Human rights groups want to see ceasefire and restraint in Israel-Gaza war

Dream Defenders and Amnesty International worry about the impact on the people of Gaza

Credit: Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

The co-director of a racial justice group criticized as “grossly inadequate” an essay by former President Barack Obama that supported Israel’s right to defend itself while warning against cutting off basic needs to the Gaza Strip.

Rachel Gilmer, co-director of the Dream Defenders, told theGrio that the former president’s essay in Medium “is only continuing to sort of normalize and chalk up the extreme violence and genocide that the Israeli government is committing against the Palestinian people.”

President Barack Obama,
Former President Barack Obama’s essay on the Israel-Hamas war addressed U.S. solidarity with Israel and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images) Credit: Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

In his essay titled “Thoughts on Israel and Gaza,” Obama wrote, “It’s been 17 days since Hamas launched its horrific attack against Israel, killing over 1,400 Israeli citizens, including defenseless women, children and the elderly.”

He added, “In the aftermath of such unspeakable brutality, the U.S. government and the American people have shared in the grief of families, prayed for the return of loved ones, and rightly declared solidarity with the Israeli people.”

But, Obama also cautioned Israel against exacerbating a “growing humanitarian crisis.”

He wrote, “The Israeli government’s decision to cut off food, water and electricity to a captive civilian population (in Gaza) threatens not only to worsen a growing humanitarian crisis; it could further harden Palestinian attitudes for generations, erode global support for Israel, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, and undermine long-term efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region.” 

Referencing the humanitarian issues, Gilmer said, “Five thousand plus people have been killed in Gaza, thousands of children, Gaza’s entire hospital system has entirely collapsed, people have lost entire families.”

“This was a real missed opportunity for Obama to stand on the right side of history to hold the Israeli government accountable for its war crimes. For its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,” she continued.

Obama’s statement comes more than two weeks after the Oct. 7 start of the Israel-Hamas war, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli authorities say more than 1,400 people died when Hamas launched its attack and more than 200 people were taken hostage. Four hostages have since been released. Health authorities in Gaza say more than 5,000 people have died and more than 15,000 have been injured, according to CNBC.

Opponents of the Israel-Hamas war rallied on Oct. 16 in front of the White House. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International, told theGrio that Obama’s statement was issued “too late.”

“President Obama should have spoken earlier, and in supporting President Biden, he should have made it clear that President Biden should be doing more,” he said.

I believe that the United States has a unique influence with Israel and it should have done everything in its power from the very outset to ensure that Israel adhered to international humanitarian law,” he said.

Last week, President Joe Biden delivered a speech about the Israel-Hamas war and spotlighted the thousands of innocent lives lost in both Israel and Gaza.

O’Brien said Biden’s remarks also came too late.

“While it’s good President Biden has recently started to acknowledge that the protection of civilians by the Israeli military is an interest of the United States, he did not say it strongly enough and early enough,” he said.

O’Brien added, “In the president’s speech he could have both held Hamas to account for their egregious acts and said that the Palestinians are not responsible and should not be subject to collective punishment.”

Some criticized Biden for not mentioning a ceasefire during his remarks. 

“Right now, there are thousands of Americans marching through the streets calling for a ceasefire…that’s across political parties, race, everybody is calling for a ceasefire,” Gilmer said.

“For Obama to do anything less than call for a ceasefire right now is only contributing to the genocide that we’re seeing take place in Gaza,” she added.
Human rights groups are calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. Above, a demonstrator waves the flag of Palestine in May 2021 as officers guard the federal building in Los Angeles during a protest against Israel and in support of Palestinians. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Last week, 13 progressive House Democrats introduced a resolution calling for Biden to demand a ceasefire to prevent further bloodshed.

But O’Brien said he agreed with Obama’s essay and that “The collective punishment of innocent people in any context is not going to be good for our world.”

He added, “It’s not going to be good for Israel in the long term and it’s certainly not going to be good for the Palestinian population who are not responsible for what Hamas did on Oct. 7.”

Worse things are likely to happen if the United States does not demand restraint by Israel.”

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