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How should the US respond to the Israel-Palestine crisis? Our panel weighs in | Panelists


Joshua Leifer: ‘The US has the power to stop the bloodshed’

It now seems that the Middle East is poised on the edge of a broader regional war. Whether or not this was the goal of the Hamas invasion of towns and cities deep inside Israel, it is the result. Israel has suffered its deadliest day since the state’s founding, and the gruesome, unspeakable images of whole families shot in their homes and kidnapped Israeli children, women, youth and the elderly have galvanized almost the entire country in support of an overwhelming use of force against the Gaza Strip.

Israeli leaders have promised that the ongoing bombardment of Gaza is just the beginning; this is, I fear, the precipice of a major atrocity in Gaza, perhaps on a scale that has not been seen this century. Contrary to those on the left who were quick to hail the Hamas attack as the opening act of putative uprising, it is more likely to be remembered as an act of will-to-suicide that will all but certainly result in immeasurable Palestinian suffering.

Though it is unlikely to do so, the US has the power to stop the bloodshed. It must exert maximum pressure on Israel and Hamas to do what basic human decency dictates: free the Israeli hostages immediately, end the bombing and end the blockade of Gaza. But there can be no return to the status-quo ante of indefinite occupation in the West Bank and siege of Gaza, the underlying conditions against which Palestinians have long struggled. There is only one viable alternative to endless bloodshed: to reach a just, long-term resolution to this conflict that enables Palestinians and Israelis alike to live in peace and dignity. Failure to reach such an accord will result in something too terrible to contemplate.

  • Joshua Leifer is a member of the Dissent editorial board and a contributing editor at Jewish Currents

Alex Kane: ‘Biden is giving the green light to an extremist coalition’

On Saturday, shortly after fighters from Gaza launched a brazen surprise attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians, the US state department’s office of Palestinian affairs condemned the attack, before urging “all sides” to refrain from retaliation. Then the office deleted the tweet. In doing so, the Biden administration appeared to be sending a message: Israel’s response to the deadly attacks would have the full backing of the US government, and there would be no immediate calls for Israeli restraint. President Biden’s first statement on the attacks underscored this approach. “We stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel,” said Biden. “Israel has a right to defend itself and its people.”

In doing so, the Biden administration is throwing its full weight behind an Israeli government dominated by extremist ministers bent on annexing the West Bank and expelling and killing as many Palestinians as it can. The Biden administration reportedly plans to send additional military aid to Israel in the coming weeks, on top of the $3.8bn in weapons it already gives Israel every year. Gone, for now at least, is the White House’s typical response to the Netanyahu government’s provocations toward Palestinians: mild criticism and calls to refrain from escalation. In its place is unequivocal support for Israel, even as Israel’s defense minister announces his intention to impose a total siege of Gaza in which no electricity, food or water would get in, and as Israeli warplanes fire US-made missiles that collapse residential buildings and kill entire Palestinian families.

Israel’s punishing response will likely go on for weeks and include a ground invasion, which promises a high number of civilian casualties and widespread destruction of homes, roads and infrastructure. With the US refusing to restrain Israel, the consequences for Palestinians will be nothing short of catastrophic. Instead of urging immediate ceasefire and negotiations, Biden is giving the green light to an extremist coalition to do what it wants with Gaza.

  • Alex Kane is a senior reporter at Jewish Currents

Yousef Munayyer: ‘The laziest thing the US can do is condemn Palestinian violence yet ignore the causes’

There are two paths before the United States at this critical moment. The path it seems to be walking down now is backing Israel to the hilt as the country carries out yet another massive military campaign in the Gaza Strip, where it will inevitably kill masses of civilians who have been living under a brutal military occupation and siege for years. This would be done with no prospect of resolving the core issues and a certainty of engendering much more hatred.

The other path is one the US has generally failed to take, and that is to make an immediate and genuine effort to resolve the root causes of political violence in Palestine by addressing the long-standing grievances of the Palestinian people, who have been denied their basic rights to freedom and dignity by the US’s ally, Israel.

The easiest and laziest thing the US can do is condemn Palestinian violence yet ignore the causes of that violence. Worse yet, the US can continue to support those causes through its unchecked backing of Israeli military occupation. Doing so, however, will only consign more people, Palestinian and Israeli alike, to be victims of future episodes of political violence.

