Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East

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November 22, 2023

Thank you, Executive Director Bahous, Executive Director Russell, and Executive Director Kanem, for your briefings. We appreciate all you’re doing to alleviate the suffering of all women and children around the world. And I want to take this moment to wish Executive Director Russell a full recovery from her injuries.

At the top, I want to say that it is also critical that the Council hear from academic and civil society briefers, who can speak to the plight of women and girls living under this conflict. And on this point, I’m disappointed that our request to have Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari brief this Council was not accommodated. Dr. Halperin-Kaddari served on the Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women for twelve years and has dedicated her life to the cause of ending violence against women. She should have been able to brief the Council today.

Colleagues, last night, we got welcome news: A deal, which President Biden and the United States helped broker in partnership with Egypt and Qatar. The deal was reached to secure the release of at least 50 hostages including Americans taken by Hamas during its brutal terrorist assault against Israel. And over the coming weeks, we will work to reunite all hostages with their families. Every single one.

We also appreciate the commitment that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made to support an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to help alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza, and to allow time for Palestinian civilians to move to safer locations.

Now, all aspects of this deal must be fully implemented, and we must encourage all Council members to support these aims.

Colleagues, while this is real cause for hope, it does not undo the devastating toll this conflict has had on women and children and on all innocent civilians in Israel, in Gaza, and the West Bank. Lives cut short tragically. Debilitating injuries. Emotional scars that for many, including those taken hostage, will never fade.

This is the dark reality of conflict that Hamas set in motion. It has been less than two months since Hamas carried out its barbaric terrorist attack against Israel, but many members of this Council seem to have forgotten or attempted to erase the horrors of that day. And many still cannot bring themselves to unequivocally condemn Hamas’ acts of terror.

So, I feel an obligation to speak on these horrors lest we forget. It is outrageous and it is an insult to the victims of Hamas’ brutal attack. The children who were executed in front of their parents. The families who were burned alive. The young people who were gunned down with glee. We have also seen horrifying footage that points to Hamas’ rape and sexual assault of innocent civilians. Where is the universal condemnation? And where is the outrage?

Colleagues, this moment is a test of our capacity to empathize with the suffering of all. We must continue to hold space in our hearts for the victims of the October 7th attack. For those in Israel whose homes are targets of Hamas’ rockets. For the hostages in Gaza who were pried from their families.

But let’s be clear: We must also – we must also – have the same compassion for the innocent Palestinian civilians, who have been killed and injured during this conflict. The innocent civilians, mostly children, under the rubble, and for the people in Gaza who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance – water, food, shelter, and other essentials. For the young girls who are no longer able to attend school, and the elderly who have fallen ill from a lack of adequate nutrition, and for those with disabilities who are unable to move.

Colleagues, we must scale up our humanitarian assistance to Gaza. And you know that the United States continues to work with the United Nations and partners in the region to do just that.

We’re pleased to see the first deliveries of much-needed fuel, following a commitment by Israel. This will help keep vital communications networks running and help UNRWA deliver humanitarian aid. But much more aid, including fuel, is needed urgently.

As we have heard today, Palestinian women also lack access to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health care. And humanitarian partners have, in many cases, been unable to provide gender-based violence response services in Gaza.

And that’s not for a lack of trying: UNRWA is doing everything in its power to continue to provide these services even in the face of grave danger. But these women and girls need more support and protection. And the United States is committed to doing everything possible to help women and girls in all conflict zones consistent with Security Council Resolution 1325.

Colleagues, make no mistake: Hamas is not concerned with protecting any civilians, including any Palestinian civilians. No. They are deliberately and callously putting them in harm’s way. Hiding behind the skirts of their women and innocent civilians.

Still, this does not lessen Israel’s responsibility to protect civilians consistent with international humanitarian law as it exercises its right to safeguard its people from acts of terror.

Efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are both a moral and a strategic imperative. And we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of lives at the UN’s Al Fakhoura School in Gaza. Any harm to civilians sheltering at protected sites is unacceptable.

Colleagues, even at this perilous moment, we must work towards a sustained peace. Towards a future where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side-by-side in peace. Women and girls can and must help chart that better future. And with their support and leadership, I believe we can at long last secure peace, freedom, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Finally, on this day before Americans celebrate their Thanksgiving, recalling on all the things we are thankful for, we must not forget those who are suffering, those who are in mourning, those whose children are going to bed hungry. We must do everything possible to alleviate their suffering.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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