The Philadelphi Corridor: Egypt joins South Africa’s ICJ genocide case

May 21, 2024
Gaza Strip with the main cities and border crossings.

Why has Egypt confirmed that it will support South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide? The answer lies in the significance of the Philadelphi Corridor or the Salah Al-Din Axis.

On May 12 Egypt confirmed that it has joined the South African lawsuit against Israel, becoming the sixth Arab country to join following Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya. Other countries such as Turkiye, Ireland, Colombia, Bolivia, The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Malaysia have also announced formal support for South Africa’s case against Israel.

This move by Egypt has come following the wide spread anger toward Israel and support for Palestinians across the Egyptian population which has been outraged at the suffering, the slaughter, the mass murder especially of Palestinian women and children. There is also extensive anger at the failure of Israel to provide humanitarian aid amid the growing starvation and man made famine in Gaza in addition to the horrific, almost complete, destruction of all of the housing and all other infrastructure in Gaza. Egyptians have access to social media informing them of the harsh reality and devastation that Palestinians are suffering daily and the government is starting to come under pressure.

The move to join other countries in the South African case also signals Egypt’s growing frustration with Israel’s lack of progress on negotiations for a ceasefire, the IDF’s move into eastern Rafah and the take over of the Rafah crossing, long used as an important aid corridor. This move also directly threatens the Philadelphi Corridor.

This corridor, also called the Salah Al-Din Axis, is the 14-kilometre long and 100-meter-wide strip of land that separates Gaza and Egypt and it runs from the Mediterranean coast to the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing where the borders of Egypt, the Gaza Strip and Israel meet. It is also where the city of Rafah and the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is located. This has long been a contentious corridor. It was a key element, four decades ago, of the Camp David Peace Accords and the ensuring peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. In the same treaty there was an agreement that a small specific number of Egyptian and Israeli military personnel could jointly control this corridor.

When in 2005 Israel withdrew completely from Gaza an additional Accord was signed, the Philadelphi Accord. This Accord allowed for a specific number of Egyptian military personnel to control this corridor or buffer zone principally to prevent smuggling and arms trafficking between Egypt and Gaza. For some time, even before October 7 2023, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had repeatedly declared his country’s intention to take back control of this corridor.

Following the democratically held elections of 2006 which Hamas won, there was an ensuing military battle between them and the Fatah forces of the Palestinian Authority. The latter were defeated and expelled from Gaza. After this Israel Imposed a complete land, air and sea blockade on Gaza with the exception of the border buffer zone with Egypt. As a consequence a series of tunnels were built by Gazans as a way of getting extra food and other resources from Egypt but also as a way of smuggling weapons by Hamas. Israel from time to time bombed the area where the tunnels were and the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al -Sisi also undertook a campaign in 2013 against these tunnels in which around 3,000 tunnels were shut down. Then in 2015 Egypt deliberately flooded them.

Since October 7th al -Sisi’s government has acted as mediator between the Israeli government and Hamas seeking to achieve a ceasefire and release of the hostages, but he has always stated clearly that if Israel were to invade Rafah as part of a strategy to push Palestinians out of the Strip then they would be crossing a “red line”.

Israel did exactly that when it invaded Rafah on May 7, where some 1.4 million mostly displaced Palestinians have been sheltering after being told by the IDF that this was a safe zone. This invasion resulted in the military incursion of this border zone and took place in spite of US, Egypt and most Western countries urging Israel not to invade Rafah. The Israeli military now has control of the Rafah crossing and has provocatively planted an Israeli flag there. There are significant concerns that Israel will continue its assault on Rafah heading west to the end of the corridor and to the sea thus completely encircling Gaza. This Israeli action to date that violates the conditions of the 1979 peace treaty has infuriated Egypt and causing outrage in the Egyptian media and is one of the reasons for Egypt’s support of the South African case at the ICJ.

The fact that Israel has done so and has not respected the Camp David Accords with Egypt signals to other Arab countries that Israel is not to be trusted in peace making. It also challenges US foreign policy in the region that has been pushing other Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel. The US was a signatory to the Camp David Accords and Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military assistance and $250 million in economic assistance from the US, so this move to support South Africa’s case is also a message to the US. But it is also a gamble that this significant US aid package will not be withdrawn.

Egypt has so far refused to co-operate with Israel’s suggestion that the Rafah crossing be reopened using both UN personnel and select Palestinian representation but under Israeli supervision and army protection specifically to move people to and from the Gaza strip as well as to send fuel to Gaza from Egypt. Egypt has argued that the Rafah crossing can only be operated by Palestinian personnel, rejecting coordination with Israel, and has called on Israel to withdraw from the crossing and from Rafah. At the same time Egypt has extensively reinforced its border with Gaza using barbed wire and deployed 40 tanks and armoured personnel carriers to northern Sinai.

Millions of people across the world, among them many Jews, have been protesting for nearly seven months at the brutality, horror and utter devastation wrought by Israel’s military against Palestinian civilians both in Gaza and the West Bank and they have been calling for an immediate ceasefire. Thousands of Israel citizens have also been calling for a ceasefire and release of all hostages. Now there are conflicting messages coming from Israel’s war cabinet with the Defence Minister Yoav Gallant challenging Netanyahu’s failure to have a post war plan, saying that he was opposed to Israel’s military controlling or administering Gaza post war. Over the weekend, a fellow war cabinet minister, Benny Gantz, threatened to resign by June 8th unless there was an approved post-war plan for Gaza.

Clearly Palestinians have to be involved in any post war plan. Already, Hamas non military administrative personnel are working to prevent chaos. Perhaps eventually, as in any conflict, peace may well be made with the much despised adversary. Without a clear post war plan, that option so far does not exist. The US is worried, as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made clear on CNC on May 13, saying that . . “if they (Israel) leave and get out of Gaza as we believe they need to do, then you’re going to have a vacuum and a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos by anarchy, and ultimately by Hamas again.”

Israel will also have to rebuild its relationship with its neighbours as well, having violated long standing peace treaties with its militaristic and messianic leadership which is clearly a danger to Israel and the region.

While Egypt has joined in the South African case to the ICJ along with Jordan, both of whom have peace treaties with Israel, Australia is yet to do so.

The Federal Government should be doing much more than it has done so far to advance peace and it should take action called for by the ACTU, the Jewish Council of Australia and over 700 Australian lawyers to immediately fulfil its international legal obligations.

This includes using all its influence and diplomatic measures to achieve a permanent ceasefire, imposing sanctions against those Israeli settlers and others who are inciting genocide, banning all Australian funding to illegal settlements and suspending all military exports to Israel. The government should also substantially increase humanitarian aid to UNRWA and other aid bodies to help in Gaza’s eventual recovery.

This in fact is the very least that Australia should do.

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