Middle East Crisis: U.S. Defends Israel’s Policies Toward Palestinians

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Richard C. Visek, the acting legal adviser at the U.S. State Department, at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Wednesday.Credit…Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters

The United States defended Israel at the United Nations’ highest court on Wednesday, arguing that calls for the country to withdraw from the Palestinian territories fail to take into consideration its “very real security needs.”

Richard C. Visek, the acting legal adviser at the U.S. State Department, told a 15-judge panel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that only a two-state solution could bring about lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The court is hearing six days of arguments over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian-majority territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has been the subject of years of debates and resolutions at the United Nations. The hearings — involving more than 50 countries, a level of participation never before seen at the court — were called long before Israel went to war against Hamas in Gaza, but have become part of a concerted global effort to stop the conflict and examine the legality of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel has said it would not participate in the hearings, and sent a letter to the court last year arguing that the focus of the proceedings failed to “recognize Israel’s right and duty to protect its citizens” or its right to security.

The United States has strongly defended Israel during the war, including on Tuesday, when it cast the lone veto against a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for an immediate cease-fire, saying it would disrupt efforts to free hostages held in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Mr. Visek asked the court to uphold the “established framework” for a two-state solution that he said U.N. bodies have agreed to — one that is contingent on a “broader end to belligerence” against Israel — rather than heed calls by other nations for Israel’s “unilateral and unconditional withdrawal” from occupied territories.

The Oct. 7 attacks on Israel were a reminder of the security threats facing Israel, Mr. Visek said, “and they persist.”

The court, which normally hears staid disputes among nations, has lately become a venue for countries to oppose Israel. Last month, South Africa argued at the court that Israel was committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza — a charge strongly rejected by Israel. The judges have not ruled on that claim, but issued an interim order for Israel to take steps to prevent genocide in Gaza, giving it until next week to report back on how it is doing so.

On Tuesday, South Africa forcefully condemned Israel’s policies against Palestinians, calling them “a more extreme form of apartheid,” the race-based system of laws that deprived Black South Africans for decades. Palestinians “continue to be subjected to discriminating land zoning and planning policies, to punitive house demolitions and violent incursions into their villages, towns and cities,” South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusi Madonsela, told the court.

Israel has long rejected accusations that it operates an apartheid system, calling such allegations a slur and pointing to what it says is a history of being singled out for condemnation by U.N. bodies and tribunals.

The United States has remained Israel’s staunchest defender internationally. But the Biden administration, under increasing pressure from parts of the Democratic Party, has also shown signs of impatience with Israel’s conduct of the war, the rising toll in Gaza and the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Gazan health officials say that more than 29,000 people have been killed in Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion of Gaza, making it by far the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Israel’s founding in 1945.

President Biden this month said that Israel’s military response in Gaza — which began after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks killed 1,200 people, Israeli officials say — had been “over the top” and that the immense civilian suffering had “got to stop.” The remarks came days after Mr. Biden imposed broad financial sanctions against four Israeli men over violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.

After the hearings, which are scheduled to conclude on Monday, the court will give an advisory opinion, a decision that is expected to take several months. The opinion will be nonbinding.

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A room damaged during an overnight Israeli raid in the city of Jenin in the West Bank on Wednesday.Credit…Zain Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israeli forces killed three people and detained at least 14 others in an overnight raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, the Israeli military said on Wednesday.

The military said that the Jenin raid had targeted “terrorism” and was part of a broader operation in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority’s news agency, Wafa, said the Israeli forces had stormed two houses in Jenin, resulting in “violent confrontations.” The agency reported that a 26-year-old man had been killed and added that three people had been injured and homes and vehicles damaged.

Jenin, a more than 70-year-old refugee camp that is now a crowded neighborhood, has long been a bastion of armed resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Israeli military raids, though common for years, have become far more frequent since the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been detained in the West Bank raids, which Israeli officials describe as counterterrorism operations against Hamas and an extension of their war against the armed group in Gaza.

Deadly violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank has also reached record levels since Oct. 7, according to the United Nations.

