Remarks by Ambassador Robert Wood, Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs, at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East

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November 10, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Director General Tedros and Director General Marwan Jilani, for your briefing today, and for your dedication over the past few weeks amid extraordinary challenges.

At the top, let me emphasize that we are closely monitoring the situation at the hospitals in Gaza. We are deeply concerned for the well-being of civilians who are at these facilities, and rely on them for life-saving care and shelter from the violence. All civilian and humanitarian facilities, especially hospitals and medical facilities, as well as the people who work for them and are engaged exclusively in medical duties, must be respected and protected consistent with international law.

We know that hospitals are in desperate need of fuel. The United States has been working tirelessly to put in place mechanisms to enable the fuel to reach hospitals and to meet other urgent needs in the south. These mechanisms need to be operationalized without delay. And much more work remains to be done to meet humanitarian needs throughout Gaza.

But I also want to make clear that we share Israel’s concerns about Hamas’s hoarding and siphoning of fuel in northern Gaza. This is unacceptable. And we must all call it out.

We also must call out the fact that Hamas cynically and atrociously uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, putting its command posts, weapons, and ammunition within or beneath the very hospitals we are speaking about today, and in residential buildings, schools, mosques. Hamas does not try to protect Palestinian civilians; it deliberately and callously endangers them.

At the same time, these cowardly tactics do not diminish Israel’s responsibility to distinguish between civilians and terrorists in its fight against Hamas. How Israel responds to Hamas’ attacks matters, and Israel’s response must be consistent with international humanitarian law. Rules like proportionality and precaution still apply. And the risks of harm to civilians at sites that Hamas is using for military purpose absolutely have to be considered when planning an operation.

Colleagues, acknowledging one party’s suffering does not negate or detract from another’s. We must not look away from the pain and suffering of innocent Palestinians. More than 1.5 million Palestinians who have been displaced in the weeks since October 7th. Innocent civilians have been killed. And people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Palestinian families are grieving, and we grieve with them.

Our capacity for empathy also requires that we mourn the Israeli civilian lives lost on October 7th. The pain and suffering of families who wait to know the fate of more than 200 civilians — women, children, the elderly — still held hostage by Hamas. Israelis are also grieving and we, too, grieve with them. I want to repeat: Acknowledging one party’s suffering does not negate or detract from another’s.

That was the message Secretary Blinken delivered during his recent trip the to the region, his second in the last three weeks. At every stop, Secretary Blinken had candid and direct conversations about Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’ terrorist attacks. He underscored the need to protect civilians, consistent with international humanitarian law, and to surge additional humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. He emphasized U.S. support for humanitarian pauses to facilitate and expand aid delivery. And he reiterated the importance of ending this current conflict in a way that ensures lasting peace and security in the region.

Colleagues, although we may have different views and positions on certain necessary steps to achieve these objectives, I think it is clear we are all committed to work toward these ends. In particular, we all agree that much more also needs to be done to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken have worked tirelessly over the last month, with Israel, Egypt, the UN, and others, to facilitate the flow of fuel, food, water, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Despite these efforts, the quantity of assistance entering Gaza is nowhere near enough to meet the dire and growing needs, and we are working to urgently scale up aid deliveries.

Israel has committed to implement four-hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day, with an announcement to be made three-hours beforehand. We have been told by the Israelis that there will be no military operations in these areas over the duration of the pause, and that this process is starting today.

We urge that these pauses be implemented without delay and we emphasize that coordinating these pauses with the UN would help ensure aid reaches those in need. Moreover, we continue to support calls for extended humanitarian pauses. And we are hopeful that Israel’s announcement will allow for the increased flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and will enable the safe passage of civilians seeking to flee the violence in northern Gaza.

The United States will continue to lead, but it will require a collective effort from all of us to meet the soaring needs in Gaza. It is time to step up. And to support the efforts of the UN.

The UN is playing an essential role in the humanitarian response effort, and that work has come at great cost. Nearly 100 members of UNRWA have lost their lives. It is tragic, and thousands are putting their lives on the line every single day to help the people of Gaza.

I want to underscore the United States’ support for UNRWA’s work, and convey our condolences to those who have lost loved ones who were trying to help others; and our admiration for those who continue to carry out this vital work.

We unfortunately do not yet have a way forward to secure the release of hostages, but we are working very hard on one. And if that were to take place, just being able to move hostages around the battlefield in a way that is safe will take time. And so, we believe a pause would also be appropriate in this context.

Colleagues, even as we are consumed by this crisis, we must also work to chart a more peaceful future.

President Biden has been very clear that we cannot go back to the way things were before October 7, either in Gaza, or in the West Bank. And he has said we need to get back to the urgent work of advancing concrete progress towards a viable Palestinian state that includes both Gaza and the West Bank. The United States continues to believe the most viable path — indeed, the only path — to peace is through a two-state solution.

As Secretary Blinken made clear this week, the only way to ensure that this crisis never happens again is to begin setting the conditions for durable peace and security. That means there must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza — not now and not after the war.

Gaza cannot be used as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks. There must be no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends or attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. And there must be no reduction in the territory of Gaza.

Finally, we must also ensure no terrorist threats can emanate from the West Bank.

Adhering to these principles and achieving a two-state outcome is the only guarantor of a secure and democratic Israel; the only guarantor of Palestinians realizing their legitimate aspirations to live in a state of their own, enjoying equal measures of security and prosperity; the only way to end this violence once and for all.

Again, our capacity for empathy, our common humanity — that is what separates us from Hamas and other terrorists. We can and must acknowledge one another’s suffering and keep working together to alleviate the human suffering created by this conflict. And we can and must work toward a more peaceful and secure future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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