Over the course of the last three and a half weeks, all of us at J Street have experienced a wide range of emotions, starting with horror and anguish for our family and friends in Israel after Hamas inflicted the worst calamity on the Jewish people since World War II.
Our pain has grown as we watch incomprehensible reactions around the world that glorify and excuse terror and place blame for the attacks not on the terrorists who committed them but on Israelis themselves.
And now, as Israel’s government seeks to hold those who perpetrated this horror accountable, we are witnessing a humanitarian disaster unfold – brought on by the unprecedented scale of Israel’s military campaign, decisions made by the Netanyahu government and the depraved placement by Hamas of their bases of operations, communications and arsenals under hospitals, schools and refugee camps.
While J Street supports the Israeli government’s right to defend its citizens against the terrorists who planned and carried out the attack on October 7 and the goal of removing Hamas from operational control of Gaza, we are deeply disturbed by the scope of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and believe much more can and must be done to minimize the death and deprivation being suffered by the civilian population.
At the end of this week, Secretary of State Blinken will be visiting Israel and making other stops in the region. We are deeply grateful to the secretary for his leadership in this difficult time. His calls for humanitarian relief, including in his Washington Post op-ed and testimony before Congress yesterday, were very welcome. We also thank the administration for its veto threat of the cynical legislation put forward by the new Speaker of the House that – among its many problematic aspects – removed all humanitarian funding from the president’s supplemental appropriations request.
As the secretary heads to the region, here are ten things we ask him to do to ensure the full weight of the United States is behind the effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza:
- Press his call on the Israeli government to take a humanitarian pause in its offensive to permit more robust arrangements to be made to assure the safety of Gaza’s civilians, restore the basic necessities of life and negotiate the safety and urgent release of hostages. A pause is not a conclusion of hostilities – it is a time-honored and oft-used tactic that facilitates non-military goals including negotiations over hostage releases, civilian movement and provision of humanitarian aid.
- Impress upon Israeli defense officials the deep concern of the United States that the military steps taken by Israel must be as tightly targeted as possible to comply with international law and to minimize civilian harm. For the United States, it should be made clear, this is a moral imperative, a legal requirement and also strategically important to maintain support globally and in the US for Israel’s response to October 7.
- Press Israel to restore full water and electricity supply to Gaza. The reports of promises made to open up water pipes do not appear to have been fulfilled. Stories of families unable to provide potable water for their children are chilling, and the decision to deny water to civilians is unlawful and unacceptable.
- Ensure that the Israeli government allows for an exponential increase of aid to flow into Gaza and ceases all air strikes on the Rafah crossing. Reports that agreements have been reached to raise the daily total of trucks to 100 are encouraging, but evidence at the Rafah crossing is that this number – still insufficient to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza – is nowhere near being achieved.
- Actively support the efforts of international actors to operate a verified process to import and deliver fuel to key facilities in Gaza – such as desalination plants, hospitals and schools acting as shelters – without it being diverted to Hamas. Fuel supplies are essential for the humanitarian response and are running out for many hospitals, some of which will no longer be able to provide life-sustaining care, including to pregnant women and newborns.
- Establish clearly demarcated safe zones in Gaza for civilians and humanitarian corridors with safety of transit for civilians to those safe zones, while guaranteeing the ability of these civilians to return when the fighting is over.
- Restore and sustain – to the extent that the capacity is within Israel’s control – consistent and reliable communications service to the Gaza Strip, which continues to be cut off. This is another service – like water and electricity – which is essential for humanitarian efforts and for which residents of the Strip are dependent on Israel.
- Push regional actors including Qatar, which is the primary contact with Hamas, and Egypt even harder to ensure that foreign nationals, including US citizens, and severely injured Gazans are able to transit out of Gaza through Egypt with appropriate security precautions.
- Demand that Israel prevent further settler violence in the West Bank and specifically the displacement of Palestinians from their homes and communities in Area C. Reports of IDF involvement and acquiescence in the precipitous rise in settler attacks before and especially since the October 7 terror attack are extremely disturbing. The secretary must make clear US demands that Israel not only arrest and punish those carrying out the attacks, but also facilitate the return of Palestinian communities already forced to move so they can return to their lands, homes and fields. The IDF must protect their safe return under international law.
- The secretary should drive home the point to all he meets with that the United States is intent on assuring that there must be a political resolution to the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will lead to self-determination for Palestinians in a state of their own, integration of Israel into the region and security and peace for Israelis and Palestinians so that we never experience anything like this again.
As the US prepares to provide Israel with a massive new package of military assistance, the secretary should insist that as part of their receipt and use of this aid, Israeli authorities must acknowledge, respect and adhere to the asks and guardrails set by the US government for its conduct in Gaza and the West Bank, and for post-war moves toward lasting conflict resolution.
Again, we thank President Biden, the secretary and the full administration team for its work in these past three and a half weeks. The days and weeks ahead will be even tougher, as will trying to chart a course out of the fighting toward a better future through diplomacy.
Ensuring that the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza are addressed and further calamity averted must be of the highest priority right now if there is to be any road forward in the longer run.