News Roundup for February 20, 2024

February 20, 2024
Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street works to promote an open, honest and rigorous conversation about Israel. The opinions reflected in articles posted in the News Roundup do not necessarily reflect J Street’s positions, and their posting does not constitute an endorsement from J Street.

Top News and Analysis

‘Death Is Chasing Us at Every Corner’: Displaced Persons in Rafah Keep Asking: Where Else Can We Go?, Haaretz
Unlike refugee camps abroad, which are supposed to at least provide a sense of security among their denizens, Rafah is not a safe place for Gazans. Basma, 42, from Khan Younis, told Haaretz that uncertainty pervades the atmosphere in the city. “We don’t know what will happen in the next moment, tomorrow, or the day after. Will they enter Rafah or not? The atmosphere is very tense. People are tired, frustrated and impatient.”

Israel Says It Will Launch Rafah Assault if Hostages Not Freed by Ramadan, The Guardian
“The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know – if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area,” Benny Gantz, a retired IDF chief of staff, told a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday. Airstrikes and ground fighting over the past day killed more than 100 people, mostly women and children, pushing the death toll over 29,000, said the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Large Antigovernment Protest Returns to Tel Aviv, as Criticism of Netanyahu Mounts, The New York Times
As the war has passed the four-month mark, protests against the government have been strengthening. On Saturday, calls for an immediate election were heard above a deafening din of air horns. A red flare was lit in the middle of a drum circle that beat out marching tunes. Flag-wielding demonstrators stared down half a dozen police officers on horseback. “The people need to rise up, and the government needs to go,” said Yuval Lerner, 57, referring to Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition.

US Proposes UN Security Council Oppose Rafah Assault, Back Temporary Gaza Ceasefire, Reuters
The US has proposed a rival draft UN Security Council resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and opposing a major ground offensive by its ally Israel in Rafah. The move comes after the US signalled it would veto on Tuesday an Algerian-drafted resolution — demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire — over concerns it could jeopardize talks between the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar.

Along With Future Normalization, Israel Is Also Willing to Risk Existing Peace Deals, Haaretz
Zvi Bar’el writes, “As it has become clear to Washington that “the day after the war” doesn’t appear on Israel’s calendar, it has been forced to devise its own strategic plan of action and try to dictate it to Netanyahu. As a result, instead of being the superpower whose main contribution is deterring a multifront attack on Israel and providing Israel a declared safety net through demonstrations of power (on top of extensive military and financial aid), America has been forced to micromanage the conflict’s various arenas to neutralize the regional strategic threat Gaza has created.”

‘Our People Are Here to Stay’: World Court Hears Arguments Over Israeli Occupation of Palestinian-Claimed Land, CNN
The International Court of Justice began hearing historic oral arguments Monday over the Israeli occupation of territory claimed by Palestinians, thrusting the decades-old debate before a panel of international judges as the region remains locked in an unprecedented war. Fifty-two countries will participate in arguments at The Hague over the six-day hearing – more than any other case heard by the court in its history.

Israeli Settlers Are Guarding the West Bank. Palestinians Say It’s Worsening Violence, NPR
To maintain the military presence in the West Bank, the military mobilized thousands of reservists as part of newly formed “regional defense” battalions. It also strengthened what the government called “emergency response units” made up of heavily armed civilians. In many cases, according to activists and Palestinians, those ranks have been filled by the very far-right Jewish settlers who have been at the center of much of the violence. Often it’s unclear whether the settlers are reservists, members of emergency units or freelancers operating on their own.

The Extremists Driving Netanyahu’s Approach to War With Hamas, Financial Times
Neri Zilber writes, “With Israel at war with Hamas, the key far-right figures once seen as fringe extremists — Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister — appear to wield more influence than ever. The pair, religious Zionists who both live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, have staked out hardline positions on issues ranging from postwar Gaza to US diplomacy and a possible truce deal with Hamas in which Israeli hostages would be freed in exchange for significant numbers of Palestinian prisoners.”


US Envoy Says Israel Has Not Shown Evidence that Hamas Is Diverting UN Aid in Gaza, PBS
Israel has not presented specific evidence for its claim that Hamas is diverting UN aid, and its recent targeted killings of Gaza police commanders safeguarding truck convoys have made it “virtually impossible” to distribute the goods safely, David Satterfield, top US envoy, said in rare public criticism of Israel.

IDF Finds Video of Bibas Family in Gaza, ‘Very Concerned’ for Mother, Youngest Hostages, The Times of Israel
The clip from surveillance cameras in Khan Younis showing Bibas holding Ariel and Kfir, who were 4 years and 9 months old, respectively, at the time of the kidnapping, is the first proof of life of the three members of the family since they were dragged into Gaza, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a press conference. The boys’ father, Yarden, was kidnapped separately and is also still held in Gaza.

