Americans want US to help get Gaza civilians out of harm’s way: Survey

A poll shows 78 percent of American respondents want Washington to work on a plan to allow civilians in Gaza to flee Israel’s bombardments.

A child rests on luggage as Palestinians with dual citizenship gather outside Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the hope of getting permission to leave Gaza, amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
A child rests on luggage as Palestinians with dual citizenship gather outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the hope of getting permission to leave Gaza [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

A bipartisan majority of Americans wants the United States to help get Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way in Gaza amid Israel’s attacks, but the US public’s support for Israel in the conflict appears stronger than in the past, a Reuters/Ipsos poll finds.

The results of the two-day poll, which closed on Friday, showed 78 percent of respondents – including 94 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans – agreed with a statement that “American diplomats should actively be working on a plan to allow civilians fleeing fighting in Gaza to move to a safe country”.

Twenty-two percent of respondents disagreed.

Hamas fighters burst across the Gaza barrier fence into Israel on October 7, killing 1,300 and abducting dozens more, including Americans.

Israel has responded with the most intensive air attacks of its 75-year-old conflict with the Palestinians, killing at least 2,750 and sparking a humanitarian crisis.

US and global media have been awash with images of massacred Israelis, including graphic accounts of Hamas atrocities, as well as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip searching for survivors after Israeli air strikes levelled neighbourhoods.

Support among Americans for Israel’s position in the conflict was higher in the new poll than it was in a survey in 2014, when Israeli ground forces surged into the coastal enclave in a clash with Hamas aimed at stopping rocket fire into Israel. The current war has escalated into a much more serious, far-reaching conflict.

Forty-one percent of respondents in the new poll, which closed as Israel, Washington’s closest Middle East ally, was preparing a ground invasion into Gaza, said they agreed with a statement that “the US should support Israel” in its conflict with Hamas, while 2 percent said, “the US should support the Palestinians”.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted during the 2014 conflict, 22 percent of respondents said the US should support Israel’s position, and 2 percent wanted support for the Palestinians’ position.

Support for Israel’s position in the new poll was strongest among Republicans, with 54 percent of the party backing Israel’s position compared to 37 percent of Democrats.

In recent years, Democrats have grappled with internal friction between pro-Israel moderates and a faction of progressives increasingly critical of Israel, especially for its treatment of the Palestinians and expansion of Jewish settlements by the country’s far-right government.

Younger Americans

Large shares of respondents in the poll backed other stances in the conflict, including 27 percent who said the US “should be a neutral mediator” and 21 percent who said the US should not be involved at all.

About 40 percent of respondents under age 40 said the US should be a neutral mediator, roughly double the 19 percent of people age 40 and above who said the same.

Those under 40 were also less likely to back supporting Israel than were older Americans, a potentially worrisome sign for Israel, which has long counted on Washington for weapons aid and international diplomatic support.

About 20 percent of respondents under 40 backed supporting Israel, compared to 53 percent of older respondents.

The poll results illustrated a high level of concern among Americans over the plight of ordinary Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled territory of more than two million people.

Eighty-one percent of respondents agreed with a statement that “Israel should avoid killing civilians in its retaliatory strikes against Hamas”, compared to 19 percent who disagreed.

US officials have urged Israel to protect civilians while pointing the finger directly at Hamas, which Washington designates a “terrorist” group, for what they describe as using Gaza residents as human shields.

Israel has insisted its military takes every precaution to minimise civilian casualties.

As the deaths mount, no neighbouring state or other third country so far has shown any willingness to take in large numbers of Gaza refugees.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza would reopen and the US was working to get humanitarian assistance through it to ease the crisis.

The US on Saturday advised its 500 to 600 dual nationals in Gaza to move closer to the crossing for possible safe passage into Egypt.

Israel has imposed a full-scale blockade around the rest of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military sparked an international outcry last week when it ordered all residents of Gaza City to evacuate. Hundreds of thousands have already fled south.

Interactive_Live tracker_Gaza_October16_2023_1200GMT_INTERACTIVE - Israel Gaza war Casualty tracker October 16

About 69 percent of poll respondents said they were following news about the fighting “very closely” or “somewhat closely”.

When presented with a list of options for who is most responsible for the current conflict, 49 percent of respondents picked Hamas, far more than the 9 percent who picked Israel.

The war, which threatens stability in a region that is critical for global energy supplies, could be a significant political issue as US President Joe Biden seeks re-election in 2024.

While Biden has offered staunch support for Israel, he has also urged it to follow the laws of war. On Sunday, he said on social media that “the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas’s appalling attacks”.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in the election, criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a lack of preparation for the Hamas attack, saying “they’ve gotta straighten it out”.

The Reuters poll showed Americans have little faith in the ability of either Biden or Trump to solve the crisis.

Just 26 percent of respondents said they trusted Biden more “to broker peace in the Middle East”, compared to 32 percent who picked Trump. The rest said they did not trust either or did not know who would be better.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online and nationwide, gathering responses from 1,003 US adults. It had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about four percentage points.

Source: Reuters