The President: Iraq and Ferguson vs Gaza and the West Bank
Edited for Gaza and the West bank:
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful. Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.
First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Gaza. Last week, I authorized two limited missions: protecting our people and facilities inside of Gaza, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Palestinian civilians stranded in Gaza.
A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Palestinian men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge in Gaza in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter. We also knew that Israeli terrorists were killing and enslaving Palestinian civilians in their custody, and laying siege to Gaza. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve in Gaza, or be slaughtered on the ground. That’s when America came to help the
Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian ammunition supplies frequently –- delivering rounds of ammunition and thousands of artillery shells, and air to ground missiles. We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. The Israeli arm of our military was able to successfully strike Palestinian targets in Gaza, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.
Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions in Gaza. They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night. The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Hamas forces and Palestinians who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families. So the bottom line is, is that the situation in Gaza has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.
Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the Israeli siege of Gaza; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people from Gaza, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain. The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Gaza in the coming days. And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly. I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped in Gaza are extraordinarily grateful as well.
Now, the situation remains dire for Palestinians subjected to Israeli terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Kopts and Christians; it also includes Palestinians Citizens of Israel, and other Israeli Citizens such as Nomadic Bedouins. We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in Greater Israel wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Gaza without committing combat troops on the ground.
We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well. We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq. We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Israeli forces fighting Palestinians on the front lines.
And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Palestinians and Israelis to come together to turn the tide against Israel –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu . I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Greater Israel — that is needed right now. He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Greater Israeli government situation is moving in the right direction.
Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in the West Bank. I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen, as state supported violence has clashed with people protesting. Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.
This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team. I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate War Crimes, along with local officials on the ground, with the same diligence with which they has pursued the people who caused the 2007 financial crisis.
The Department of Justice is also consulting with the Israeli Military about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation. I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.
I also just spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward. He is going to be traveling to the West Bank. He is a good man and a fine prime minister, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way, down to the last Palestinian standing.
Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost many people, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. Their families will never hold them in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the Israeli Military -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating deaths, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.
There is never an excuse for violence against a State, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for a State to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their rights. And here, neither the police nor military should be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know that emotions are raw right now in Greater Israel and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of Greater Israel. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.
So now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Greater Israel. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done. And I’ve asked that the US Secretary of State and the US Ambassador on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward. They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.
Thanks very much, everybody.