J Street Statement on Ongoing Israel-Hamas War, Israeli-Palestinian Calamity

October 19, 2023

It has now been over ten days since Hamas launched a heinous terrorist onslaught against Israel, killing over 1,400 Israelis, injuring thousands more, and taking nearly 200 civilians – including children and the elderly – hostage inside Gaza.

These attacks have horrified and grieved the Israeli people, the American people, the Jewish diaspora, and so many others around the world. They have rightly been described as “crimes against humanity.” They have sent the J Street community into a period of shock and mourning.

The Israeli military has responded to these attacks with airstrikes inside Gaza and preparations for a possible ground invasion aimed at dismantling the terrorist organization’s infrastructure. Thousands of Palestinians – many of them innocent civilians – have been killed during the escalation so far. Airstrikes have taken a heavy toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Israeli authorities cut off water, electricity and food to large portions of the territory. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Hamas has reportedly played a significant role in trying to force Palestinian civilians to remain where they are, threatening and targeting those trying to flee. The humanitarian situation is calamitous.

It is no exaggeration to say that this has been one of the worst periods in the entire history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is hard to see an end in sight. The conflict appears to be widening, and there is a real risk of a dangerous regional escalation.

On President Biden’s trip to Israel, he made clear that the US stands firmly behind Israel’s security and right to defend its citizens and is deeply concerned about the protection of Palestinian civilians, provision of humanitarian aid, and the necessity of upholding international law.

Like the Biden Administration, J Street stands with the Israeli people in their grief, and we support Israel’s right to defend its citizens, disarm Hamas, and respond to this horror in accordance with international law.

At the same time, we are profoundly worried for the safety of the over 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza – half of whom are children – as this conflict turns their streets and their homes into an active war zone.

Civilian non-combatants cannot and must not be held accountable or made to pay a price for Hamas’s crimes. Like Israelis, they deserve to be protected and to live in safety and freedom. J Street condemns the disturbing number of politicians and pundits who have voiced support for indiscriminate violence against all Palestinian people – including calls to “level” Gaza or engage in wanton, retaliatory attacks against civilians.

J Street agrees with President Biden that “democracies are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.” We agree that “it matters” that the laws of war be upheld, no matter how unspeakable the acts that came before may be.

We urge the Biden Administration to also make the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians a priority as it rightly supports the State of Israel in defending its citizens. Israel’s actions must adhere to international law. Its response must be guided by a clear, coherent strategy and achievable goals.

Everything possible must be done to protect non-combatants inside the warzone and beyond. That includes creation of humanitarian corridors and safe zones, support for intermediaries negotiating for the release of hostages and credible guarantees that any Palestinians fleeing their homes will be allowed to return at the end of active combat.

It means ensuring that Palestinian civilians have access to the necessities of life, including food, water, medicine, fuel and shelter. We welcome President Biden’s announcement that, at the request of the US, Israel will allow humanitarian assistance from Egypt into Gaza – and that the US will itself provide $100 million worth of assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. We hope that this aid will begin to flow immediately. Ultimately, we know that much, much more will be needed, from the US and the international community.

We urge all parties to protect the lives of the hostages now in Gaza and to do everything possible to secure their immediate safe return. Ensuring that these innocent hostages can return safely to their families must be a priority for the United States, Israel, and the international community.

Beyond adhering to international law and basic morality, it is vital for Israel’s decision makers to understand that support for Israel’s actions, here in the United States and internationally, will be directly impacted by the efforts it makes to target and limit its actions to its stated goal of holding Hamas to account and ending its operational control of Gaza.

Even as we recognize that a significant Israeli military response to Hamas is warranted in the wake of their hideous attack, we also know beyond a doubt that there is no military solution to the conflict between the two peoples.

Successive rounds of ever greater violence over decades have totally failed to bring meaningful peace and security to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In fact they have tended to reinforce and worsen a deeply harmful status quo. Even as the violence is ongoing – and sadly seems a long way from ending – we need to hear from the President and the international community a clear commitment that there will be a path at the end of this darkness that leads to freedom, security and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.

If there’s one thing recent days have proven, there is no way to manage this conflict. No way to shrink it. No way to detour around it by cutting deals with other regional powers that leave the core conflict unaddressed.

Just as we support Israel and the right of the Jewish people to a state that is a national homeland, the United States must make clear it recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to be free from occupation and live safely in an independent Palestinian state.

Amid the despair, in one of the worst moments in the long history of this conflict, our collective voices are needed – not just in support of the security and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in a time of war – but in support of a vision that ultimately can bring this horrific conflict to an end.