Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UNGA Emergency Special Session Before the Vote on a Resolution on the Situation in the Middle East

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 12, 2023

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President.

Colleagues, the last two months have been nothing short of devastating. Devastating for Palestinians, who have lost their homes and their loved ones because of a conflict that Hamas set into motion. Devastating for Israelis, who still face a barrage of rocket fire even as they continue to reel from Hamas’s barbaric attacks on October 7th. Devastating for Jewish and Muslim people around the world, who are targeted by rising levels of antisemitism and Islamophobia. And devastating for all those who dream of a sustainable peace, in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of security, dignity, and freedom.

That sustainable peace is what the United States wants to work towards. And that is what, I believe, so many members of this body want to work towards, too.

And indeed, there are aspects of this resolution that we do support. We agree that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire and requires urgent and sustained attention. That civilians desperately need food and water, and shelter and medical care. That a devastating number of innocent people have been killed, and that civilians must be protected, consistent with international humanitarian law.

In addition, we support the release of all hostages, immediately and unconditionally. Roughly half of those kidnapped on October 7th remain in Gaza. That’s over a hundred people subject to – as a number of released hostages have described – hell.

And so, we encourage you to vote yes on the amendment proposed by Austria, which like the resolution passed in the Security Council on November 15th call for Hamas and other groups to release the hostages, and to provide humanitarian access to them immediately.

Again we support components of the resolution proposed today. But here is what else we support. We support speaking out with one voice to condemn Hamas for its terrorist actions on October 7th.

Why is that so hard? To say, unequivocally, that murdering babies and gunning down parents in front of their children is horrific. That burning down houses while families shelter inside and taking civilians hostage is abhorrent.

It’s why today, the United States is proposing an amendment that unequivocally rejects and condemns these atrocities. And we urge all members to vote yes and declare that what happened on October 7th is intolerable. Period. This is the bare minimum. And it should not be that difficult.

In addition, the United States supports immediately addressing the reports of horrific sexual violence unleashed by Hamas on and after October 7th. Over the last 20 years, the UN has repeatedly underscored the need to investigate all reports of conflict-related sexual violence. It’s long past time every member apply that same standard to the assaults committed by Hamas.

The United States also supports the ICRC having access to hostages to provide medical treatment.

We support a resumption of humanitarian pauses which could happen immediately if Hamas only agreed to release women, wounded, and civilian hostages. We have seen how critical these pauses are to get the hostages out, and to give some respite to civilians and humanitarians in Gaza.

Look, there is no shortage of rhetoric here in New York. But it’s the diplomacy the United States is engaging in on the ground that made that week-long pause possible. It was careful conversation and collaboration with Egypt and Qatar that helped reunite more than 100 hostages with their loved ones and that dramatically expanded humanitarian assistance to Gaza during the break in fighting.

Of course, we support even more aid getting into the hands of those who so urgently need it. Over the last week and a half, the United States has airlifted more than 90 thousand pounds of humanitarian aid to Egypt’s border, with more on the way. And we are working with Israel, Egypt, the UN, and others, to surge humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Israel’s decision to open Kerem Shalom for inspections and screening of those humanitarian goods is essential, and something we have been working towards in earnest. And Israel’s commitment to ensure there is enough fuel to sustain the humanitarian assistance operation, including civilian infrastructure, is also vital. We have made clear to Israel we expect it to honor these commitments and we will hold them to it.

Colleagues, there is more we support. We support a more robust deconfliction mechanism, to help protect UN and humanitarian personnel, far too many of whom have lost their lives while heroically working to save innocent people in Gaza.

We support affirming that Israel like every single country on earth has the right and the responsibility to defend its people from acts of terrorism. Because we know that Hamas intends to repeat the horrors of October 7th again and again and again. A senior Hamas official said so himself on television.

Indeed, it was Hamas that broke the seven-day pause last month by committing a vicious terror attack in Jerusalem, firing rockets into Israel and then failing to release the hostages it had pledged to release.

Let’s be realistic here. This is a terrorist group that no Member State would tolerate living next to. So long as Hamas remains driven by its murderous ideology, any ceasefire right now would be temporary at the best and dangerous at worst. Dangerous to Israelis, who would be subject to relentless attacks. And also, dangerous to Palestinians, who deserve the chance to build a better future for themselves, free from Hamas – a group that hides behind innocent civilians rather than protects them, and that co-opts civilian infrastructure to wage conflict.

Of course, how Israel defends itself matters. Israel must avoid mass displacement of civilians in the south of Gaza. It must ensure sufficient humanitarian assistance to those who have fled violence. And it must allow civilians in Gaza to return home as soon as conditions allow.

We will continue to press, at the highest levels, for this, and for the protection of civilians as Israel pursues legitimate military objectives. Because perhaps most of all: while we cannot support a one-sided Security Council or General Assembly resolution that ignores so much of what we all stand for, we desperately want to see an end to the cycle of unceasing violence.

Colleagues, our goal must be to stop the death, the devastation, and the destruction for the long term. And that is simply not a future Hamas wants to see. So, as we address this immediate crisis, and work to surge humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, we must also work to build a foundation for a truly sustainable peace. One where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in states of their own. So that the next generation, and the generations to come, need not experience the devastation of the last two months and finally realize freedom, security, and peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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