By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, October 23: When Hamas staged a brazen attack on Israel on October 7, creating mayhem in the world’s only Jewish State, US President Joe Biden came out resolutely though one-sidedly against the Palestinian militant group. He persisted with this stand even when Israel responded in a disproportionately brutal way killing thousands, flattening buildings and denying water and electricity to 2 million Palestinians trapped in Hamas-ruled enclave of Gaza.
But his one-sidedness invited vocal disapproval from university students across America, including Harvard and Columbia, within his own Democratic Party, and his allies in Europe.
His new-found friends in the Middle-East, who were making up with Israel at American insistence, also called for restraint and the restoration of the Palestine Authority that was set up after the Oslo Accords in 1993 but sabotaged by Israel in subsequent years.
Even as he was in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to demonstrate American solidarity with Israel, his Democratic party constituency back home was seeing a revolt. New York Times said that large segments of Democratic voters, especially younger ones, were sceptical if not hostile to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and were disinclined to support a war, even in response to a Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 Israelis.
A letter signed by 55 progressive members of the US Congress on Friday, called for the restoration of food, water, fuel and other supplies Israel had cut off to Gaza. A House resolution with 13 Democrats as co-sponsors demanded “an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”
Such political alienation from Biden’s policy only increased after the Israelis allegedly bombed a Gaza hospital killing 500 on Tuesday. Biden’s supporters were forced to say that he would “privately” but not “publicly” convey his disapproval to the Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
New York Times quoted Waleed Shahid, a strategist who used to work for the leftist “Justice Democrats”, as saying that Biden’s embrace of Israel might drive young Muslim and progressive voters away from Biden and toward Cornel West, the independent candidate for President who is running on an anti-war platform.
Protests in Campuses
Meanwhile, there were widespread protests in American university campuses against Israel’s brutal response to Hamas’ terror strike. The US National Public Radio (NPR) and other US media reported about American university students protesting and clashing over the Israel-Hamas war.
At Harvard, 35 student groups signed a letter from the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) on October 7 holding Israel “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The Hamas attack “did not occur in a vacuum,” the letter said, according to Newsweek.
“For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to ‘open the gates of hell, and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel’s violence,” the letter said.
The statement condemned the actions of the “apartheid regime” in Israel, adding that Israeli violence had “structured every aspect of Palestinian existence for 75 years.”
“The apartheid regime is the only one to blame,” it said. “From systematized land seizures to routine airstrikes, arbitrary detentions to military checkpoints, and enforced family separations to targeted killings, Palestinians have been forced to live in a state of death, both slow and sudden.”
“Today, the Palestinian ordeal enters into uncharted territory. The coming days will require a firm stand against colonial retaliation. We call on the Harvard community to take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians,” it warned.
The groups that signed the statement includes Amnesty International at Harvard, Harvard Jews for Liberation, the African American Resistance Organization and the Society of Arab Students.
In New York, the president of NYU’s Student Bar Association wrote that “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.” The Indiana Daily newspaper of Indiana University students said: “We don’t represent Hamas, and we don’t condone the actions of Hamas. But we also don’t condone the actions of the Israeli military. We do not want to see Palestinian children or Israeli children killed in this siege. It is a tragic event, and we hope things deescalate as soon as they can.”
According to NPR, student groups have also held vigils and protests, which in some cases led to direct confrontations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups.
Clashes occurred at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Indiana University. Columbia University closed its campus to the public for a However, day due to safety concerns over two planned student protests, a day after an Israeli student was allegedly assaulted with a stick outside its library.
However, University of Florida President Ben Sasse, issued a statement strongly supporting Israel and Jewish students. Others, like Vanderbilt University, Ohio State University, and Stanford University were more neutral.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that, while two-thirds of Americans say the United States should publicly support Israel in the war between Israel and Hamas, but there are wide generational and racial differences.
US Students have been on the cutting edge of social justice movements throughout history, from protesting the Vietnam War to fighting for immigrants’ rights, Radhika Sainath, a staff attorney at U.S.-based advocacy group Palestine Legal, told NPR.
Sainath said that her group has seen an “exponential surge” in requests for legal help — as many as 10-20 a day — from people who have been fired from their jobs, questioned or threatened for expressing support for Palestinian rights.
She stressed that the constitutional First Amendment right to free speech is protected at public universities and most private schools, depending on the state. But sometimes, universities violate their own policies, she points out.
“People are just really, really scared right now at universities and across the country, especially students and professors are really worried about what they are able to say.”
European Union leaders met for a virtual summit on Tuesday to try to forge a common position over the Israel-Hamas war. The theme of the meeting was how to work with countries in the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions in trying to prevent the war from spreading.
According to The Telegraph, some EU countries expressed frustration with Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, on her response to the conflict. She had travelled to Israel after the terror attacks, but she had not done enough to insist that Israel respects international law in its retaliation.
The EU President only talked of tripling humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and organising an EU humanitarian air bridge to Gaza through Egypt, some EU members pointed out.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said that while Israel had the right to self-defence, “that has to be developed in compliance with international laws and in particular humanitarian laws – because war also has its laws.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that while respecting Israel’s right to defend itself, he had passed on “warning messages calling for respect for humanitarian law, international law and civilian populations in Gaza and the West Bank, and for non-escalation of the conflict in Lebanon”.
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, who travelled to Israel on a “visit to friends” on Tuesday, after meeting King Abdullah II of Jordan in Berlin, said that Germany “stands firmly by Israel’s side,” but warned of the risk of the wider region tipping into broader conflict.
“It’s about protecting the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and avoiding a conflagration,” Scholz said.
Opposition in Middle East
The US and Israel came under pressure in the Middle East also. The Saudis made it clear that neither they nor the Egyptians would allow refugees from Gaza to flow into their territories. By saying so, the Saudis put the onus of containing the humanitarian crisis on the Israelis and their ally, the US.
Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said on Monday that there was no way to achieve peace except by establishing a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders. Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, urged Palestinians to resist efforts to force them to leave Gaza. Egypt had refused to open its border with Gaza so that Israel could not conveniently pass the buck of refugees to Eqypt and continue its assault on Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, cancelled his meeting with Joe Biden in Amman, adding that any talks about anything else rather than stopping the war was unacceptable.
Abbas said targeting the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital in Gaza was a “hideous war massacre”, Reuters reported. “Israel has crossed all red lines … We will not leave nor allow anyone to expel us from there,” Abbas said.
Biden’s Modification Inadequate
Lacking solid support even from “allies”, Biden asked Israel to restore water and power supply to Gaza and promised a US$ 100 million humanitarian aid to Gaza. In a CBS interview on last Sunday, Biden said he was confident that Israel would observe the rules of war as a democratic country.
He also said that the authority of the Palestinian Authority (PA) comprising the West Bank and Gaza, set up under the Oslo Accords of 1993, must be restored as a condition of lasting peace.
But Biden stopped short of asking Israel to stop the war or the bombing of Gaza. He did not blame the Israelis for the Gaza hospital blast. He told Netanyahu in Tel Aviv: “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” US intelligence said it had evidence that Palestinian militants did it.
On Wednesday, the US also “vetoed” a UN Security Council resolution that called for humanitarian pauses in the conflict to allow humanitarian aid access to the Gaza Strip.