26 EU Countries Warn Israel Against ‘Catastrophic’ Rafah Offensive, Reuters
“An attack on Rafah would be absolutely catastrophic … it would be unconscionable,” Ireland’s Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said before a meeting of foreign ministers from the 27 EU member states in Brussels. After the talks ended, all but one of them called in a joint statement for “an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a lasting ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance.”

Israeli Public Prioritizes ‘Defeating Hamas’ Over Ensuring Hostages’ Return, New Poll Finds, Haaretz
Given the choice between ousting Hamas and returning the hostages, the Israeli public would clearly prioritize defeating Hamas over ensuring the hostages be brought home. February’s survey, which came out last week, also found that public confidence in Israel’s ability to win the war, including trust in the IDF command echelon, has further eroded.

Settlers Riot in Palestinian West Bank Village After Terror Attack, Says Rights Group, The Times of Israel
Footage of cars set alight in the Palestinian village of Burqa in the northern West Bank emerges following the alleged Palestinian terror attack which took place close to the nearby illegal Homesh outpost. The Yesh Din organization, which advocates against the settlement movement, says that residents of Burqa are reporting that Israeli settlers are rioting in the village and committing numerous acts of arson, and that some residents have been injured in the violence.

Israeli Soldier Films Himself Blowing Up a Mosque [Video], CNN
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reports on an unfolding trend on social media, where IDF soldiers are posting their military offensive in real time.

Israeli Cabinet Debates Al-Aqsa Mosque Restrictions During Ramadan, Financial Times
Various restrictions were floated at a Sunday evening cabinet meeting held at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners. This included only permitting older Palestinian men and banning others deemed a security risk. Access for women would not change. While no final decision has been made, the politically charged talks sparked anger on the centre and left of Israeli politics and among leaders of the Palestinian minority within Israel.

Pro-Israel Group Targets Post Reporter, Semafor
DC public relations firm SKDK has been keeping tabs on reporters that it felt were reporting and tweeting unfairly about Israel, and putting pressure on major national news organizations to punish or remove these reporters from the beat. In particular, the group has singled out the Washington Post and its foreign correspondent Louisa Loveluck, who has covered the war in Gaza with an emphasis on Palestinian civilians impacted by the violence.

Opinion and Analysis

I’m the Mayor of Dearborn, Mich., and My City Feels Betrayed, The New York Times
Mayor Abdullah H. Hammoud writes, “President Biden is proving many of our worst fears about our government true: that regardless of how loud your voice may be, how many calls to government officials you may make, how many peaceful protests you organize and attend, nothing will change. […] Dearborn is not alone in calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. A poll conducted last fall found that 66 percent of Americans and a whopping 80 percent of Democrats want a cease-fire. However, the president and our elected representatives in Congress seem content to ignore the will of the American people.”

I’m an American Doctor Who Went to Gaza. What I Saw Wasn’t War — It Was Annihilation, The Los Angeles Times
Irfan Galaria shares, “I listened to my patients as they whispered their stories to me, as I wheeled them into the operating room for surgery. The majority had been sleeping in their homes, when they were bombed. I couldn’t help thinking that the lucky ones died instantaneously, either by the force of the explosion or being buried in the rubble. The survivors faced hours of surgery and multiple trips to the operating room, all while mourning the loss of their children and spouses. Their bodies were filled with shrapnel that had to be surgically pulled out of their flesh, one piece at a time.”

Why the US Should Start Telling the Whole Truth About Israeli Nukes, The Washington Post
William Burr, Richard Lawless and Henry Sokolski write, “What is the Pentagon protecting? Does it really think keeping Israel’s nuclear program classified is in our national security interest? If we pretend we don’t know Israel’s nuclear status, doesn’t it only make it easier for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, South Korea, Japan and others to proceed with nuclear weapons programs of their own? […] For us, these questions are all rhetorical. Effectively, Israel is no longer silent about its nuclear program. Our government’s forced silence should end as well.”

Restoring the Past Won’t Liberate Palestine, The New York Times
Lydia Polgreen shares, “But history doesn’t work that way. People do bad things. Other people resist those bad things. Humans invent and discover; they create and destroy. There is no going backward to some mythic state. There is no restoration. The events that unfold over time shape the land and the people who live on it, and those people shape one another in manifold ways, some brutal and destructive, some generative and loving. But time and experience ensure that nothing can ever be the same as it was before the last thing that happened.”