This week, the International Court of Justice in The Hague started hearing six days of arguments over Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation” of Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It is the first time the world’s highest court has been asked to give an advisory opinion on the issue, which has been the subject of years of debates and resolutions at the United Nations. The U.N. General Assembly asked the court to review the legality of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories more than a year ago, before Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Adam Sella contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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Health care workers shared videos of a chaotic scene at Nasser Medical Center in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, as Israeli troops raided the hospital and ordered people to evacuate on Thursday.CreditCredit…Obtained by Reuters

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis had no electricity or running water after an Israeli raid last week, calling the destruction around the hospital “indescribable” and saying piles of medical waste and garbage were breeding disease.

But Israeli authorities pushed back on the W.H.O.’s description of dire conditions at the hospital, maintaining that the facility had sufficient medical supplies and that Israel had delivered a generator for the intensive care unit and food for the remaining patients.

Israeli forces raided the grounds of the facility — one of the last and largest hospitals still in operation in Gaza — late Thursday. Videos posted online showed chaotic scenes from inside smoke-filled corridors. The military said it had arrested 20 people who had participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and had found mortar shells and grenades it said belonged to the militant group.

According to the W.H.O., an estimated 130 sick and injured patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses remain inside the hospital.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Friday that the electric generators powering the hospital had stopped, and that five patients had died as a result. In a statement on Tuesday, the W.H.O. said that the hospital’s intensive care unit was not functioning and that, aside from minimal supplies it had been able to bring in, the remaining patients and staff were “cut off from aid.” The last remaining patient in the I.C.U. had been transferred to a ward where patients are receiving basic care, the W.H.O. said.

Col. Moshe Tetro, the head of the Israeli government agency that oversees aid in Gaza, said at a news conference that there had been electric power in the intensive care unit throughout the operation. He said Israel had delivered a generator to ensure this was the case.

He acknowledged that there were problems with power outages in other parts of the hospital, but he said the issues were not related to Israel’s raid last week.

Neither the Israeli claims nor those of the W.H.O. and the Gaza Health Ministry could be independently verified.

Colonel Tetro also said that Israel had delivered “large amounts of water, food and baby food for those remaining in the hospital.” Based on conversations with the hospital’s staff, he added that “it is our understanding that there is no shortage of medical supplies at the moment.”

Colonel Tetro said that Israel has also assisted in transferring patients to other places for treatment since the raid.

Before the raid, the Israeli military ordered an evacuation of thousands of displaced people who had taken shelter at the hospital. Israel has repeatedly said that Hamas uses hospitals for military activities, a claim Hamas regularly denies.

The Israeli military said that the raid was based partly on intelligence that hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel had been held at the complex and that their bodies might be there. No hostages have been reported as found.

On Friday, the Israeli military said medication bearing the names of Israeli hostages had been discovered during a search. The source of the drugs and how they were used was being investigated, the military said in a statement.

While Israel and Hamas reached a deal last month to deliver medications to the remaining hostages, it has been unclear if any had reached the captives. Qatar, which has served as a mediator, said on Tuesday that Hamas had confirmed that it had received the medications and that it had started delivering them.

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A residential building in the Kafr Sousa district of Damascus, Syria, that was reportedly hit by an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday.Credit…Louai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Syrian state media reported on Wednesday that an airstrike on a residential building in Damascus had killed two people, and said that Israel was responsible for the attack.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the strike, which the Syrian government’s official SANA news agency said hit a building in the Kafr Sousa neighborhood just after 9:30 a.m. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said that a third person had been killed by shrapnel from the attack, which also damaged surrounding buildings.

A strike last February in the same neighborhood killed at least five people. At the time, a senior Western diplomat said the strike was targeting Iranians near a site used by the Iranian military.

While Israel did not comment on the latest attack, it has acknowledged hundreds of past strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria.

Israel, Iran and Iranian proxies such as Syria have been waging a shadow war by air, land, sea and cyberspace for years. Iran supports and arms a network of proxy militias that have been fighting with Israel, including Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

The strikes and counter-strikes across the region have escalated in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks against Israel. Last month, Iran accused Israel of launching an airstrike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed senior Iranian military figures.

