By Minaz Kerawala, Communications and Public Relations Advisor
On January 26, 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a landmark order for provisional measures as part of South Africa’s case against Israel for the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip.
The ICJ observed that Israel’s ongoing military operation “is causing massive civilian casualties, extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure and the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the population in Gaza.”
The numbers validate the ICJ’s observation. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is reporting 27,840 fatalities; 67,317 casualties; 1.7 million internal displacements; 360,000+ houses damaged or destroyed; a total electricity blackout; and 2.2 million people at imminent risk of famine in Gaza.
Notably, fatality numbers have risen by more than 1,400 and casualty numbers have risen by more than 2,200 over those reported by OCHA right after the ICJ order. Clearly, the court’s binding order that Israel must “take all measures within its power to prevent” killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm to the people of Gaza is being flagrantly ignored.
Pending a final ruling which could be years away, the ICJ order found that “the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts” and “the right of South Africa to seek Israel’s compliance” with the Genocide Convention “are plausible.”
Unfortunately, the Government of Canada seems not to have grasped the clarity and gravity of this finding. Reacting to the order, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly declared, “Our support for the ICJ does not mean that we accept the premise of the case brought by South Africa.”
This stands in stark contrast to Canada’s stance on the Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the ICJ. Showing laudable solidarity with the persecuted Rohingya people, Canada had supported that case, saying the matter was “rightfully brought to the ICJ.” Canada also welcomed the ICJ’s 2020 order for Myanmar to take some of the same provisional measures now required of Israel, and even went on to intervene in the case.
A further blow to the people of Gaza
As if undermining the ICJ’s order was not enough, on the very day it was issued, Canada paused its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The decision followed a serious Israeli allegation that a dozen UNRWA staffers had participated in the reprehensible Hamas attacks of October 7, 2023. It is worth noting, though, that the alleged miscreants, who were immediately fired, represented less than 0.04 per cent of UNRWA’s 30,000+ employees and that doubts have been raised about the evidence backing the allegations.
Denouncing the move by Canada and other countries, 28 leading international NGOs jointly declared, “The suspension of funding by donor states will impact life-saving assistance for over two million civilians, over half of whom are children, who rely on UNRWA aid in Gaza.”
Canada did subsequently announce funding for other organizations. However, as the heads of various UN agencies have affirmed, “No other entity [besides UNRWA] has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need.”
What we are calling for
Considering these recent developments, Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada is intensifying its advocacy. Reiterating our unequivocal condemnation of the killing of innocent civilians by Hamas, we resolutely call Canada and the international community to deploy all necessary means to immediately bring about:
- A permanent, comprehensive ceasefire ending all hostilities and violence in occupied Palestinian territories and Israel
- The release of hostages and prisoners, including both kidnapped Israelis and unfairly incarcerated Palestinians
- The establishment of secure corridors for humanitarian aid and humanitarian workers to reach people in need freely and safely
- The resumption and enhancement of funding to UNRWA
- The cessation of all military aid to Israel, including the supply of arms, munitions, weapon systems and weapon components
- An internationally mediated peace process to provide a pathway to coexistence for Israeli and Palestinian people that respects the human rights, dignity and just aspirations of all
The call for an arms export embargo, in particular, has been made jointly with over 40 other Canadian civil society organizations in an open letter to Minister Joly. It echoes a similar joint appeal to the global community by a coalition of 16 international humanitarian organizations.
Our recommendations are especially urgent given the regional spreading of conflict and its growing impacts on neighbouring countries like Lebanon. Our positioning derives confidence and moral assurance from its alignment with Pope Francis’s recent pronouncements, including his call “for a cease-fire on every front” and his appeal “that the Palestinian people receive humanitarian aid, and that hospitals, schools and places of worship receive all necessary protection.”
We also share the Holy Father’s conviction that the “path to peace calls for respect for human rights” and passes though political, social and interreligious dialogue.
How Canadians can help
We join Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in urging Canadians to continue responding with prayer, advocacy and generosity.
If you have not already done so, consider signing the #CeasefireNow petition. Conveying our calls to your Member of Parliament is also a powerful exercise of citizenship. Find your MP online and read our guide before you meet or contact them.
Our sisters and brothers in Gaza also have more urgent needs. Since the current conflict began over four months ago, they have been consistently supported by our partner Caritas Jerusalem, whose general secretary, Anton Asfar, has sent the following video plea for help “to put love into action.”