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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

President Biden, you have leverage that can save lives in the Gaza Strip. Please use it.



President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Wallingford, Penn. on March 8, 2024. While Biden is using tougher language toward Israel, he isn’t backing that up with consequences for being ignored, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

By Nicholas Kristof


President Joe Biden is sounding tougher toward Israel these days and showing more compassion for people starving in the Gaza Strip. “There are a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying,” Biden said. “And it’s got to stop.”


But it’s not going to stop on its own. Indeed, it may get worse if Israel invades Rafah, or if hunger tips into famine. And Biden’s concern for Palestinians rings hollow to me because he has been unwilling to lean hard on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make it stop.


So we’re now in a bizarre situation: American bombs and American aid are both falling from Gaza’s skies.


In 1948, the United States and its allies undertook the famous Berlin Airlift to rescue West Berlin from a Soviet blockade. Now we are engaged in another humanitarian airlift — this time because of the actions not of an enemy but of our partner. Israel is insisting on painstaking inspections of every aid truck going into Gaza. A senior administration official told me that Israel was turning back entire truckloads if they contained emergency birthing kits, apparently because these include a small scalpel for cutting umbilical cords. UNICEF tells me that Israel is refusing to allow it to bring in portable toilets. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Jeff Merkley visited the Gaza border and found that Israel has blocked water purifiers. A British member of Parliament said Israel had blocked 2,560 solar lights.


Because Biden couldn’t persuade Israel to ease up on this nonsense and allow in enough aid to avert starvation, he moved to airdrops and a sea corridor — better than nothing and also woefully inadequate. Cindy McCain, head of the U.N. World Food Program, warns that road access to Gaza is essential, and that “if we do not exponentially increase the size of aid going into the northern areas, famine is imminent.”


Diplomacy is about arm-twisting as much as persuasion, but Biden seems unwilling to act in ways that give force to his words. Simply put, Netanyahu ignores the White House because there is no cost to doing so.


That’s not entirely new. “Our American friends offer us money, arms and advice,” then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told a visiting American Zionist leader in 1967. “We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice.”


Avi Shlaim, a historian, recounts that the visitor asked what would happen if America said Israel would get aid only if it took the advice. Dayan replied: “Then we would have to take the advice, too.”


Under tough-minded presidents, that has occasionally happened. My first visit to the Middle East involved backpacking through a battered Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion, which left many Palestinians dead but hasn’t improved Israel’s security. I didn’t know that behind the scenes President Ronald Reagan called up Prime Minister Menachem Begin after one particularly horrific artillery barrage and, instead of pleading for a halt, commanded it.


“I was angry,” Reagan wrote in his diary, as The New York Review of Books noted. “I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately and said the symbol of his war was becoming a picture of a 7-month-old baby with its arms blown off.”


“Twenty mins. later,” Reagan added, “he called to tell me he’d ordered an end to the barrage and pled for our continued friendship.”


I wish Biden would show similar mettle. He could attach end-use restrictions to shipments of offensive arms, limiting how they can be used (as he does with Ukraine). He could simply adhere, as eight senators have urged, to American law that ends military support to any country when the president finds that it “restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”


Under congressional pressure, Biden last month issued National Security Memorandum 20, which amplifies the law and will require Israel to confirm by late March that it is allowing humanitarian aid delivery; otherwise, it risks its supply of offensive weapons. That is leverage, but only if Biden is willing to use it.


The president can also publicly urge Egypt to let aid trucks now stalled at the border while awaiting Israeli inspections to pass into Gaza even without Israeli approval. (It could do its own inspections if necessary.) Egyptian-Israeli security cooperation is important, but not if it keeps food from Gaza.


The United States can also abstain on humanitarian resolutions at the United Nations instead of vetoing them. Biden can bypass Netanyahu and speak directly to Israelis — maybe at the Knesset — and make the case for humanitarian aid, a cease-fire and a path to a two-state solution.


To explain how the current policy is failing, I’ll give the last word to Gaza linguistics scholar Mohammed Alshannat, whose texts I quoted in my column last week. In a new message, Alshannat told how he tried to collect food from an airdrop to avert starvation:


“Me and my wife decided to go to the beach hoping that we get something to feed our children. There were dozens of thousands of people waiting. Around 2:20 three planes started to drop their parachutes across the beach. People started chasing them. We chased one of these parachutes. However, when it was opened, we found water bottles and vinegar bottles. Two children died of stampede. Because we are so malnourished and have not eaten anything, it took us three hours to get back home, as we had to take a rest every 10 minutes. We wept all the way back.”

Contact Nicholas Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.

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1 Kommentar


William Rosa
William Rosa
19. März

Mr. Kristof, unfortunately is 100% right in his observations regarding the manner the US is overseeing the Israeli troops genocide the Palestinian people. It's inmoral that the US, the country that supposedly represent and defend the ideals of human rights, democracy and respect for every human being regarding his/her race, color religion or political ideology. Asking Mr. Netanyahu to minimize civilians killing, mainly children and women, constitute a de-facto genocide. Mr. Netanyahu is not interested in saving Palestinian lives; at this point in the invasion of Gaza the objectives are very clear: eliminate all Palestinians (except they would like to enslave), annex the Strip and build new Jewish settlements in the Palestinian land.

Mr. Biden not only had proved to…

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