Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 30, 2023
Thank you, Mr. President. Commissioner General Lazzarini, Executive Director Russell, and Director Doughten, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to you and your teams for the courageous work done by you under the most difficult circumstances. Humanitarian actors have stepped up, as they always do, to try and save lives in the midst of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. This work is heroic, but tragically, it comes with great risk.
We mourn the more than 60 UN staff who have been killed in Gaza since the start of this conflict. The lives of UN personnel must be protected. The lives of humanitarian workers must be protected. The lives of journalists must be protected.
The lives of all civilians – innocent civilians, Israeli and Palestinians, men and women, children and elderly – must be protected. There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives – a civilian is a civilian is a civilian.
Colleagues, it has been three weeks since Hamas killed more than 1,400 innocent civilians and took more than 200 people hostage. Gaza-based militants continue to fire barrages of rockets toward Israel. Citizens from dozens of Member States are still being held hostage by Hamas.
And the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is growing more dire by the day. At this moment of pain and sorrow and suffering, we must all come together. We must all come together to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages; address the immense humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians in Gaza; affirm Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism; and remind all actors that international humanitarian law must be respected. That means Hamas must not use Palestinians as human shields – an act of unthinkable cruelty and a violation of the law of war. And that means Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians.
Yesterday, President Biden spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu and reiterated that while Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its citizens from terrorism, it must do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law. The fact that Hamas operates within and under the cover of civilian areas creates an added burden for Israel. But it does not lessen its responsibility to distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians.
Colleagues, the United States is also deeply concerned by the significant uptick in violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. We condemn the killings of Palestinian civilians – and we urge Israel to prevent these attacks, working with the Palestinian Authority.
The Biden Administration also shares the international community’s concern about telecommunications shutdowns in Gaza. We have made this clear to Israeli leaders, and we understand communication networks have started to be restored. This is essential. A shutdown of telecommunication imperils the lives of civilians, UN personnel, and humanitarian workers – and risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Lives hang in the balance. And we must all step up – as the United States has done. We are the single largest donor to the Palestinian people, having contributed more than $1 billion to UNRWA since 2021. And President Biden recently announced an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.
But of course, no amount of aid will matter if it cannot reach people in need. And the United States continues to work with Israel, Egypt, the UN, and other partners to facilitate rapid and sustained assistance flow. Food, fuel, water, medicine, and other essentials services must be restored. And while the number of trucks entering Gaza continues to increase, it is not nearly enough. The amount of humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza must be scaled up – urgently. We must do everything possible to save lives.
And President Biden has expressed his support for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow hostages to get out, to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and be distributed, and to allow safe passage for civilians, which will help people access humanitarian assistance or move to safer locations. We also continue to urge all Member States to work to prevent any spillover of the crisis.
Last week, Secretary Blinken asked this Council to send a firm, united message to any state or non-state actor that is considering opening up another front against Israel or who may target Israel’s partners, including the United States: Don’t. This is a matter of international peace and security. And this Council must speak out.
That is one of the many reasons that, last week, the United States put forward a strong and balanced Security Council resolution. One that we consulted with all Member States on and we worked to forge consensus around. This resolution received the support of the majority of this Council, but Russia and China blocked its adoption.
Following this veto, action moved to the General Assembly – where Member States were asked to vote for a resolution that was grossly one-sided and was missing two key words: Hamas and hostage. These are deliberate omissions that give cover and empower Hamas’ brutality.
During the Emergency Special Session, we also heard a few Member States implicitly endorse Hamas’ acts of violence. And I was frankly shocked and appalled. It is outrageous. And it must be called out. It is unconscionable that Hamas’ actions are not condemned by the General Assembly.
Colleagues, as I’ve said before, the United States will continue to engage with any Council member – with any Member State – that is committed to adopting a strong and balanced resolution. But any Council product must support direct diplomacy efforts that can save lives and advance the prospects of a more peaceful and secure future for the region.
Even at this difficult moment, we must keep hope alive. We must work toward a brighter future. A future where Israelis and Palestinians have equal measures of security, freedom, justice, opportunity, and dignity. A future where Palestinians realize their legitimate right to self-determination and a state of their own. A future where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace. This is not the future Hamas wants to see. But it is the future that we must all work to advance together.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.