Opinion: Biden’s balancing act with Israel and Hamas is our only choice
President Biden’s voice may be more of a whisper than a roar these days, but on Thursday night, he was as loud and strong as he’s ever been.
“The terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure unadulterated evil in the world,” Biden said. “But sadly, the Jewish people know, perhaps better than anyone, that there is no limit to the depravity of people when they want to inflict pain on others.”
Condemning the corrosive forces of antisemitism and Islamophobia, he said the United States would continue to support and arm Israel as it wages war against Hamas, and would also send millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Gaza to help ameliorate the effects of Israeli’s airstrikes and expanded blockade, which has cut off food, medicine, water and fuel to the area’s 2 million-plus impoverished inhabitants.
Israel has the absolute right to exist in peace and defend itself; Palestinians have the absolute right to self-determination and freedom. “We cannot give up on a two-state solution,” Biden said Thursday.
It is still difficult to contemplate the enormity of the gruesome Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli civilians, and the horrific price that so many Palestinian civilians are now being forced to pay. Both sides have suffered and will continue to suffer in unthinkable ways.
On Wednesday, Anderson Cooper interviewed the sisters of Amit Man, a 22-year-old Israeli medic who spent hours exchanging messages with her family on WhatsApp from a clinic in a kibbutz as Hamas gunmen stalked and slaughtered her neighbors.
“I don’t think I’ll get out of here,” she wrote, moments before she was killed. “Please be strong if something happens to me.”
In Gaza, Palestinian parents have discussed whether to write their children’s names on their palms or on their backs, so that when they are killed, the family can be buried together.
“It feels like humanity is kind of deserting us in this moment,” Melanie Ward of Medical Aid for Palestinians told Crooked Media as she relayed the conversation her Gaza director, Mahmoud Shalabi, said he’d had with his wife about how to mark their children.
Like most engaged Americans who lack any real Middle East expertise, I read as much as I can, and watch as much as I can. I pay attention to those with deep experience, knowledge and understanding of the age-old conflict. I try to tune out the extremists on both sides.
I avoid offensive commentary from the “what did you expect?” factions of the American left and right. There is nothing on Earth — nothing — that can begin to justify the atrocities that Hamas unleashed on Israeli civilians. Anti-Israel demonstrations like the one that took place Monday at the Sydney Opera House, where pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “Gas the Jews,” and the letter by Harvard students blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks are but two examples of the reprehensible way this conflict has robbed so many of their humanity.
“One can believe that the Palestinians have the same kinds of rights as Israelis and that the Palestinians’ rights have been violated by Israel for many, many years,” foreign policy and national security expert David Rothkopf told Salon. “One can also believe that the plight of Palestinians who are trapped in Gaza or in the West Bank is grave and deserves the world’s attention. But if you have a friend or a relative who just died, you don’t go to the funeral and talk about their flaws. You wait for a few days at least. It’s just the wrong moment.”
It is difficult to wade through the disinformation, misinformation and just plain confusion about what is happening on the ground in Gaza.
Like many, I was taken in by initial news reports, based on information from the Gaza Health Ministry, about who was to blame for the massive explosion on Tuesday at the Ahli Arab Hospital, and texted a Jewish friend: “How can Israel hope to maintain the moral high ground if it’s doing this?”
My friend blasted back: “Why would Western news media and media all over the world believe news reports from Hamas without verification, examination and review?”
Of course he’s right.
The growing consensus from impartial sources — including open source investigative sites like Bellingcat — is that the explosion was not consistent with an Israeli airstrike. Thursday, Biden said flatly that it “was not done by the Israelis.”
Each side may cling to its belief that the enemy did it.
But we must never let go of the desire to find a way for Palestinians and Israelis alike to raise their families and live in peace.
Biden was correct to caution Israel against overreacting in rage as the U.S. did so disastrously after 9/11. If the U.S. is to support Israel in its war on Hamas, we must also be committed to alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people, who have once again been buffeted by forces over which they have no control.
At this point, what other choice do we have?
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