Kiwi NGOs push for Gaza ceasefire

Posted on 29 January 2024

Photo: Getty Images
Palestinians carry an injured man following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. 

Article from

by Sam Sachdeva

A group of 15 aid agencies in New Zealand has penned an open letter to politicians urging them to push harder for a ceasefire in Gaza, with the spread of disease adding to the “devastating” humanitarian situation on the ground.

The joint call comes in the wake of an international court ruling that Israel must take all measures possible to avoid a genocide in Gaza – but which stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza is into its fourth month following the October 7 mass murder of its citizens by Hamas militants.

The death toll in Gaza climbed above 26,000 last week, according to officials at the Hamas-run health ministry, while World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has emotionally decried the “hellish” conditions faced by Gazans.

In a joint letter to politicians preparing for the resumption of Parliament on Tuesday, the humanitarian agencies called on the Government to “mobilise the international community to demand an immediate, sustainable ceasefire”, and to “employ all diplomatic means to insist that international humanitarian law is upheld”.

The group also said New Zealand should work with other countries to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, ensure humanitarian access into Gaza at all crossings, and increase the country’s aid support for the crisis.

Council for International Development Aotearoa executive director Peter Rudd told Newsroom the agencies appreciated the Government’s work on Gaza to date, but believed it could be doing more to build a coalition in favour of a ceasefire.

“There’s over 25,000 people now killed, around 10,000 of those including children, and it’s just devastating, the humanitarian situation – that’s deteriorating hour by hour.”

As part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, along with other international groupings, New Zealand could use its influence to help create the conditions for an end to the violence, Rudd said.

The NGOs had partners on the ground in the region who could ramp up aid to Gaza if allowed greater access by the Israeli government. Only 100 humanitarian aid trucks were entering Gaza through the Rafah bordering crossing each day, compared with 500 a day before the conflict began.

Rudd said over a dozen of the council’s member organisations were running public appeals to support Gaza, and greatly appreciated any donations that Kiwis were able to make.

Child Fund New Zealand chief executive Josie Pagani told Newsroom the fact that the aid agencies had agreed on a single call for action despite their differing perspectives showed the gravity of the situation in Gaza.

Pagani said a ceasefire needed to be both immediate and sustainable, which required acknowledging the distinction between the reason for the war and the way it was being conducted.

“That involves a political understanding of the political context on the ground, that Hamas is putting civilians in harm’s way, as well as Israel using that as an excuse to sometimes drop bombs in or around refugee camps where people are just trying to get water and just trying to get food.”

New Zealand could help develop a plan for “what happens to Gaza the day after the bombs stop”, and had shown in previous cases like the 1994 Rwandan genocide that it could articulate the moral urgency of action to the wider world, she said.

“We’re realistic, we’re practical, there’s a way in which we can play a role in going, ‘Right, let’s define what the sustainable bit [of a ceasefire] is so we can get to the immediate bit’.”

ICJ: ‘Take all measures’ to avoid genocide

The NGOs’ plea comes in the wake of a high-profile ruling from the International Court of Justice on the legality of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

In a provisional ruling on part of a case brought by South Africa, the court ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent breaches of the United Nations’ genocide convention, and to carry out “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” in Gaza.

The ruling stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as some of Israel’s critics had hoped for, and the court lacks the power to enforce its ruling.

In a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter) responding to the court’s judgement, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the Government had “taken careful note” of the provisional decision and expected all parties to adhere to the findings.

“But the law alone is not enough. New Zealand renews its call for all parties to the present conflict to comply with international law, facilitate unimpeded access for humanitarian responders and work towards a lasting political resolution,” Peters said.

In a media statement, the Israel Embassy in New Zealand said the charge of genocide at the ICJ was “not only wholly unfounded in fact and law, but morally repugnant”.

“Israel’s war is against Hamas, not against Palestinian civilians. Israel will continue to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and to do its utmost according to the law to keep civilians out of harm’s way, even as Hamas uses them as human shields,” the embassy said.

New Zealand previously issued a joint statement with Canada and Australia last December calling for the resumption of a pause in hostilities, and for urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire.

“This cannot be one-sided. Hamas must release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and lay down its arms,” the three nations’ leaders said.




Gazaceasefire Humanitarian Crisis NZNGO