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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Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Coordinator Wennesland and Head of Mission Gauchat for your briefing.

Colleagues, over the last few days and weeks, we have shared many of our thoughts on the subject. And we will have more to say later in the day.

But right now, a few things bear reiterating. That the atrocities Hamas committed on October 7 must be condemned. That we must pursue justice for the victims of horrific sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on and after that day. That Israelis still face barrages of rocket fire to this day – rocket fire launched by Hamas from civilian infrastructure in Gaza at civilians in Israel. That civilians must be protected, and that humanitarian aid must reach those who desperately need it. That Hamas must not be allowed to control Gaza, for the sake of Israeli and Palestinian safety alike, and that Israel has the right to protect its people from terrorism. That regional actors, including the Houthis, must not exploit and widen this conflict. That UNRWA must be supported – and the United States has provided more than $422 million to its 2023 appeals to that end. And that ultimately, we must all work towards a two-state solution, which serves as the only foundation for a truly sustainable peace.

Of course, as Special Coordinator Wennesland highlighted, the events that have unfolded in the West Bank over the last year have moved us farther away from that reality. That includes the ongoing construction of settlements in the West Bank, which undermines the possibility of a Palestinian state. And it includes a sharp and alarming uptick in settler violence. Especially because, even before Hamas’ attack on October 7 – 2023 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005.

Colleagues, the United States condemns these violent attacks. Period. We believe the perpetrators must be held accountable. As Secretary Blinken announced earlier this month, we will continue to issue visa bans to extremist individuals who have undermined peace, security, and stability in the West Bank. Already, we have implemented this policy for dozens of individuals and their families under this policy. And we have repeatedly underscored to the Israeli government that it, too, must do more to investigate this violence, and hold extremist settlers who have committed it, responsible.

More than that, Israeli officials must not fan the flames of this violence with incendiary, dehumanizing rhetoric. Because we have seen the ways in which words have consequences not only in the West Bank, but around the world. Over the past two months, we have witnessed a spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia both online, and in our communities. Including in our own backyard here in New York City, where just a few blocks north, a Halal food vendor faced vile, bigoted harassment. Where, just over the river in Brooklyn, a Jewish man was brutally beaten in front of his family’s home. Rhetoric matters. And we must do more to prevent this dangerous dehumanization.

There are two more subjects I want to address today. The first is what faces those reporting in the region. Because today, journalists are not just witnessing what is happening. They are experiencing it – all of it. Scores have lost family members, like Al Jazeera’s Wael Dahdouh, who was himself injured last week. Others have been displaced from their homes or gravely injured on the job. And far, far too many have been killed, making this the deadliest period in memory for journalists.

Colleagues, there are few callings more noble than telling the truth. Journalists’ words change hearts and minds and move people to action. And in this moment, more must be done to protect them.

Colleagues, the final note I want to end on is about the hostages. Earlier this week, our Mission met with young Israelis whose loved ones are still being held captive in Gaza. They came to us to share the stories of their loved ones, and we promised that we would tell those stories to this Council, to the world.

We heard from Amit and Michal Levy, whose sister, Naama, was kidnapped by Hamas. So many of us have seen the video of her being forced into a Jeep at gunpoint, her hands tied and her pants bloodied. But what so many of us don’t know is Naama’s story – the fact that she was a peace activist who built connections with Palestinians in an effort to chart a brighter future. Who dreamed of being a diplomat, and maybe even sitting in this very chamber. Whose smile is missed, every single day.

We will continue to share Naama’s story – and every hostage’s story – until they are home. Until Amit and Michal can embrace their sister once again.

Colleagues, we must hold space for the heartbreak on all sides. For all whose lives have been disrupted and destroyed by a conflict that Hamas set in motion, that Hamas restarted after a week-long humanitarian pause, and that Hamas could once again end by simply releasing the hostages.

For all those who have suffered in Israel, in Gaza, in the West Bank, and around the globe, let us work in good faith to end this cycle of violence, and sow the seeds for a lasting peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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