Expecting justice from a broken system a bridge too far

Israel has been accused of denying Palestinians access to food and other essential supplies. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Israel has been accused of denying Palestinians access to food and other essential supplies. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 24, 2024


Alvin Botes

A RUBICON has been crossed in the war on Gaza, which has put all of humanity to shame. Not since the Second World War has an entire population been subjected to mass starvation at such a speed, having endured almost six months of continuous bombardment. Eighty percent of Gaza is now uninhabitable. There was an obligation on every member of the United Nations (UN) to ensure that Israel abided by the Geneva Convention, but there has been no enforcement of the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel must adhere to its obligations.

Article 14 of the Geneva Convention categorically states, “Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited. It is therefore prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for the production of food-stuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations, supplies and irrigation works.”

If the UN Security Council cannot be relied on to ensure enforcement of the rulings of the ICJ – the world’s highest court – then how can we still claim to have a rules-based international system that can maintain international peace and security and ensure justice? What the genocide in Gaza has proven is that our international system is broken, and we can no longer expect equitable justice from an undemocratic decision-making structure that no longer represents the majority of the world’s people, and certainly not the Global South.

The countries which have armed and funded Israel throughout its genocidal campaign in Gaza are complicit in the carnage and unbearable suffering of civilians, most of whom are women and children. The world was warned by the UN and experts since January this year that Gaza was on the brink of famine. It is only now that the malnourished bodies of children wasting away are being broadcast in the mainstream media that the big powers are talking about building floating piers and maritime corridors. But it is too little too late. The time to use every possible lever to avert the catastrophe has come and gone, and now it is the time for reckoning.

Not only is Gaza experiencing mass starvation unlike any other case in modern history, but food security was already a major problem in Gaza for years before the recent armed conflagration began. Gaza was turned into the world’s largest open-air prison long before October 7, with inadequate supplies of food and medicine being allowed in by Israel as the occupying power.

Prior to the current crisis, the decades-long blockade imposed by Israel hollowed out Gaza’s economy, leaving 80% of the population dependent on international aid. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), living in Gaza in 2022 meant confinement in one of the most densely populated spaces in the world, without electricity half the time, and without adequate access to clean water or a proper sewage system.

It meant a 65% probability of being poor, a 41% probability of dropping out of the labour force in despair, and for those looking for work, a 45% probability of being unemployed. Since Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza 17 years ago, the lack of nutrition has been an ongoing problem.

When observers deemed Israel’s onslaught on Gaza at the end of last year a genocidal campaign, it was because they understood what Israel has been doing in Gaza all along, and that this was what the far-right wing Israeli establishment saw as their “final solution” to the Palestinian problem. Behind the Zionists in Israel who have cheered the Israeli government on, are the likes of Jared Kushner - former US President Donald Trump’s White House adviser and son-in-law, who recently suggested in an interview with Harvard University that Israel “bulldoze something in the Negev” to house displaced Palestinians so it can reconstruct Gaza and “finish the job.”

The catastrophe we are witnessing today was wholly preventable. The UN Security Council was warned at length in comprehensive briefings by UN agencies and humanitarian organisations in February that famine in Gaza was inevitable unless aid was massively scaled up. The answer was a ceasefire and an urgent and massive injection of humanitarian food and medical assistance, but certain P5 members blocked any resolution calling for a ceasefire. Enabled to continue its violations of the Geneva Convention with impunity, Israel ensured that the number of aid trucks being allowed into Gaza since the ICJ ruling decreased by 40%. All the while, Israel’s military onslaught on the civilian population of Gaza continued to be supported militarily and financially by Western powers.

Starvation is a process, and famine can be its ultimate outcome. The stages move from “food insecure” to “emergency” to “catastrophe” to “famine”. This month we have seen evidence of famine across the Gaza Strip as civilians are forced to eat animal feed and break their Ramadaan fast by eating grass. There is a growing consensus in the international community that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war. This has been argued by the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, as well as Jeremy Konyndyk, the former Director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance under the Obama administration. What the world is witnessing is that starvation in Gaza is a massacre in slow motion. For most of us, we are left with a feeling of helplessness.

The heroic defenders of human values, who include those outsiders who gave their lives for the Palestinian cause, have given us all pause for thought. We remember Rachel Corrie, who was purposely run over by an Israeli bulldozer 21 years ago as she tried to prevent a Palestinian man’s house from being demolished. And Aaron Bushnell, the US airman who immolated himself outside the Israeli embassy in Washington last month as an extreme act of protest against what the Palestinians are being subjected to. These are the voices of conscience who have spoken truth to power. It is now for the rest of us to raise our voices and refuse to give in to apathy.

*Botes is Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL