PSC welcomes the interim ruling against Israel by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on 26 January 2024. Not only did the ICJ find South Africa’s case – that “Israel …. is engaging in …genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza” – to be plausible, it also found evidence of the risk of further acts of genocide to be sufficient to obligate the court to order interim measures to prevent such acts. The implications of this decision are seismic.
We condemn the UK government’s response to this ruling and its decision, in the immediate aftermath, to suspend funding to UNRWA. We believe such a step by the UK government renders it in immediate violation of its responsibilities, as a party to the genocide convention, to act to ensure it is not complicit in the commission of genocide. Cutting funding to UNRWA will undeniably increase the risk of irreparable harm to the people of Gaza.
The ICJ, in its damning judgment of Israel’s actions, has ordered that its military stop killing Palestinians, end and punish incitement to genocide, enable emergency assistance and restore basic services to the people of Gaza, and take steps to ensure that possible genocide does not continue.
While many are understandably disappointed that the orders did not go further, and Israel and its supporters desperately cling to the failure of the court to explicitly use the word ‘ceasefire,’ there is no possible way to fulfil the ICJ’s demands without an immediate end to Israel’s military assault.
The UK government as a party to the genocide convention has an obligation to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. We endorse the recommendations of the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Coordinating Committee (PAACC), as to the actions that states must take in light of the ICJ judgment. In this regard we specifically call upon the UK government to:
- Immediately suspend all arms sales to Israel and begin steps to end the bilateral arms trade.
- Arrest and prosecute, including by applying universal jurisdiction, Israeli government officials or others Israeli nationals present in the UK who have incited to genocide, supported genocide, or carried out genocidal acts against the Palestinian people.
- Act on their responsibility to ensure that corporate entities and institutions within the UK cease and desist from aiding and abetting Israel’s genocide and other crimes under international law. In this regard, the UK government must abandon the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill which would prevent public bodies from taking action to ensure they are not complicit in genocide, such as divesting funds from companies that are guilty of supporting Israel’s actions.
- Join the large and increasing number of states in the global south in supporting South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ.
We condemn the fact that instead of recognising the authority of the Court and the historic implications of its judgement and accepting its moral and legal responsibilities as outlined above, the UK government has issued a statement which, whilst paying lip service to the supporting the role and independence of the ICJ, seeks to undermine the credibility of its judgment, and further shield Israel from accountability.
Furthermore, we condemn the grotesque decision to suspend funding to UNRWA on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations made by Israel regarding the alleged participation of 12 UNRWA staff in Hamas’s attacks against Israeli civilians on October 7th. Given the timing, this decision by Israel and its allies can only be interpreted as a vengeful act calculated to rebuff to the orders of the International Court. There is a stark contrast between the British government’s willingness to suspend life-saving aid to Palestinians based on unproven allegations against a small number of individuals and its unwillingness to even suspend arms sales to Israel as it is facing plausible charges of genocide.
We note that Israel has an egregious track record of spurious allegations against Palestinians and Palestinian organisations seeking to link them with acts of terrorism. We also note Israel’s long track record of seeking to place pressure on the international community to defund UNRWA as part of its broader campaign to deny the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their home and indeed to deny the very status of those refugees.
But even if the allegations made against the 12 members of staff were substantiated, this would not be justification for withdrawing funding from an agency that employs 13,000 people in Gaza whose work is essential in distributing aid, saving lives and ensure the population’s essential needs and rights, and 30,000 in total providing essential services to Palestinian refugees across the region . We note the statement of the UN Secretary General quoted in the ICJ judgement that, the people in Gaza are “facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system. The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.” The decision to withdraw funding from UNRWA can only add to the catastrophe. We call upon the UK government to reverse it immediately.
The ICJ judgement is a vindication of the hundreds of thousands of people of conscience in the UK who have marched with PSC calling for a permanent ceasefire to end the genocide upon the people of Gaza. We call upon everyone to ramp up the pressure on the UK government by joining us on February 3rd when we march again in London.