Gaza genocide: A view from Germany

Israel’s allies, first and foremost the US and Germany, are called upon to do everything in their power and to bring all diplomatic means at their disposal to bear in pressing the Israeli Government to agree to a ceasefire, instead of aiding and abetting another bloodbath with their continued support for Israel, writes Sevim Dagdelen.

The decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in the proceedings against Germany for aiding and abetting genocide as well as violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza was overall interpreted in the West as a victory for Germany and an endorsement of the country’s own actions. In their decision on 30 April 2024, the ICJ’s judges rejected the indication of provisional measures requested by Nicaragua by 15 votes to one, but also decided to deny Germany’s request to remove the case from its list. Nicaragua had requested at the public hearings on 8 and 9 April that the Court indicate Germany to implement three measures. Firstly, to cease arms exports to Israel. Secondly, to ensure that weapons already supplied by Germany to Israel are not used to commit violations of international humanitarian law or genocide. And, thirdly, to resume funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

A closer look at the ICJ’s reasoning reveals that the judgement anything but absolves the German Government and is certainly not a carte blanche for further arms deliveries to Israel. As the main justification for its decision against the indication of provisional measures, the ICJ cites the German Government’s argument that arms export licences to Israel have decreased considerably in recent months and that the majority of these licences comprise weapons from the category of so-called “other military equipment” (“sonstige Rüstungsgüter”), of which only a small proportion are “weapons of war” (“Kriegswaffen”). The German Government has indeed reduced the licences for arms exports to Israel significantly in recent times – presumably also due to Nicaragua’s lawsuit brought before the ICJ – having massively stepped up arms deliveries to Israel to 326.5 million euros in the early weeks of the war following Hamas’ massacre on 7 October 2023 – a tenfold increase compared with the previous year.

Crucially, the Court stated that it had come to the conclusion “based on the factual information and legal arguments presented by the Parties” that “at present, the circumstances are not such as to require” the indication of provisional measures. By emphasising that provisional measures were not necessary at the present time in view of the reduction in arms deliveries, the ICJ made it clear that it would not rule out the possibility of such measures being indicated if circumstances were to change, i.e. if arms deliveries were to increase again.

This is all the more significant as the ICJ explicitly reminded Germany to fulfil its obligations under international law arising from the Geneva Conventions and the Genocide Convention when supplying arms to Israel – namely to prevent these weapons from being used to violate international humanitarian law or to commit genocide. In connection with this, the ICJ’s judges pointed out that Israel’s war had led to “a large number of deaths and injuries, as well as the massive destruction of homes, the forcible displacement of the vast majority of the population, and extensive damage to civilian infrastructure”. Furthermore, they expressed their deep concern “about catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in particular in view of the prolonged and widespread deprivation of food and other basic necessities to which they have been subjected”.

The upshot of the ICJ’s decision is that the German Government can no longer support Israel’s war in Gaza with weapons without the prospect of the ICJ indicating provisional measures due to the associated violation of Germany’s obligations under international law. This is all the more the case since weapons supplied by Germany to Israel are already being used in the war against the Palestinian civilian population, as recent research by the public broadcaster ARD has shown, drawing on videos by the Israeli military concerning the use of German Matador anti-tank weapons in the urban warfare being waged in Gaza.

The potential impact of Nicaragua’s ICJ lawsuit against Germany has already been underscored by the fact that the German Government has resumed funding for UNRWA, presumably out of concern about a corresponding order from the UN court.

The fact that the court is greatly restricting the German Government’s room for manoeuvre, also in view of its complicity in supplying weapons to the partly right-wing extremist Israeli Government under Prime Minister Netanyahu is significant insofar as Germany is Israel’s second-largest supplier of weapons after the US.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), German weapons have accounted for 30 percent of Israeli arms imports over the past five years. Last year, Germany’s share was as high as 47 percent, just behind the US, which accounted for 53 percent.

The German Government is now urgently called upon to take the ICJ’s decision seriously and not to step up supplies of weapons once again. Instead, it should impose an arms embargo on Israel, as called for by the UN Human Rights Council in a resolution at the beginning of April, and revoke licences for arms deliveries that have already been granted, in order to ensure that Germany is not an accomplice to further Israeli war crimes.

Warnings such as those issued by Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock against an attack on Rafah are nothing but empty words if the German Government continues to provide unconditional support for Israel’s war despite the offensive that has already begun on the city, where over one million people are holding out and through which vital supplies of humanitarian assistance are reaching the Gaza Strip.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is right in stating that a major attack on Rafah would be “a strategic mistake, a political calamity and a humanitarian nightmare” and that it is currently “a decisive moment for the Palestinian and Israeli people and for the fate of the entire region”. The Israeli Government seems determined to hold firm to its plan to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip despite all warnings from international organisations and contrary to its obligations under international and human rights law, and is continuing to expand its offensive on Rafah. In so doing, the Israeli Government is disregarding all warnings issued by the international community – including those from the US, which has raised the prospect of a partial arms embargo in the event of an offensive.

It is a disgrace that the German Government cannot even bring itself to take such a belated and half-hearted step, thus lagging behind Israel’s closest accomplice in the war in Gaza. Since the start of the war, the Israeli army has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza and injured over 78,000. In order to prevent a further tragedy in Rafah, the German Government must finally put its money where its mouth is and step up the pressure for a ceasefire and for an end to the Rafah offensive with an arms embargo on Israel. Israel’s allies, first and foremost the US and Germany, are called upon to do everything in their power and to bring all diplomatic means at their disposal to bear in pressing the Israeli Government to agree to a ceasefire, instead of aiding and abetting another bloodbath with their continued support for Israel.

Sevim Dagdelen is a Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the German Bundestag and foreign policy spokesperson for the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance. She was the only parliamentary observer to attend the hearings in Nicaragua’s lawsuit against Germany before the ICJ

This article first appeared in Liberation journal

Photo: Creative Commons

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