News Roundup for December 20, 2023

December 20, 2023
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Top News and Analysis

Poll Finds Wide Disapproval of Biden on Gaza, and Little Room to Shift Gears, The New York Times
Voters broadly disapprove of the way President Biden is handling the bloody strife between Israelis and Palestinians, a New York Times/Siena College poll has found, with younger Americans far more critical than older voters of both Israel’s conduct and of the administration’s response to the war in Gaza. Voters are also sending decidedly mixed signals about the direction US policy-making should take as the war in Gaza grinds into its third month. Nearly as many Americans want Israel to continue its military campaign as want it to stop now to avoid further civilian casualties.

Israeli Airstrikes Kill Dozens Across Central and Southern Gaza, AP
The Israeli army has raided and detained staff at two of the last functioning hospitals in Gaza’s north, where the defense minister said that troops were working to completely clear out Hamas militants. Israel bombarded towns across southern Gaza Tuesday with airstrikes, killing at least 45 Palestinians and pressing ahead with its offensive with renewed backing from the United States, despite rising international alarm. In a hospital in the southern town of Rafah, Mohammed Zoghroub bid farewell to his two children — a 2-year-old boy, and a girl born two weeks ago — killed in a predawn strike on their home.

No Progress on Hostage Deal, but Israel Is Playing Up Talks to Ease Public Pressure, Haaretz
Jonathan Lis writes, “Talks for a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas are far from ripe. Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed al-Thani have held two meetings, but Hamas has made it clear that it does not accept the prerequisite conditions presented by Israel and, as far as is known, has not presented its own proposals for a deal. The head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for what Reuters reported as “intensive talks in an attempt to reach another ceasefire” with Egyptian officials. In the absence of progress, Israel is playing up the issue to signal to hostages’ families that the prime minister and his cabinet partners are doing everything in their power to secure the release of their relatives as soon as possible.”

High Civilian Toll in Gaza Is Cost of Crushing Hamas, Israeli Military Officials Say, Reuters
Israel has dropped thousands of tonnes of munitions over the past 10 weeks, leaving the narrow Mediterranean strip in ruins and killing nearly 20,000, with more believed to be trapped under collapsed buildings, Gazan officials say. Speaking at the Palmachim Air Force Base, 28 miles from Gaza, on Monday, two officials said Israel acknowledged that before each strike, the cost in civilian lives was balanced against an evaluation of the military advantage.

Netanyahu Meets With Families of Israeli Hostages, The New York Times
Netanyahu met on Tuesday with representatives of more than a dozen of the hostages’ families. Many families who were not invited to the meeting protested outside the Israeli military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, opposing what they have viewed as the politicization of the hostages’ cause.

Palestinians Flee Villages as Settler Violence Surges in West Bank Amid War, ABC News
A Palestinian village school had been ransacked and a dozen houses nearby were abandoned. In some, a few belongings remained: a mattress and children’s shoes. This was Khirbet Zanutah in the West Bank which has been under Israeli military occupation for decades. In late October, its roughly 250 residents fled, packing up their homes, saying attacks and threats from Israeli settlers had become intolerable, according to villagers.

Israel Is Struggling to Destroy Hamas, but It’s Destroying Gaza, The Washington Post
Ishaan Tharoor writes, “Hamas is entrenched and difficult to defeat. Even after waging one of the most intense, heavy military campaigns in recent history, Israel has only neutralized a fraction of the militant group’s armed strength. And, in the process, it has ravaged the embattled territory where Hamas has held sway, displaced close to 90 percent of the population, flattened whole neighborhoods, triggered a sprawling humanitarian disaster and found itself flailing in a losing battle for global public opinion.”


‘Every Minute Is Critical’: Support in Israel Still High for War Despite Protests, The Guardian
Despite last week’s events in which the IDF accidentally killed three hostages, public opinion in Israel is still very much in favor of the war. Almost all of the country’s Jewish population does military service, and some 360,000 reservists have been mobilized – more than in any other conflict. “In Israel, the people are the army and the army is the people. It’s impossible to direct criticism directly at the army because their children, husbands and brothers are still busy serving right now,” said political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin.

