
The situation could not be more dire with more than 85 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip displaced, living in the most appalling conditions, including tents flooded with raw sewage, lacking fresh water, food, and medicines.
To prevent Israel’s actions from causing further irreparable harm to the Palestinians in Gaza, the ICJ demanded, in a legally binding order, that Israel and its military, with immediate effect, end all the following acts:
- Killing members of the Palestinian population in Gaza
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the Palestinian population in Gaza
- Deliberately inflicting on Palestinians in Gaza conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within Gaza.
The Court also demanded that Israel take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to the besieged people in Gaza. and report back on its progress within the month.
“The only way to give full effect to the ICJ’s ruling is for an immediate ceasefire so that humanitarian and life-saving relief reaches Palestinians in Gaza who are at risk of mass death from famine and disease,” the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) said.
South Africa’s case had the support of many other governments, but not those of Australia, the US, or the UK, and more than 1500 organisations and millions of people around the world who continue to hold demonstrations calling for a permanent ceasefire.
Since the IJC ruling Israel has cut off aid and not let up in its assault on the Palestinian people, flagrantly breaching its obligations under the Genocide Convention to which it is a party.
On the same day as the ICJ decision was handed down, Israel made unsubstantiated claims that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’s 7 October attacks. Israel claims to have obtained confessions under ‘interrogation’ of the staff.
Then, within 24 hours of the claim, the governments of Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, and the Netherlands announced they were pausing their funding to UNRWA, thus collectively punishing millions of Palestinians throughout the region. These 9 countries provide almost 60 per cent of the agency’s funding.
UNRWA has 30,000 employees in total, 13,000 of whom are working in the Gaza Strip. It provides education, healthcare, humanitarian aid, and social services to 5.9 million Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
“States, such as Australia, that are parties to the Genocide Convention have legal obligations to ensure the implementation of the provisional measures, to prevent genocide, and to ensure that they are not complicit in genocide,” the ACIJ said.
ACIJ Executive Director, Rawan Arraf, pointed out that, “Australia is now on further notice, this time from the world’s top court. The government cannot ignore this ruling from the ICJ that the Palestinian people in Gaza are at serious risk of genocide.”
“The government must immediately review its economic ties to Israel and impose targeted sanctions. All defence industry partnerships must be suspended, and a two-way arms embargo imposed. This means the government must halt any export of arms and arms components to Israel, including exports being diverted through other countries. Any extant permits must be suspended.”
“The Australian government should ensure that any of its citizens serving with the Israeli military are investigated in Australia for any commission of international crimes.”
These are obligations under international law.
“Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment. This stains all of us,” UNWRA’s head Philippe Lazzarini said.
“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation.”
“I urge countries who have suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response,” Lazzarini said. “The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability.”
United Nations Secretary Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vowed to hold to account any UN employee involved in acts of terror. But he begged donor states to guarantee the continuity of UNRWA operations.
Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, warned that the decision to pause funding to UNRWA “overtly defies” the order by the ICJ to allow effective humanitarian assistance” to reach Gazans.
“This will entail legal responsibilities – or the demise of the (international) legal system,” she wrote on social media.
See Act now to end genocide! for what you can do.