Humanitarian Response in Gaza ‘Completely Dependent’ on Palestine Refugee Agency, Relief Chief Tells Security Council, Urging Countries to Restore Funding
Speakers Also Urge Compliance with International Court of Justice Order that Israel Take Steps to Prevent Genocidal Acts, Ensure Aid Delivery
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is the beating heart of all humanitarian efforts in Gaza, and decisions to withhold funds from the Agency must be revoked, the United Nations humanitarian chief told the Security Council today, underscoring that an investigation into the alleged involvement of some UNRWA employees in the 7 October attack on Israel are under way.
The proceedings initiated by South Africa at the International Court of Justice and the provisional measures indicated in the Court’s 26 January order also took centre stage today. The provisional measures included that Israel shall take all measures to prevent all acts of genocide and provide urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.
Painting a grim picture, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said “each day that passes only deepens the misery and suffering of people in Gaza”. The number of people killed has reportedly surpassed 26,000, and the number of injured over 65,000, most of them women and children. Some 75 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million people are displaced, while the intense fighting around Khan Younis continues to drive thousands of people into Rafah. The further spread of hostilities southwards can only be expected to increase the pressure for mass displacement into neighbouring countries, he added.
“To put very simply and bluntly: our humanitarian response for the Occupied Palestinian Territory is completely dependent on UNRWA being adequately funded and operational,” he asserted. Spotlighting “the frequent rejection for entry of much needed items into Gaza by Israel, for unclear, inconsistent and often unspecified reasons”, he said the breadth of the humanitarian community is collaborating to ensure that aid reaches people in need to the greatest extent possible, with UNRWA being at the centre of those efforts. “All this, even as its own staff are being killed, injured and displaced,” he said.
The appalling allegations that some UNRWA employees were allegedly involved in the attack in Israel on 7 October are being addressed transparently, he noted, emphasizing that “UNRWA’s life-saving services to over three quarters of Gaza’s residents should not be jeopardized by the alleged actions of a few individuals”. Likewise, UNRWA’s support for Palestinians in need in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, must also be safeguarded.
In the ensuing discussion, several speakers called on Israel to abide by the Court’s order, stressing that the only way to implement its provisional measures is through a ceasefire. Many expressed deep concern about the serious allegations against UNRWA employees suspected of involvement in the 7 October attacks, calling for a transparent and impartial investigation.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that the Court has offered “a resounding rebuke” to those who claimed that the case of genocide against Israel was “meritless and baseless”. Stressing that “only accountability can help us correct course”, he said the choice is clear: either allow Israel to dismantle the international law-based order or uphold it. On Israel’s allegations against some UNRWA staff, he said “one should never lose sight of these realities and of Israel’s stated goal, for years now, of dismantling UNRWA”. Further, “there is no reason to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation or to take measures that effectively amount to the collective punishment of 30,000 UNRWA staff and millions of refugees beneficiaries of UNRWA services”, he said, calling on those who decided to suspend their funding to revise their decision.
Meanwhile, Israel’s representative said: “We witness an obscene inversion of reality” where a country — a victim of Hamas — is being charged with genocide. He cited the charge as an attempt “to distort the law and the unique force of the Genocide Convention”, effectively transforming it into a tool exploited by terrorists with total distain for life and the law. The Palestinian representative’s assertion that the Court has found plausible evidence of genocide is a blatant mischaracterization of the very nature of the provisional measures phase of proceedings. He also strongly criticized the Council meeting’s failure to mention the Court’s explicit call for the immediate, unconditional release of hostages. He welcomed countries that have suspended funding to UNRWA and called for an in-depth, transparent and independent investigation into the alleged involvement of UNRWA’s staff in the 7 October events.
On the investigation, the speaker for the Russian Federation stressed the importance of considering information not just from Israel. Moreover, this situation must not be used as a pretext for the collective punishment of millions of Palestinians in need. Turning to the situation in the Red Sea, he said the aggressive actions of the United States and the United Kingdom there are reminiscent of the barbaric bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
More than three months into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “the flames of war are still burning,” said the representative of China. Given the recent order from the Court, the Council should push with stronger determination for an immediate ceasefire. He also warned against the possible regional spillover of the conflict in Gaza, noting that real security cannot be achieved through military means. On allegations of UNRWA employees’ involvement in the 7 October attack, he emphasized that “individual cases should not divert attention from the situation in Gaza” and urged donors to reconsider halting funding for the Agency.
South Africa’s representative said that, in light of the order for provisional measures delivered by the Court — acting on her country’s request — “there is clearly no credible basis for Israel to continue to claim that its military actions are in full compliance with international law, including the Genocide Convention”. This imposes an obligation on all States to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal. South Africa will continue to do everything within its power to preserve the existence of the Palestinian people as a group and end all acts of apartheid and genocide against them, she stated.
Taking a different stance, the representative of the United States said that the Court’s order is consistent with her country’s view that Israel has the right to take action to ensure that the 7 October terrorist attacks cannot be repeated. Nevertheless, the Court “has not ordered an immediate ceasefire, it has not made any findings at this preliminary phase of the proceedings that Israel committed genocide or otherwise violated the Genocide Convention”, she asserted, citing these allegations as “unfounded”. She also emphasized that the decision by Washington, D.C., to temporarily pause its funding for UNRWA “was not a punitive measure, but it was a wake-up call”, calling for swift and credible investigation.
Guyana’s representative, for her part, joined others in calling for a ceasefire, highlighting the two-State solution as the ultimate remedy to the continuing crisis.
THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST, INCLUDING THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said “each day that passes only deepens the misery and suffering of people in Gaza”. The number of people killed in Gaza has reportedly now surpassed 26,000, and the number of injured more than 65,000, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. Most are women and children. Just 14 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are functional, and those only partially, he cautioned, highlighting severe shortages of medical staff and supplies. Moreover, fierce fighting has continued in the vicinity of the Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals in Khan Younis, jeopardizing the safety of medical staff, the wounded and the sick, as well as the thousands of internally displaced persons seeking refuge there. This intense fighting around Khan Younis continues to drive thousands of people into Rafah, which is already hosting over half of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million people. Across Gaza, over 60 per cent of housing units are reportedly destroyed or damaged, with some 75 per cent of the total population displaced.
Painting a grim picture of Gazans’ abominable living conditions, he said heavy rains are flooding the makeshift tent camps, forcing children, parents and the elderly to sleep in the mud. Food insecurity continues to mount and clean water is almost completely inaccessible. With little public health support available, preventable diseases are rife, and will continue to spread. The further spread of hostilities southwards — along with the increasing deprivation and desperation of people there — can only be expected to increase the pressure for mass displacement into neighbouring countries. Some Palestinians in Gaza have already been able to leave through Egypt. Meantime, there are also seriously injured or sick patients unable to receive care in Gaza, and for whom medical evacuations should be swiftly facilitated. He emphasized that any persons displaced from Gaza must be guaranteed the right to voluntarily return.
Citing the ability of the humanitarian community to reach the people of Gaza with relief as “grossly inadequate”, he stressed that “this is not for want of trying”. Despite the hazardous conditions on the ground, his Office is distributing food items to shelters and supporting the remaining bakeries, delivering medicines and medical supplies and helping to relocate patients, as well as delivering water, hygiene kits and cleaning kits, tents, tarpaulin sheets and blankets. But the quantities are far from adequate, he said, stressing that, “if the people of Gaza are to receive anything approaching the amount of humanitarian assistance they need and deserve, urgent steps must be taken”. Accordingly, he called for improved security assurances, enabling safe delivery of supplies, the establishment of a predictable flow of supplies and rapid and unimpeded access. To expedite delivery, humanitarian supplies must be able to enter Gaza via multiple points from Egypt and Israel.
However, “we continue to face the frequent rejection for entry of much needed items into Gaza by Israel, for unclear, inconsistent and often unspecified reasons”. At present, his Office’s access to Khan Younis, the Middle Area and North Gaza is largely absent. The breadth of the humanitarian community — including UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent — is collaborating to ensure that aid reaches people in need to the greatest extent possible. “The beating heart of all this is UNRWA,” he said, adding that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has provided shelter, food, water and medical assistance. “All this, even as its own staff are being killed, injured and displaced.”
On the appalling allegations that some UNRWA employees were allegedly involved in the attack in Israel on 7 October, he underlined that they are being addressed transparently. UNRWA has taken swift action, and an investigation is under way. Nevertheless, he emphasized that “UNRWA’s lifesaving services to over three quarters of Gaza’s residents should not be jeopardized by the alleged actions of a few individuals”. Likewise, UNRWA’s support for Palestinians in need in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, must also be safeguarded. “To put very simply and bluntly: our humanitarian response for the Occupied Palestinian Territory is completely dependent on UNRWA being adequately funded and operational,” he underscored, citing UNRWA’s indispensable role in terms of distribution, warehousing, logistics and human resources, with 3,000 staff responding to the current crisis. “Decisions to withhold funds from UNRWA must be revoked,” he asserted, reiterating his call for a ceasefire.
The representative of Algeria referring to the “historic decision” by the International Court of justice, said that “the time of impunity has come to an end”. The international community has committed to uphold accountability, he said, emphasizing that the Israeli occupier should not be exempt from facing consequences for its actions and implement the Court’s provisional measures to protect the Palestinian people from genocide. He emphasized that the only way to achieve this is through a ceasefire, warning of grim consequences if the crisis persists: a daily death toll of 250 people with 10 children daily subjected to limb amputations without anaesthetic, and 170 babies born at the gates of hospitals. “Nothing can justify this barbary being visited on the Palestinian people,” he said. The Court’s order reinforced the significance of justice, he stressed, underscoring the responsibility of Israel in ensuring the prompt supply of essential services and humanitarian aid. The Council must swiftly take measures to ensure that “the voice of justice is heard”, he concluded.
The representative of the United States voiced concern over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, underlining the need to expediate unhindered humanitarian access. Some argued that the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice are a reason to change course; however, the Court’s order is consistent with the United States’ view that Israel has the right to take action to ensure that the terrorist attacks of 7 October cannot be repeated. “Of course, how Israel defends itself matters,” she stressed, noting that the Court echoed repeated calls by Washington, D.C., for Israel to take all possible steps to minimize harm to civilians and humanitarian workers, increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and address dehumanizing rhetoric. Nevertheless, “we must be honest what the Court did not order: specifically, it has not ordered an immediate ceasefire, it has not made any findings that this preliminary phase of the proceedings that Israel committed genocide or otherwise violated the Genocide Convention”, she asserted, citing these allegations as “unfounded”.
Instead, she stressed the need to work towards a durable solution through on-the-ground relentless diplomacy. Washington, D.C., has been working tirelessly with Qatar, Egypt and other regional partners to reach an agreement that would see the hostages come home. Hamas has a choice: “it can continue to dig tunnels, plan for its next attacks (…) or lay down its weapons and accept the proposal on the table to release every hostage”, she said. On the disturbing allegation that 11 UNRWA employees were involved in the 7 October attack, she said it has shaken confidence in the Agency. Calling for swift and credible investigation, she said UNRWA provides life-saving services under incredibly challenging circumstances in Gaza, contributing to regional stability. It is vital that the UN take quick and decisive action, strengthen oversight of UNRWA operations and began to restore donor’s confidence. The United States’ decision to temporarily pause its funding for UNRWA was made independently from other donors. “It was not a punitive measure, but it was a wake-up call,” she said, calling for fundamental changes at UNRWA.
The representative of Guyana expressed concern about the prevailing humanitarian situation, the continuing death and destruction in Gaza. She condemned the 7 October attacks on Israel, while calling for the release of all hostages held in Gaza and Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons without trial. Highlighting the dire conditions, including starvation and disease, faced by those Palestinians who survived attacks, she underscored the need for international efforts, especially from the Council, to end the cycle of bloodshed. Turning to the alleged involvement of several UNRWA staff members in the 7 October attack against Israel, she voiced alarm over halts in funding to the Agency, emphasizing its critical role in providing support to Palestinians in Gaza. “A ceasefire is the first and most important step,” she stressed, highlighting the two-State solution as the ultimate remedy to the continuing crisis.
The representative of the United Kingdom called for an immediate suspension of fighting to get vital aid in and hostages out that progresses towards a permanent, sustainable ceasefire. Her Government again pressed Israel to allow unhindered humanitarian access, while supporting the World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver a humanitarian land corridor from Jordan into Gaza. Welcoming the call of the International Court of Justice for the immediate release of hostages and the need to get more aid into Gaza, she emphasized that “it is for the Court, not countries, to determine genocide”. Nevertheless, “we were troubled by the way in which this action has been taken”, she added. It is vital to pave the way for a two-State solution; form a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package; remove Hamas’ capacity to launch attacks against Israel; secure the release of all Israeli hostages; and ensure that Hamas is no longer in charge of Gaza.
The representative of Switzerland, pointing to the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza — a population under siege, subject to bombardments, repeated displacements, famine and epidemics — said “this cannot continue”. She called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire, as well as the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages. Israel must comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures, especially by taking necessary steps to prevent any act of genocide and any incitement to commit it, she said, while describing as “unacceptable” settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. She expressed deep concern about “the very serious allegations” against UNRWA employees suspected of involvement in the 7 October attacks, underscoring her country’s “zero tolerance for any support for terrorism”. Citing the urgent need for regional de-escalation, she said the signs are increasingly worrying, particularly on both sides of the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon. “This Council must shoulder its responsibilities,” she said. Switzerland is ready to work towards concerted action in that regard and towards a two-State solution, with Gaza an integral part of a future Palestinian State.
The representative of Mozambique, warning about the prospect of famine in Gaza, stressed that the suspension of funding to UNRWA will negatively impact life-saving assistance for over 2 million civilians, more than half of whom are children. It is morally unacceptable to adopt an approach resembling collective punishment by withholding essential aid to the Agency, he stressed. Turning to the “momentous decision” of the International Court of Justice, ordering Israel to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, he emphasized that it supports the Council’s call for an immediate and sustained humanitarian pause and cessation of hostilities. He further urged the Council to unite in supporting measures that can “reverse the calamitous situation in Gaza”, emphasizing the economic and security repercussions of the Gaza conflict, which pose a threat to global peace and stability.
The representative of Sierra Leone emphasized that parties to the conflict must comply with the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice as they are obligated under international law. He welcomed the Court’s ruling that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse humanitarian conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. Voicing deep concern about the persistent hostilities in the Gaza Strip — accounting for the tragic death of 26,000 Palestinian civilians, 64,000 injured and 1.7 million internally displaced — he stressed that a humanitarian ceasefire is “most critical” at this point. He noted with serious concern the report of alleged involvement of certain UNRWA personnel in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. However, he urged Member States to continue with their financial assistance and provision of humanitarian supply to UNRWA as is it essential for the survival of the Palestinians in dire need.
The representative of Ecuador expressed deep concern about the precarious and difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza, emphasizing the importance of implementing resolutions 2712 (2023) and 2720 (2023) for the timely delivery of humanitarian aid. Referring to the recent provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice, he noted that Israel must ensure the provision of basic services and humanitarian aid. He went on to condemn the 7 October terrorist attacks by Hamas and expressed grave concern over accusations involving 12 UNRWA personnel. While commending the rapid United Nations response and hoping for swift investigations, he underscored the Agency’s “vital role in maintaining the stability in the region”. Furthermore, he expressed support for negotiations aimed at releasing hostages and achieving a permanent cessation of hostilities.