Gaza’s Rescue Workers Are Haunted by Those They Couldn’t Save, +972
Upon arriving at a scene of destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike, the civil defense workers must quickly try to get a sense of what they are dealing with. “We usually don’t know who is stuck underneath or how many people we are looking for, so we call into the rubble asking if anyone is alive who can tell us how many people lived in this home,” Musa said. “We scream until someone hears us. Sometimes we get a response immediately, but often we simply hear groans, which we try to follow in order to save those people.”

Security Council Searching for a Gaza Vote That US Won’t Veto, The Washington Post
The UN Security Council struggled Tuesday to come up with a resolution that will stop the fighting in Gaza — at least for long enough to implement an effective flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave — but that would not be vetoed by the United States. A morning meeting ended without a vote as negotiations continued over a new draft, seen by The Washington Post, that eliminated the word “ceasefire,” contained in an earlier version offered Monday.

IDF Carries Out Drill Simulating an Oct. 7-Style Attack in the West Bank, The Times of Israel
Unlike Gaza, where Hamas has ruled unimpeded for some 16 years, largely free to build up its military and offensive capabilities, the West Bank is closely controlled by Israel, with the military regularly conducting counter-terror operations throughout Palestinian cities and towns. Israel’s intelligence capabilities in the territory are also more robust, given its hold on the territory. Thus, a repeat in the West Bank of the October 7 events is thought to be highly unlikely.

Chris Hayes: The War in Gaza Must End [Video], MSNBC
Chris Hayes shares, “There is no terrorist attack, no matter how horrific — and truly Oct. 7 was horrific — that can wash clean what we are seeing in Gaza and what we as Americans and our government are abetting. It must end. We must stop it.”

Reservists Suspended for Mocking Palestinian Detainees in West Bank, The Times of Israel
The Israeli army suspends a group of soldiers recorded smoking a water pipe and joking in front of Palestinians who were detained and blindfolded. The video, which was uploaded to social media and has garnered millions of views in the past two days, shows soldiers laughing and eating snacks as at least seven Palestinians are sitting blindfolded in the same room in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Foreign Correspondents Petition Israel Supreme Court for Gaza Access, Reuters
The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem filed a petition on Tuesday with the Israeli Supreme Court requesting immediate access for international media to the Gaza Strip. Several Israeli and international reporters have entered Gaza embedded with the Israeli military, but the association called this “limited access” and said it did not allow “access to areas where soldiers are not present”. The FPA, which it says represents some 370 journalists from around 130 media outlets, said it had submitted multiple requests to the government to gain access but had not received a response.

Opinion and Analysis

There Are No Safe Places in Gaza, The New Yorker
Adam Rasgon shares, “Israel’s bombing campaign across Gaza has made clear that nowhere in the territory is safe. The Army’s invasion of the Khan Younis region, however, has driven many displaced people to the very edge of the Strip; they are incapable of moving farther without running into Egypt, which has indicated that it won’t tolerate Palestinians pouring into the Sinai. So far, Sobhi al-Khazendar and his family have relocated eight times.”

Trump Is Benefiting From His Incoherent Israel-Hamas War Stance, New York Magazine
Ed Kilgore shares, “Nothing in Trump’s self-centered utterances about the war suggests he could change Israel’s conduct or bring about a cease-fire, much less a lasting peace. You have to wonder if, by refusing to address the situation in any concrete detail, the GOP front-runner for the 2024 nomination is deliberately sowing ambiguity about his position or even making himself acceptable to voters who would normally flee in horror from the idea of this advocate of violence, chaos, and prejudice being placed in charge of US foreign policy. Perhaps he’s just trying to lie in the weeds and, for once, keep himself out of the center of a political news story.”

The Land Battle Rocking an Ancient Community in Jerusalem’s Old City, Haaretz
Nir Hasson writes, “The story – one of luxury real estate, foreign interests, Israeli far-rightists and allegations of corruption – echoes the scandal that rocked Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox community in recent decades. That ruckus led to the takeover of two huge properties at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate by a right-wing group. The Armenian affair has also exposed the tension between the community’s religious leaders and the rank and file of the small community, which is struggling to survive. The protest leaders are young Armenian activists who say the patriarchate made the deal behind the community’s back.”