Cassandra Vinograd and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

Adam Sella reporting from Jerusalem

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A Palestinian inspecting a damaged home after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza, on Monday.Credit…Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Leaders of several humanitarian organizations on Tuesday sharply denounced the United States for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, criticizing the country for not doing more to use its international influence to prevent further death and destruction.

“Again, the U.S. has weaponized its veto power to obstruct, to undermine, the possibility of the U.N. Security Council taking action by calling for a cease-fire,” Amnesty’s director for global research and policy, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said at a media briefing held as the United States vetoed the resolution. Representatives from several international medical aid groups had convened to discuss the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The veto was expected; the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Sunday that the resolution, presented by Algeria, would jeopardize ongoing talks to free hostages in Gaza. The United States has vetoed resolutions calling for a cease-fire twice before, standing alone among the other Security Council members.

Avril Benoit, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States, called the repeated blocking of cease-fire resolutions by the United States “unconscionable,” denouncing the decision as “effectively sabotaging all efforts to bring assistance.”

The United States is negotiating an alternative resolution, which proposes a temporary cease-fire contingent on the return of all hostages and greater aid being allowed into Gaza, but some speakers on Tuesday’s panel dismissed it as too weak or impractical.

Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International, said the calls by the United States for a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah were “a mirage,” arguing that the rest of Gaza was “almost entirely uninhabitable” and there was no safe way for them to leave.

“It worries me, actually, to be hearing this from the U.S. government, this idea of a safe evacuation, because it suggests that such a thing is possible,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has ordered the military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza packed with about 1.4 million people, many of whom moved there months before seeking shelter. Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, also said that the government had no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians into Egypt.

Tsafrir Cohen, the executive director of the aid group Medico International, called on Israel’s two closest allies — the United States and Germany — to stop giving the Israeli government “carte blanche” and to condition their military support on ending the fighting, preventing further displacement in Gaza or into Egypt, and increased humanitarian aid entering the enclave.

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U.S. Vetoes U.N. Cease-Fire Resolution

For a third time, the United States on Tuesday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, claiming that the resolution would jeopardize a hostage-release deal.

The United States is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, along with Egypt and Qatar. This hostage deal would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks. And from there we could take the time to build a more enduring peace. But sometimes hard diplomacy takes more time than any of us might like. Still, that desire cannot blind us to the reality of the situation on the ground. It, and it cannot come at the expense of undermining the only, and let me repeat, the only path available toward a longer durable peace. And that is why you’ve heard me say over and over again, any action this council takes right now should help, not hinder these sensitive and ongoing negotiations. And we believe that the resolution on the table right now would, in fact, negatively impact those negotiations. Demanding an immediate, unconditional cease-fire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring about a durable peace. Instead, it could extend the fighting between Hamas and Israel.

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For a third time, the United States on Tuesday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, claiming that the resolution would jeopardize a hostage-release deal.CreditCredit…Mike Segar/Reuters

The United States on Tuesday vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution put forth by Algeria that would have called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. It was the third time Washington had blocked a resolution that would have demanded an immediate end to fighting.

Humanitarian agencies, U.N. officials and other diplomats have argued that without a cease-fire, humanitarian aid at the scale that Gaza needs is not possible. The U.N. spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said that the World Food Program, a U.N. agency, was suspending crucial food deliveries in northern Gaza, where the population was at the brink of starvation, because its staff could not operate safely and that the Council should find a unified voice on the war.

The United States said that the resolution would jeopardize Washington’s negotiation efforts with Qatar and Egypt to broker a deal that would release hostages from Gaza in exchange for a temporary humanitarian cease-fire. Those negotiations have stumbled, with neither Israel nor Hamas reaching a consensus on the terms for a deal.

“Any action the council takes right now should help, not hinder, these sensitive and ongoing negotiations,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Demanding an immediate unconditional cease-fire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring endurable peace.”

Thirteen council members voted in favor. Britain abstained.

Algeria’s ambassador to the U.N., Amar Bendjama, sharply criticized the United States, telling the council that voting against the resolution “implies an endorsement of the brutal violence and collective punishment inflicted upon” the Palestinians. He said “silence is not a viable option, now is the time for action and the time for truth.”

