Kristof: If slowing Gaza aid isn’t criminal, it’s unconscionable

The allegations against Israel’s Netanyahu center on Israel’s throttling of aid into a starving Gaza.

By Nicholas Kristof / The New York Times

The decision Monday by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israel probably will not result in anyone being put on trial immediately for crimes against humanity. But it does further tarnish Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, add to the isolation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raise questions about President Biden’s steadfast support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

It’s no surprise that the prosecutor, Karim Khan, is seeking to arrest Hamas leaders for their rampage of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping on Oct. 7, which clearly constituted war crimes. Those protesters making excuses for Hamas should read Khan’s statement and understand Hamas’ brutality.

The allegations against Netanyahu seem to focus on the Israeli government’s decision to throttle aid, including food assistance, to civilians in Gaza and thus cause starvation. The very first allegation listed by the prosecutor against Netanyahu is “Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”

That has always seemed to me a part of the Israeli operation in Gaza that is particularly difficult to justify. My view is that Israel absolutely had a right to strike Gaza militarily after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, to destroy Hamas leadership and to try to recover hostages. I have argued that the military operation should have been far more restrained, calibrated to target Hamas officials rather than to level entire neighborhoods, but bombing targets in Gaza was not inherently wrong or unlawful.

What has seemed utterly indefensible has been the constraints placed on aid entering the territory, so that Gaza is teetering on the edge of famine; even as trucks filled with food are lined up at Gaza’s border, waiting to enter. That is what seemed to galvanize the International Criminal Court.

A panel of international experts convened by the International Criminal Court unanimously backed the prosecutor. “Parties to an armed conflict must not deliberately impede the delivery of humanitarian relief for civilians, including humanitarian relief provided by third parties,” the experts said.

I’m not an expert in international humanitarian law, so I’ll leave it to others to argue about whether a prosecution of Netanyahu is justified. But the court’s efforts underscore the moral stain of the starvation in Gaza, in which the United States is complicit.

America’s highest-priority response needn’t be a flurry of legal arguments, but instead could involve a far greater effort — using all the leverage we have — to persuade Israel to allow more aid into Gaza and to ensure that the aid is actually delivered to starving children. Whether or not one agrees that starving children is criminal, it is unconscionable. And preventable.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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