The representative of Slovenia welcomed the order of the International Court of Justice in the case of South Africa against Israel, calling for swift implementation of its final and binding orders. On the provisional measures, he underscored that all State parties to the Convention have a legal interest in ensuring compliance with its provisions. This includes the Court’s order to enable the provisions of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance. He further echoed the Court’s concern about the fate of the hostages abducted during the attack on 7 October and called for their immediate release. Expressing deep concern over allegations that a number of Gazans employed by UNRWA were associated with the horrific Hamas attack of 7 October, he commended the prompt response by the Secretary-General and the UNRWA Commissioner General to conduct internal and independent investigations. At the same time, he underlined his Government’s continuous support for the important work of UNRWA as a lifeline for millions of people in Gaza and beyond, stressing that “there is no viable substitute for its work in Gaza”.
The representative of Japan, underscoring the legally binding nature of the Court’s provisional measures, urged seizing the momentum to create a tangible impact on the ground. All the parties to the conflict in the Gaza Strip are bound by international humanitarian law, he stressed, deploring “the barbaric acts of terror by Hamas” and calling on Israel to comply with international law in exercising its right to self-defence. Despite the seeming hopelessness of the current moment, a two-State solution remains the only viable path for both peoples, he stressed, appealing to all parties to de-escalate the situation towards a possible ceasefire. On the alleged involvement of UNRWA staff members in the terror attack on Israel on 7 October, he called on the United Nations to conduct an investigation and to take appropriate measures, including strengthening governance within the Agency.
The representative of the Republic of Korea pointed out that the orders on provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice have binding effect. On that, he expressed hope that Israel will, in accordance with the order, enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza. Likewise, Hamas and other groups must immediately release all hostages without conditions, while all terrorist attacks and reports of sexual violence committed by Hamas on 7 October must be fully investigated. The provisional measures issued by the Court serve as a deterrence to any further deterioration of the already dreadful situation in Gaza, he underscored, adding that “it is high time to end the ongoing enmity in Israel and Palestine”. The final resolution of the conflict “is not an easy task”, he emphasized, urging the Council “to act more proactively and aggressively to put an end to the conflict and to chart the path forward”.
The representative of China said that more than three months into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “the flames of war are still burning”. In the face of repeated breaches of the fundamental principles of human dignity and morality, as well as the recent order from the International Court of Justice, the Council should push with stronger determination for an immediate ceasefire. Real security, he stressed, cannot be achieved through military means, warning about the possible regional spillover due to the protracted fighting in Gaza. The Council should exert strong diplomatic efforts for an immediate ceasefire, demanding Israel cease indiscriminate military attacks and destruction in Gaza. Taking note of allegations of UNRWA employees’ involvement in the 7 October attack, he emphasized that “individual cases should not divert attention from the situation in Gaza” and urged donors to reconsider halting funding for the Agency.
The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted the situation at the moment in Khan Younis, where the hospitals are under siege amidst large-scale devastation of civilian infrastructure. Also pointing to the deadly threats of hunger and the epidemic of communicable diseases looming over Gaza, he reiterated the call for an immediate ceasefire. Israel’s actions will make it impossible to release the hostages and rekindle the process of Palestinian-Israeli settlement, he cautioned. Noting that the attack against Israel on 7 October warrants the strongest condemnation, he said it should not be used to justify the collective punishment of millions of Palestinians. Calling for a transparent investigation into the allegations against UNRWA staff members, he said it is important to consider information not just from Israel. Further, this situation must not be used as a pretext for the collective punishment of millions of Palestinians in need, he said also highlighting the provocative rhetoric from a number of representatives of the Israeli leadership, as well as the staggering levels of violence by the Israeli army and Jewish settlers on the West Bank. The aggressive actions of the United States and the United Kingdom in the Red Sea remind the international community of the barbaric bombings of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, he added.
The representative of Malta, stressing that a permanent ceasefire remains crucial, condemned the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October, called for the release of hostages and welcomed the swift action taken by UNRWA to investigate the involvement of any staff members in the attacks. The Agency remains indispensable, particularly in Gaza, she underscored. Highlighting the “death, destruction, disease, displacement and the threats of famine” that have become the daily reality for millions of civilians in the Strip, she reminded the Council about the order on provisional measures issued in January by the International Court of Justice, which stated that all measures must be taken by Israel to prevent the killing and causing of bodily or mental harm of Palestinians in Gaza. Reaffirming her country’s strong support to the Court as the principal judicial organ of the multilateral order, she stressed that its decisions are binding. “We expect the full, immediate and effective implementation of the order,” she said, adding that Israeli settler violence in the West Bank must also be addressed.
The representative of France, Council President for the month, speaking in her national capacity, underscoring that the Council must be able to condemn the terrorist attacks of 7 October, drew attention to the sanctions regime against Hamas established by the European Union. The information on the participation of UNRWA employees in the attacks of 7 October is exceptionally serious and the investigations launched in recent days must shed light on past events and be accompanied by concrete measures, she stressed. France had not scheduled a new payment for the first half of 2024, and, when the time comes, will decide on how to procced. Turning to the decision taken by the International Court of Justice, which concerns provisional measures, she reaffirmed her country’s support for the body. On the political level, only the two-State solution can lead to a just and lasting peace. Accordingly, she stressed the need to build a State for the Palestinians and noted the Palestinian Authority’s central role in this process.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that the International Court of Justice has offered “a resounding rebuke” to those who claimed that the case of genocide against Israel was “meritless and baseless”. The Court also dismissed the premise that “somehow Israel by its very nature would be above the law and could not be accused of committing the crime of genocide”. The Court found that the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide, attempted genocide, incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide are plausible. “That plausibility — that a genocide is actually under way, not the accusation of genocide against Israel — is what should keep us all up at night,” he said, stressing the need to concentrate on the six provisional measures adopted. Even the ad hoc judge of Israel voted in favour of two of the measures.
The Council and the Court have called for protection of civilians; instead, Israel is targeting them, orchestrating famine and creating the conditions for the spread of dehydration and epidemic diseases, he said. Twelve ministers of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government took part in a conference to recolonize Gaza and to get rid of the Palestinians there, he said, as part of “a long-standing policy of displacement and replacement of the Palestinian people”. At least 15,500 children, including those still under the rubble, have been killed; 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in terrifying circumstances. “2.3 million people have gone through hell every single day for 120 days, and this hell will haunt them long after this assault ends,” he said, adding: “They are trying to cheat death over and over again, running for safety over and over again though it is nowhere to be found, until the international community musters the resolve to save them.”
With the risk of genocide recognized by the Court, it would be criminal not to act to put an end to this war of atrocities, he emphasized. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “no one will stop us — not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else”. To that, he declared: “Spoken like a true war criminal! His genocidal words quoted by the Court are evil. His genocidal acts are evil. And when the ICC finally decides to uphold its mandate, he should find his place in a jail in The Hague, not in power in Israel.” On Israel’s brazen attacks against the UN, he said the country “wants to discredit the witness to destroy the evidence”. The UN helps the Palestinian people survive, remain in their land, while Israel wants to uproot them.
On Israel’s allegations against some UNRWA staff, he said “one should never lose sight of these realities and of Israel’s stated goal, for years now, of dismantling UNRWA”. He underscored that “there is no reason to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation or to take measures that effectively amount to the collective punishment of 30,000 UNRWA staff and millions of refugees beneficiaries of UNRWA services”, calling on those who decided to suspend their funding to revise their decision. The choice is clear. Either allow Israel to dismantle the international law-based order or uphold it. “From colonialism to apartheid, from ethnic cleansing to genocide, when is it time to tell Israel enough is enough?” he said, adding: “This policy of cajoling Israel has brought to power the most openly supremacist and racist Government in the history of Israel. Only accountability can help us correct course.”
