The Global Heroes


23rd January 2024 By The Global Heroes Conflict

While there hasn't been an official declaration, famine is already ravaging parts of the Gaza Strip, according to UN officials. This crisis has unfolded with unprecedented speed, fueled by Israel's total siege on the enclave for over three months and a massive bombing campaign that has obliterated crucial infrastructure. The deliberate starvation of civilians is deemed a war crime, forming a pivotal part of South Africa's case against Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Insight from Famine Expert Alex de Waal

To delve into the dire hunger situation in Gaza, The New Humanitarian interviewed Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and an expert on famine and humanitarian crises. As starvation and deadly diseases spread, UN agencies call for increased aid, access, and safety guarantees from Israel for humanitarian activities within the territory.

Grim Outlook Despite Humanitarian Efforts

Even with potential increases in aid, de Waal warns that the dire conditions won't be swiftly reversed. Without a prompt change in aid delivery and access, the risk of large-scale deaths from hunger and disease, especially among young children, looms ominously.

Fragile Deal and Deteriorating Conditions

A recent deal brokered by France and Qatar allows more humanitarian aid into Gaza in exchange for medicine for hostages held by Hamas. However, the extent and duration of this aid remain unclear, as Israel has only permitted a limited flow of assistance since imposing the total siege. A food security assessment from late November and early December revealed that the entire population of Gaza, around 2.3 million people, faced imminent famine risks.

Israel's Defense and UN's Rebuttal

Israeli officials argue that there is sufficient food and water, blaming the UN for shortages. UN officials counter this, citing Israel's cumbersome aid inspection process, ongoing hostilities, and refusal to guarantee security for aid missions. The toll from Israel's military campaign is staggering, with over 24,000 casualties, 85% displacement, and a collapsing healthcare system.

Expert Insights on Famine

The New Humanitarian's conversation with Alex de Waal covers various aspects, shedding light on the nature of famines, comparisons to other crises, legal implications, and urgent actions needed to avert mass starvation. De Waal emphasizes the gravity of crises, stressing that the focus on declaring famines sometimes detracts from the severity of emergencies that fall short of the famine threshold.

Famine Declaration and Its Impact

De Waal explains that while a famine declaration has no legal force, it carries moral and policy weight. Governments, especially those contributing to famines, aim to avoid the stigma associated with such declarations. He cites past instances where famine declarations prompted political actions, highlighting the potential impact on Israel's actions in Gaza.

Accountability and Legal Implications

Addressing the legal aspects, de Waal points to prima facie evidence that Israel is committing the war crime of starvation. South Africa's case at the ICJ alleges genocide, emphasizing the creation of conditions making survival impossible. The responsibility extends to countries arming Israel, potentially implicating them in the crime.

Future Outlook and Accountability Mechanisms

As February approaches, with expectations of heightened hunger levels in Gaza, de Waal expresses doubt about a second famine review amidst active hostilities. He calls for accountability through the International Criminal Court and emphasizes the role of the ICJ and UN Security Council Resolution 2417 in addressing widespread food insecurity.

Unprecedented Destruction in Gaza

Comparing Gaza's situation to other crises, de Waal notes the unparalleled speed and comprehensiveness of destruction. The scale of the siege's impact, especially on objects essential for survival, is unprecedented in recent decades.

International Law and Starvation

De Waal clarifies that the war crime of starvation does not require actual deaths; intentional destruction of essential objects suffices. Siege prohibitions relate to depriving populations of essentials without a specified death threshold. He cites past cases where the failure to press starvation charges was a mistake, emphasizing that intentional deprivation warrants prohibition.

Paths to Accountability

Regarding accountability, de Waal outlines the potential roles of the International Criminal Court and the ICJ. The latter, currently deliberating South Africa's case, could instruct Israel to cease actions causing the humanitarian crisis. Compliance could be enforced through UN Security Council resolutions.

Mitigation Through Aid and Urgent Humanitarian Response

While more aid is desirable, de Waal warns that it won't suffice if the destruction continues. A comprehensive emergency relief operation, including rehabilitation across all sectors, is imperative. Protection of civilians is vital, given the consistent violation of norms in Israel's conduct of hostilities.

Bleak Future Without Swift Action

De Waal envisions an unimaginably worse situation in Gaza without immediate action. With destruction across all essential aspects of life and the harsh winter conditions exacerbating suffering, the responsibility lies with Israel to avert mass starvation. The potential legal consequences underscore the urgency of international intervention.

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