Washington, DC – As United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Israeli leaders to urge “humanitarian pauses” in Gaza, Israel intensified its bombing of the Palestinian territory, hitting hospitals, ambulances and civilians fleeing to safety.
Rights advocates say “humanitarian pauses” are inadequate to stop the carnage in Gaza, where the United Nations has expressed concern over possible war crimes.
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“That’s obviously completely insufficient and is probably not sustainable over time. It’s kind of an absurd approach to this,” said Adam Shapiro, director of advocacy for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
“I don’t know who’s legally advising the US administration, but if they think that this is a way to compensate for international humanitarian law, they’re badly mistaken. That’s just not legitimate.”
Shapiro added that calling for pauses also paves the way for an “open-ended” conflict without accountability or political cost for Israel.
While in Israel on Friday, Blinken said temporarily halting the fighting would allow more aid into Gaza, protect Palestinian civilians and enable diplomacy to free captives held by Hamas.
“We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses, by arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and permit the more effective and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he told journalists.
The White House had said earlier that any pause would be “localised”, a goal far less ambitious than achieving a full ceasefire.
Still, the stance marks a shift in the US position. Two weeks ago, Washington vetoed a United Nations Security Council proposal calling for a humanitarian pause.
Sandra Tamari, the executive director of Adalah Justice Project, an advocacy group, said the call for a humanitarian pause shows that the Biden administration is responding to growing domestic pressure over the rising death toll in Gaza. Over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed as of Friday.
“The Biden administration sees the American public’s outrage over this genocide and these killings, and they’re finding it harder and harder to justify allowing Israel to continue,” Tamari told Al Jazeera.
Blinken’s visit came amid growing discontent from Arab and Muslim communities over the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis. A survey earlier this week showed Biden polling at a record low of 17-percent support among Arab Americans, down 42 percentage points.
There have also been reports of growing dissent within the administration itself. One State Department official, Josh Paul, said he resigned his post over the US’s “continued lethal assistance to Israel”.
Tamari stressed that a humanitarian pause would not quell the anger within communities that support Palestinian rights.
“Palestinians do not want a pause in the bombing for food to get in and then to be bombed again,” she said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
But even Blinken’s modest push for a temporary suspension of hostilities appears to have been rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I made clear that we are continuing full force and that Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire which does not include the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu said.
Shapiro said that rebuff echoes a longstanding approach among the Israeli leaders. They can ignore Washington’s demands, he explained, because they know that the US would not impose real consequences on Israel.
“The Israelis just simply are now saying effectively to the face of the Americans: We’re not even listening to what you have to say because you don’t back it up with anything.”
Israel receives $3.8bn in US military aid annually, and Biden has requested more than $14bn in additional funding for the Israeli government since the war broke out.
Moreover, the Pentagon said earlier this week that it was “not putting any limits on how Israel uses weapons” provided by the US. Similarly, the White House said it was “not drawing red lines” for Israel.
The US Department of Defense also confirmed on Friday that American surveillance drones are flying over Gaza to support “Israeli partners as they work on their hostage recovery efforts”, suggesting direct involvement in Israel’s military campaign.
Palestinian groups are holding more than 200 captives, following the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed 1,400 Israelis.
Since then, Israel has declared war on Hamas and has relentlessly bombed Gaza, in the name of rooting out the Palestinian group.
‘Blood on your hands’
Given the US support for Israel’s war effort, Palestinian rights advocates say they are not convinced by the Biden administration’s growing emphasis on protecting civilians in Gaza.
In fact, Israel’s bombing campaign seems to have gotten worse over the past two weeks, as US officials increased their calls for the Israeli military to abide by the “rules of war”.
On Friday, Blinken said he sees his “own children” in the images of dead and injured Palestinian kids in Gaza. However, he continued to stress US support for Israel.
But Tamari of the Adalah Justice Project said Palestinians and Palestinian Americans are not falling “for these niceties”.
“All Palestinians are looking at Blinken, looking at Biden, looking at this entire administration and saying: ‘You have blood on your hands,'” Tamari said.
Tariq Kenney-Shawa, a US policy fellow at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, also dismissed the Biden administration’s softening tone and call for humanitarian pauses.
“Any party funding Israel to the tune of $14bn and replenishing the munitions Israel is using to commit genocide in Gaza is an active accomplice,” Kenney-Shawa said.
“The flowery human rights rhetoric the Biden administration is known for is nothing but hot air. If Washington wanted to influence Israel’s decision-making, it could easily leverage the unprecedented amount of financial and military support it’s providing.”
There must be no conflation between Hamas and the Palestinians.
Palestinians deserve equal measures of safety and security, self-determination, and dignity.
We have been very clear that the rules of war must be adhered to and that there be humanitarian aid that flows.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 3, 2023
For now, as international pressure increases and demands for a ceasefire become louder, Kenney-Shawa said Israel is trying to inflict more pain on Palestinians.
“What minuscule pressure the Biden administration is putting on them is proof that unconditional support cannot go on forever,” he told Al Jazeera in an email.
“I think they’re trying to kill as many Palestinians as possible in this window of opportunity they have where they’re confident that the US is going to go to bat for them, no matter what they do.”