NEWS

U.S. Response to Israel-Hamas War Draws Fury in Mideast


President Biden’s trip to Israel on Wednesday will put him in a region where grief and fury are mounting, not only toward Israel, but also toward the United States, the world power that has declared unyielding support for its chief Middle East ally.

On Tuesday, widespread condemnation of Israel rippled across the region after a huge explosion at a hospital in the Gaza Strip killed hundreds of Palestinians who had been seeking treatment and refuge. Israel has denied being behind the blast, blaming a Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad, for a failed rocket launch.

But even before that, many people across the region had come to view Israel’s war with Hamas — the Palestinian armed group that carried out a shocking attack on southern Israel more than a week ago, slaughtering 1,400 people — as an American-backed massacre of Palestinian civilians in the blockaded territory of Gaza.

Israel has cut off water, medicine and electricity in the enclave and continued to target Gaza with deadly airstrikes, bringing the death toll to at least 2,800 before the hospital explosion.

Many Arabs view the American government as not only being indifferent to the agony of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but also complicit in it. American pledges of “ironclad” support for the country — and no-strings-attached security assistance — have stoked those feelings as Israel prepares for a ground invasion of Gaza.

“There is tremendous anger in the Arab world, even by those who do not support Hamas,” said Nabil Fahmy, a former foreign minister of Egypt. “They are giving Israel a green light,” he said of Western powers, “and as this gets increasingly bloody, the West will have blood on its hands.”

So intense is the anger that a refrain, “Death to America,” has found renewed resonance in the region, including during a protest on Friday in Bahrain, a close American ally.

Many Palestinians and other Arabs said in interviews that the rhetoric coming from senior Israeli and American officials had been dehumanizing and warmongering.

When the war began, Mr. Biden called the attacks by Hamas — in which gunmen killed Israeli soldiers and civilians and took nearly 200 people hostage — “pure, unadulterated evil.”

The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said: “We are fighting human animals. There will be no Hamas; we will eliminate everything.”

As he traveled around the region over the past week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken signaled that the Biden administration would have a high tolerance for whatever resulted from Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks.

Diana Buttu, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who has worked as a lawyer on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, said she had never harbored “any illusions” about the U.S. role in the conflict, knowing that America firmly backed Israel. Even so, she said, she was stunned by the Biden administration’s response.

“It’s like somebody has ripped out my guts,” she said. “This level of siding with Israel is genocidal.”

In the broader Middle East, many people do not view Israel as the victim of an unprovoked terrorist attack — as some American officials have described it — but as a colonial-style occupier that has been buttressed by the United States and that has oppressed the Palestinians for decades.

Khalid Al-Dakhil, a prominent Saudi public intellectual, said that what frustrated him the most was Western powers’ “blind adoption of the Israeli narrative of events.”

“You are against occupation in Ukraine — can you deny that the Palestinians are under occupation?” he said. “Nobody is asking you to go and declare war on the Israelis because they are occupying the Palestinians; people are asking you to be rational, wise and convince your allies — push them to their senses.”

American officials appear to have softened their statements in recent days, stressing that Palestinian civilians should not suffer because of Hamas. On Sunday, the State Department appointed David Satterfield — a veteran diplomat with experience in Arab countries — as a special envoy for humanitarian issues to help address the crisis in Gaza. In an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS, Mr. Biden discouraged Israel from fully reoccupying Gaza.

And shortly after taking off on Air Force One headed for Israel, Mr. Biden issued a statement on the explosion at the hospital in Gaza: “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the explosion at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, and the terrible loss of life that resulted.” He said he had spoken with leaders in the region and directed his national security team to look into what had happened.

Even so, the damage to America’s battered image in the Middle East is done, said Hafsa Halawa, a nonresident scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

“The Americans have zero moral standing in this region,” she said.

As Israel prepares for a ground invasion of Gaza, a densely populated urban area, American military officers with memories of the battle for the Iraqi city of Falluja in 2004 — a struggle against Iraqi insurgents that became some of the bloodiest urban combat in recent decades — have been conveying the lessons of that experience to their Israeli counterparts.

Ms. Halawa said that the past week reminded her of the atmosphere in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the lead-up to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

“What we’re really in, if you watch the news for five minutes, is genuine, pure 9/11 Islamophobia,” she said. “Twenty-three years later, we’re in exactly the same language. The Americans have learned nothing.”

In Iraq, which is still struggling in the aftermath of that war, the dominant sentiment was weariness as people watched events unfold in Israel and Gaza. There was also a mix of anger and disappointment.

“America does not care if a thousand or a million or a billion Arabs and Muslims die, as long as its interests are not harmed,” said Moayad Jubeir, a professor of law and political science at Anbar University.

Still, there is one thing that the United States can do, Iraqis said: Keep the war with Hamas contained.

Mohammed Akram Ali, 43, a primary schoolteacher in Baghdad, said he had hoped that America would restrain Israel and help restore calm to the region.

“Hamas committed massacres of Israelis, but also the Israelis committed massacres and nobody can say, ‘Stop, it’s enough’ to them,” said Mr. Ali. “We demand that America take a position where it says, ‘Enough’ to everyone so that they can restore what they lost of their reputation in Iraq.”

Frustration with the United States has grown across the region as Mr. Blinken’s diplomatic tour presented the unusual spectacle of authoritarian Arab rulers lecturing American officials about human rights.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, told Mr. Blinken that Israel must lift its siege on Gaza and that the kingdom “rejects the destruction of infrastructure and vital services that affect their daily lives.”

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi falsely claimed that Jews in his country had never experienced persecution and suggested that the United States was more shocked by the killing of Israelis than decades of Palestinian oppression.

“Yes, it is true what happened over the past nine days was very difficult and too much, and we unequivocally condemn it,” Mr. el-Sisi told Mr. Blinken about the Hamas attacks. “But we need to understand that this is the result of accumulated fury and hatred over four decades, where the Palestinians had no hope to find a solution.”

After the explosion on Tuesday at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, denunciations flowed in from Arab countries. Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among those blaming Israel. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry swiftly released a statement blaming the attack on the Israeli military, demanding that the international community “let go of its double standards” to hold Israel accountable.

In Gaza, Wisam Abu Jamae, 27, compared the Western response after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year with the relative lack of condemnation of Israel’s siege of Gaza, saying that the discrepancy was “not logical.”

“If the world cared enough about us, we would not be where we are today,” she said, as the sound of Israeli warplanes droned overhead.

“Every minute, one family is removed from the record of existence.”

Vivian Nereim reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Alissa J. Rubin from Baghdad; and Euan Ward from Beirut, Lebanon. Reporting was contributed by Ameera Harouda from Gaza, Ben Hubbard from Cairo, David E. Sanger and Michael D. Shear from Washington, Edward Wong from Tel Aviv and Ahmed Al Omran from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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