The United States has drafted a rival resolution, which is still in early stages of negotiations, that calls for a temporary humanitarian cease-fire as soon as practical, and the release of hostages. The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, also states that Israel’s army must not carry out an offensive in Rafah under the current conditions there. More than a million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah, many of them displaced multiple times.

The United States was expected to circulate its resolution on Tuesday afternoon among Council members to start negotiations, according to diplomats. Two Security Council diplomats said that the resolution would be challenged, given the U.S. veto on Tuesday, and that Russia and China were expected to veto and block the U.S. from imposing its views on the majority of the Council.

Diplomats said that a number of Council members were angry that a draft of the U.S. resolution had been leaked to the media and shared on social media ahead of the Council’s vote on Algeria’s resolution and before any Council members, including European allies, had had the chance to see it. They suggested that the U.S. appeared to want to do damage control before its veto.

But many of the diplomats have grown frustrated with the United States, saying it has prioritized its own diplomatic negotiations at the expense of the Council’s wider efforts, undermining the ability of the U.N. body to do its job. In October, the United States vetoed a humanitarian resolution, put forth by Brazil, to deliver aid to Gaza at a time when Israel had placed the strip under a strict blockade of essential aid, saying it could undermine President Biden’s efforts with the government of Israel to win aid delivery to Gaza.

Russia and China condemned the United States’ veto. “It is not that the Security Council does not have an overwhelming consensus, but rather it is the exercise of the veto by the United States that has stifled the Council consensus,” said China’s ambassador, Zhang Jun, adding that while the United States vetoed the cease-fire, civilians were getting killed and suffering.

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The World Food Program said that an convoy on Monday “faced complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order,” with several trucks looted and a driver being beaten.Credit…Kosay Al Nemer/Reuters

Israel’s military ordered two neighborhoods of Gaza City to evacuate on Tuesday amid signs of hunger and mounting desperation in the northern part of the enclave at a time when the focus of Israel’s offensive has shifted south.

The evacuations came as the World Food Program halted deliveries in the north on Tuesday, describing scenes of chaos as its teams faced looting, hungry crowds and gunfire in recent days.

The fiercest fighting and most intense bombing has in recent weeks shifted south to areas around Khan Younis and Rafah. But the evacuation order from Israel’s military on Tuesday for the Zaytoun and Turkoman neighborhoods of Gaza City raised the possibility of further military moves in the north.

Northern Gaza has been decimated by four months of bombardment, and continued fighting there between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters has severely hindered deliveries of aid to the estimated 300,000 people still in the area, who the United Nations has warned face starvation.

The W.F.P. had suspended its deliveries for the past three weeks because of safety concerns, and on Sunday the agency tried to restart them, but “crowds of hungry people” surrounded the initial convoy as it was going to Gaza City, and aid workers were forced to fend off people trying to climb onto the trucks, the organization said in a statement.

Another convoy on Monday “faced complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order,” the statement added, saying that several trucks were looted and a driver was beaten.

The W.F.P. said it did not take the decision to suspend deliveries in Gaza’s north lightly, adding that it meant “more people risk dying of hunger.”

“W.F.P. is deeply committed to urgently reaching desperate people across Gaza but the safety and security to deliver critical food aid — and for the people receiving it — must be ensured,” the statement said.

It cited the “unprecedented levels of desperation” witnessed by its teams as evidence of Gaza’s “precipitous slide into hunger” and pointed to a U.N. report published on Monday that said acute malnutrition had surged in the northern part of the enclave.

Northern Gaza was the initial target of Israel’s military offensive. As Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza, the military urged civilians to move south for their own safety.

Hundreds of thousands heeded the calls, and more than half of Gaza’s population is now crowded into Rafah, living in temporary lodgings and tents. But widespread shortages of food and water, coupled with concerns that nowhere in Gaza was truly safe, prompted some of the displaced to return to the north.

The new evacuation notice given by Israel’s military on Tuesday told people in the two Gaza City neighborhoods to move to an area around the seaside village of Al-Mawasi, west of Khan Younis in the southern part of the enclave. The notice was posted in Arabic on social media, but communication networks have been severely disrupted in Gaza, so it was unclear how many people saw it.

Ameera Harouda and Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting.

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