The representative of Israel voiced concern over the lack of attention or condemnation by the Council of “an actual genocidal terrorist organization”, Hamas, that continues attacks on his country and holds hostages in brutal conditions. “We witness an obscene inversion of reality,” where a country — a victim of Hamas — is being charged with genocide. Distorting reality is a matter of routine for the Council, but that does not make it morally acceptable, he said, warning that “a lie told 1,000 times is not less of a lie”. Underscoring his country’s commitment to upholding the law and demonstrating humanity, he noted that due to Hamas’ utter inhumanity towards Palestinian and Israeli civilians, his country is faced with “the agonizing reality and the dilemmas” that Israel faces of seeking “to minimize civilian harm against a lawless terrorist organization that seeks to maximize it”.
Turning to the South Africa’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, he described the charge of genocide as an attempt “to distort the law and the unique force of the Genocide Convention”, effectively transforming it into a tool exploited by terrorists with total distain for life and the law. Likewise, he said an attempt to ascribe blame to Israel even before the arguments on the merits of the case have been heard is “abusive and politicized”. The assertion by the Palestinian representative that the Court has found plausible evidence of genocide is a blatant mischaracterization of the very nature of the provisional measures phase of proceedings of the term “plausibility” in the Court’s jurisprudence and of the Court’s actual decision.
Expressing confidence that South Africa’s accusations against Israel — widely denounced by numerous States’ commitment to the rule of law — are likely to be rejected by the Court in subsequent proceedings, he stressed that at this early stage “the Court is not required to ascertain whether any violations of Israel’s obligations under the Genocide Convention have occurred”. He further underscored that the Court rejected South Africa’s “violent attempt” to undermine Israel’s right to self-defence, stressing that “Israel’s war is against Hamas not against Palestinian civilians”. “Israel remains committed to mitigating civilian harm and to facilitating access to humanitarian aid according to the law,” he added, highlighting his country’s commitment to preventing incitement. As yet another proof of the distorted interpretation of the Court’s decision, he noted that the Council’s meeting failed to mention the Court’s explicit call for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. This, he said, is an assault on the integrity of the Court and on the truth.
On the alleged involvement of UNRWA’s staff in the 7 October events, he welcomed the countries for suspending funding to the Agency, called for an in-depth, transparent and independent investigation into the Agency’s conduct in Gaza, both regarding involvement in the 7 October attacks, as well as the employment of mass operatives and involvement of terrorists in its activities. In conclusion, he drew attention to the Council’s recurring failure to condemn Hamas’s attacks of 7 October, stressing that until such condemnation occurs “the Council will fail to meet its responsibilities, it will continue to be abused as a forum where lies can be told, where law can be manipulated to serve its greatest violators”.
The representative of South Africa said: “the international community cannot proclaim the importance of international law and the importance of the UN Charter in some situations and not in others as if the rule of law only applies to a select few”. On 26 January, the International Court of Justice, acting on her country’s request, delivered an order for provisional measures, which include that Israel shall take all measures to prevent all acts of genocide, and provide urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance. Israel is required to provide a report to the Court on said measures within one month. “There is clearly no credible basis for Israel to continue to claim that its military actions are in full compliance with international law, including the Genocide Convention, having regard to the Court’s ruling,” she said. This necessarily imposes an obligation on all States to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal, she pointed out. Unfortunately, in the days since, the Israeli Government has continued its illegal actions.
South Africa will continue to do everything within its power to preserve the existence of the Palestinian people as a group, end all acts of apartheid and genocide against them and “walk with them towards the realization of their right to self-determination”, she said. Her Government welcomes the support expressed by several countries and encourages States that are so inclined to approach the Court to intervene in the proceedings so as to send a strong message to the international community that the situation in Gaza is indefensible. Also welcoming the swift action taken by the United Nations following the allegations concerning UNRWA staff members, she underscored that withdrawing funding from the Agency will worsen an already complex humanitarian situation.