President Joe Biden is quietly dispatching officials to Arab and Muslim communities in the United States in an attempt at damage control while privately cursing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to contain civilian casualties in Gaza, where at least 1.7 million displaced Palestinians are trapped between Israeli forces and Gaza’s blockaded southern border with Egypt.
Now, Muslim advocates across the U.S. are demanding Biden stand up to Netanyahu and condemn both the recent killing of Palestinian American teenagers as well as the Israeli bombing and helicopter attacks that reportedly claimed the lives of more than 100 Palestinians taking shelter in the border town of Rafah on Monday.
About 132 Israeli hostages are thought to remain in Gaza following Monday’s operations to extricate two hostages, and Netanyahu said on Sunday that “enough” of them remain alive to justify a continuation of the war. However, U.S. military officials have privately told members of Congress that Israel has degraded Hamas but is not close to eliminating resistance fighters or the group’s military capability, a stated premise of the war on Gaza, according to The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, family members of hostages are still calling for Israel and Hamas to strike a deal on a ceasefire and say a prisoner swap remains their best chance for survival.
More than a dozen homes and three mosques in Rafah were hit by airstrikes during the Israeli operation, according to Gaza officials. Displaced Palestinians living in crowded camps near the border said they were shot by machine gunners in Israeli helicopters while sheltering in their tents, and young children are among the casualties.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Biden’s failure to condemn Israeli atrocities allows Netanyahu’s government to continue killing innocent people with impunity.
“The Biden administration has repeatedly failed to hold the far-right Israeli government accountable for attacks like last night’s Rafah massacre and even attacks on American citizens, like the assassination of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the murder of another American teenager, Tawfiq Hijazi, last month,” Awad said in a statement on Monday.
Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, Hijazi is also known to the media as Tawfic Abdel Jabbar. He was shot and killed in January at the age of 17 after being targeted by an off-duty Israeli police officer and an extremist settler while driving in the occupied West Bank, according to his family.
Another 17-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Palestine, Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Khdour, was shot in the head by Israeli forces on February 10 while sitting in a car with a family member at a wooded park in the occupied West Bank where “people from neighboring villages regularly visit to pick mushrooms, sage, and other plants,” according to Defense for Children International-Palestine.
The teens are among at least 370 Palestinians killed by settlers and Israeli forces in the West Bank since the war began, including 94 children. Gaza health officials reported Monday that more than 12,300 children and young teens have been killed in Israel’s war on Gaza. Thousands more are maimed, injured or imprisoned.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society told media outlets that children are among the victims of Israeli airstrikes on Rafah’s squalid tent cities filled with families that already fled other parts of Gaza, and the number of casualties is likely to rise as more bodies are pulled from the rubble.
With the border closed and fighting raging to the north, human rights groups say there is nowhere else for civilians sheltering in Rafah to go as Israel prepares for a ground invasion despite the international community’s pleas for restraint.
In a call with Netanyahu on Sunday, Biden said a major military operation in Rafah should not proceed without “a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support” for the more than 1 million people sheltering there, according to the White House. Netanyahu has ordered military leaders to draw up such a plan, but for displaced Palestinians, Rafah is the last stop. With hospitals to the north shuttered and nearly 70 percent of homes in Gaza destroyed, human rights groups say further displacement would be a war crime.
“Forcing the over one million displaced Palestinians in Rafah to again evacuate without a safe place to go would be unlawful and would have catastrophic consequences,” said Nadia Hardman, a refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “There is nowhere safe to go in Gaza.”
Reem Zidiah, a 23-year-old woman sheltering near Rafah, told Truthout that she is staying put with her family despite the danger. Rafah is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and Zidiah warned that any Israeli operation there would be a “bloodbath.” But the family’s homes in Gaza City are destroyed by Israeli bombs, and they were already displaced twice.
“Gaza City is going to turn into camps; there is not a city anymore, it is a city of ghosts — literally,” Zidiah said.
Meanwhile, Biden has shown increasing frustration with Netanyahu and his right-wing government as the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza surpasses 28,000 and polls show U.S. support for Israel’s war threatens to erode the president’s voter base in an election year. Biden recently called Israel’s operations “over the top” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken races to hammer out at least a temporary ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.
“He just feels that enough is enough. This [war] needs to stop,” one unnamed source close to the president told NBC News.
Biden has reportedly called Netanyahu an “asshole” in private conversations, sources told NBC. However, the scale of Israeli operations would not be possible without U.S. aid and weapons, and Biden has so far refused to use crucial military support as leverage over Netanyahu despite growing tension between the two leaders. Israeli media reports that the war in Ukraine has caused a global shortage of all types of ammunition, making U.S. weapons transfers crucial for the war on Gaza.
Facing widespread protests at home, Biden administration officials were dispatched to Michigan last week to meet with Arab and Muslim community leaders who are fuming over Biden’s handling of the war. The meeting came three months after prominent Muslim Democrats vowed to withhold votes from Biden over the bloodshed in Gaza.
Jon Finer, deputy national security adviser, told the community leaders that the administration realizes it “misstepped” in the course of responding to Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.
“We have left a very damaging impression, based on what has been a wholly inadequate public accounting for how much the president, the administration, the country, values the lives of Palestinians,” Finer said in a recording obtained by CBS News and verified by White House officials.
For example, Finer apologized for a statement Biden made on the 100th day of the war that spoke to the plight of Israeli victims of the October 7 Hamas attacks but failed to mention the massive levels of suffering and death faced by the people of Gaza.
Finer also acknowledged that many Arab and Muslim Americans believe Biden does not empathize with Palestinian lives. Critical swing state Michigan is home to large numbers of Arab and Muslim voters, and CBS reports that further efforts to repair ties with Muslim communities are in the works at the White House. Last week, officials were hoping to reschedule a meeting between Vice President Kamala Harris and Palestinian American leaders that was canceled at the last minute.
Now Muslim leaders in the U.S. are demanding the Biden administration live up to its word.
“President Biden must fulfill his legal and moral duty to protect Americans around the world, and he must stop enabling genocidal war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza,” Awad said. “He should start by condemning the Israeli government’s latest atrocities and using the power of his office to secure an immediate ceasefire and then pursue a just, lasting peace by ending the occupation.”
The Biden administration did not issue a condemnation of Israel or its military’s actions by the time this article was published. Asked if there would be any consequences for Israel or any change to U.S. policy over what Biden has described as “over the top” military tactics and “indiscriminate bombing,” White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby told reporters on Monday that he would not “engage hypotheticals.”
“We want to make sure Israel can continue to defend itself,” Kirby said during the White House press conference, adding that more humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza is badly needed.
It takes longer to read this sentence than it does to support our work.
We don’t have much time left to raise the $15,000 needed to meet Truthout‘s basic publishing costs this month. Will you take a few seconds to donate and give us a much-needed boost?
We know you are deeply committed to the issues that matter, and you count on us to bring you trustworthy reporting and comprehensive analysis on the real issues facing our country and the world. And as a nonprofit newsroom supported by reader donations, we’re counting on you too. If you believe in the importance of an independent, free media, please make a tax-deductible donation today!