Biden vows world won’t repeat mistakes of Holocaust and 9/11 in historic Israel visit

US president promises to do ‘everything in my power’ to make Israel ‘a safe place for the Jewish people’

Andrew Feinberg
Wednesday 18 October 2023 10:33 EDT
Biden says Hamas terror attacks ‘bring back memories of the Holocaust’

President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he would ask Congress for “unprecedented” amounts of aid to both Israel and the Palestinian people amid escalating violence following terror attacks by Hamas and a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital.

Mr Biden, who delivered remarks in Tel Aviv after a series of meetings with Israeli officials, first responders and survivors of the 7 October attacks, urged both sides against being consumed by anger in an escalating cycle of violence and making mistakes similar to those that the US and its allies had made in the period following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

“You are a Jewish state. You are a Jewish state. But you’re also a democracy. Like the United States, you don’t live by the rules of terrorists. You live by the rule of law. When conflict is fair, you live by the rule of law of war,” said Mr Biden, who added that what sets the US and Israel “apart from the terrorists” is a belief “‘in the fundamental dignity of every human life”.

“You can’t give up what makes you who you are. If you give that up, then the terrorists win. And we can never let them win,” he said.

The president said the US will provide more than $100 million in new funding for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the West Bank to support “more than one million displaced ... Palestinians, including emergency needs in Gaza”.

He also said the Israeli government had agreed to allow aid to Gaza to move humanitarian aid through the Rafah checkpoint from Egypt, but warned that there would be further action if the aid was found to have benefited Hamas.

He stressed that his view and the view of the United States is that Hamas, which has long been designated as a terrorist group by the US State Department, “does not represent the Palestinian people” and condemned the group for using “innocents ... as human shields”.

Regarding the explosion at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday, the president said he was “outraged and saddened” by the “enormous loss of life” there, but he maintained “based on the information we’ve seen to date,” that the explosion was caused by “an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza” rather than any strike by the Israeli Defence Forces.

The president’s remarks came at the tail end of a first-ever wartime visit to Israel by a US president — the second time he has traveled to an active conflict area this year.

Mr Biden said he had come to Israel with a “single message” to Israelis: “You are not alone”.

“As long as the United States stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let you ever be alone,” he said.

He strongly condemned the Hamas attacks, which left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and scores more injured or kidnapped to Gaza as hostages, calling them “ atrocities that recall the worst ravages of ISIS” and slamming the militant group for “unleashing pure unadulterated evil on upon the world”.

“There’s no rationalising, no excusing ... their brutality,” he said, adding later that the attacks — which marked the single deadliest day for the Jewish people since the end of the Second World War — had “brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by millennia of anti semitism and the genocide of the Jewish people”.

US President Joe Biden leaves the room at the end of a press conference following a solidarity visit to Israel

Mr Biden lamented that the world had known about the Holocaust but had done “nothing,” and vowed that the inaction of years past would not be repeated.

“We will not stand by and do nothing again,” he said. “Not today, not tomorrow, not ever”.

Mr Biden landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning for a high-stakes wartime visit which cemented the US’s strong show of support for Israel amid its escalating war with Hamas.

The president touched down at around 11am local time where he was greeted by Mr Netanyahu on the tarmac, with the two allies embracing each other.

In a dramatic move, Mr Biden appeared to side with Israel’s version of events about the deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday night – in a strongest sign yet of his support for Mr Netanyahu.

He told reporters that it “appears” that the explosion was “done by the other team” and not Israel – as both sides continue to deny responsibility for the attack.

“I’m deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” he said.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you. But there’s a lot of people out there not sure, so we have to overcome a lot of things,” he said.

When asked later what makes him sure that Israel wasn’t behind the explosion, Mr Biden said that his comments were based on data from the US Defense Department.

“The data I was shown by my defense department,” he said, providing no further details about the evidence.

An explosion rocked the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday night, with the death toll expected to be in the hundreds.

Biden and Netanyahu embrace on the tarmac in Tel Aviv

Israel has blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the attack, saying it was the result of a misfired rocket targeting Israel.

Meanwhile, the PIJ has denied any involvement and Hamas has blamed Israel.

The explosion plunged Mr Biden’s visit into turmoil before he even set off from the White House on Tuesday night.

In the wake of the attack, his Middle East summit in Amman, Jordan, was abruptly cancelled as both King Abdullah and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority suddenly pulled out.

The Biden administration has since tried to downplay the significance of the meetings being axed.

In a briefing with reporters on board Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv, NSC spokesperson John Kirby insisted that the cancellation was because President Abbas was holding three days of mourning.

“I mean, the main reason that Abbas pulled out of the meeting in Jordan was because of three days of mourning, which is of course completely culturally understandable,” he said.

“I mean, he absolutely had to go home, and we understand that. And without him there, certainly that made it more difficult to have the kind of discussions that we wanted to have in Amman. But again, they’ll speak again on the way home.”

Mr Kirby said that Mr Biden spoke to both King Abdullah and President Abbas on Tuesday night after the hospital explosion – and that he will be speaking to them again on his departure from Israel.

In remarks aboard the presidential aircraft after departing from Israel, Mr Biden said Mr Netanyahu and Mr El-Sisi had been “completely cooperative” on the matter of allowing humanitarian aid to Gaza through the Rafah checkpoint.

“Israel has been badly victimized but the truth is they have an opportunity to relieve suffering of people who have nowhere to go … it’s what they should do,” he said.

He also told reporters that he had been “very blunt” in his talks with Israeli officials about the need to get aid to the Palestinians, and said the Egyptian president “deserves some real credit because he was accommodating”.

Rachel Sharp contributed to this report

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