  • Yousef Munayyer is head of the Palestine/Israel program at the Arab Center in Washington DC

Libby Lenkinski: ‘Retain a sense of humanity for all innocent people’

We are witnessing unprecedented events in Israel-Palestine. Insecurity is everywhere. There has been a total breakdown of the systems and structures that Israelis depend on to protect them and provide the services and information they need. Insecurity is also present for the people of Gaza, which has been under siege for 16 years, as well as the West Bank, where military occupation creates untenably insecure lives for Palestinians.

Americans should contribute to any efforts that ensure that Israelis are not left helpless with an extremist government that has shown not only how little it values Palestinian lives, but also how incompetent it is at caring for its own citizens. There are groups of people living in Israel who are extremely vulnerable – Bedouins in the south who have no access to bomb shelters; asylum seekers and migrants stranded with little access to Israel’s welfare infrastructure; and kibbutz communities that have lost everything. There are extremists inside and outside this Israeli government who are inciting violence against Arab Palestinian citizens and calling for revenge in cities where Jews and Arabs live side by side.

Right now, people around the world must retain a sense of humanity for all innocent and suffering people. We must voice that compassion, contribute to relief efforts and do everything in our power to deescalate. In the longer term, Americans must raise our voices to ensure that the future is not only one where this can never happen again, but one in which all people – Israelis and Palestinians – are free from oppression, occupation and terrorism.

  • Libby Lenkinski is an activist and the vice-president for public engagement at the New Israel Fund

Noura Erakat: ‘The US is a central part of the problem’

The United States continues to be a central part of the problem fomenting instability and violence afflicting Palestinians and Israelis, as evidenced by the US’s response to Hamas’s attack. The White House described the attack as “unprovoked”, thus deliberately eliding decades of structural violence against Palestinians. Israel has subjected Palestinians to settler-colonial removal for 75 years, to the longest occupation in history for 56 years, and to a debilitating siege of Gaza holding 2.2 million Palestinians in an open-air prison for 16 years. In 2020, several Israeli and legacy international human rights organizations confirmed that Israel oversees an apartheid regime against Palestinians.

Despite this, the US has continued to provide Israel with $3.6bn annually without conditions and made Israeli normalization with Arab states a top priority, thus normalizing apartheid. Worse, the US recently designated Israel as part of its visa waiver program, seemingly rewarding that apartheid rather than sanctioning it. This is part of a legacy of US complicity with Israeli aggression. Since 1967, the US has issued 43 vetoes on the UN security council to protect Israel from accountability or to prevent international resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pathway to a durable peace is lifting the siege, ending the occupation and dismantling Israeli apartheid. The US continues to obstruct this pathway by providing Israel unequivocal financial, military and diplomatic support, and sustaining these structures of violence.

  • Noura Erakat is an associate professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine

Diala Shamas: ‘The US must end its complicity’

Since the United States’ announcement of unconditional support and emergency military and other assistance to Israel, Israeli officials declared Palestinians “human animals” and proclaimed their intention to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, if not an act of genocide. Israeli forces proceeded with bombing dozens of buildings – annihilating entire families – in an isolated territory where Palestinians have no safe place to go.

The US government bears significant responsibility for the current situation and, as a signatory to both the Geneva conventions and Genocide Convention, has obligations under international law to prevent – not further – the commission of international crimes. Israeli government officials have spent the last year openly inciting to war crimes and encouraging settler pogroms. The Israeli military has imposed a 16-year siege on Gaza – during which it conducted six deadly military assaults against a population living in one of the most densely populated places on earth. The Biden administration has not simply been silent, it has rewarded such crimes at every turn.

Now, rather than deescalate a situation to prevent further loss of life, the most powerful countries in the world, led by the US, have communicated a carte blanche to Israelis.

This international abandonment has come regardless of which avenues Palestinians pursued: Palestinians have appealed to every international institution available, holding weekly nonviolent marches despite being met with snipers and tear gas, and leading campaigns to boycott Israeli apartheid. They have pushed every possible lever, and the US has dismissed them, impeded their efforts or restricted their protest.

Recognizing the root causes of the current violence doesn’t require condoning attacks on civilians. Offering context is not offering an excuse. On the contrary: the only way to honor the loss of life – Palestinian and Israeli – is to address its source. The US must end its complicity in Israeli apartheid, systemic oppression, military occupation and collective punishment – not double down on its support.

  • Diala Shamas is a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights