President Biden’s Last Chance to Stop the Nightmare in Gaza - Word&Way

President Biden’s Last Chance to Stop the Nightmare in Gaza

Right now, Palestinians are striving not only for self-determination and liberation from occupation but for basic day-to-day survival. In Gaza, they desperately seek safety from bombs and warfare and must struggle for the daily necessities of food and water amidst the onset of famine. As the Israeli military moves into many neighborhoods in Rafah, which had been the last remaining refuge for over 1 million civilians, the brutal truth is that absolutely nowhere is safe.

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon

American foreign policy is now at an inflection point. President Biden has one final opportunity to put the U.S. on the right side of history. Where is the young politician who in 1986 gave such an impassioned speech against the injustices of South African apartheid? Might President Biden remember those commitments to human rights and finally take decisive action to end this war? Can he at long last halt the provision of military arms to Israel, and use U.S. leverage to help save the Palestinian people?

There is a very limited window of time where President Biden can demand the Israeli government change their course of action. As an American Christian leader who has spent many years working for Israeli-Palestinian peace, I wish he would recognize the common humanity of Palestinian people as well as the Israeli people.

This moment provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new foreign policy approach — one that actually prioritizes human rights and peacemaking, instead of alienating young people, Muslim and Arab voters, and millions of American Christians committed to justice and peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

The crisis is clear for all to see. Students and faculty across the United States are protesting, demanding an end to the devastation. A population of more than two million people is suffering horribly, and the region has never been further away from peace. Now is the time for clear and decisive leadership from President Biden.

He must stop equivocating and make clear that the IDF’s continued assault on Rafah, which could cause innumerable civilian deaths above the many thousands who have already been lost, is unacceptable. For the sake of Israelis, Palestinians, and US interests, the president must do whatever it takes to bring an end to the war and the killing.

Much is being made of the Biden administration’s decision last week to pause a shipment of heavy munitions to Israel, including highly destructive 2,000-pound bombs that leave 40-foot craters and disperse shrapnel over 1,000 feet. This is arguably a step in the right direction — and yet it still amounts to far too little. The shipment hasn’t been canceled but only “paused.” This pause also does nothing to impact the $26.4 billion in security aid to Israel passed by Congress last month, which included billions for purchasing advanced weapons systems and producing artillery and munitions. Imagine being a Gazan in Rafah. Would the news of a temporary pause in the supply of one shipment of a particular kind of bomb — a pause that Israel has said will not impact its objectives — be something to celebrate?

The president must show he will no longer support an endless war that keeps expanding by the day. Concerned only about political survival, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear he doesn’t care about bringing the hostages home and will continue the war at all costs. The U.S.’ tacit support and continual sending of weapons only empowers this disastrous policy.

Israelis are profoundly traumatized by the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 and now, more than seven months later, still seek the return of the remaining hostages. The bombing and ground invasion in Gaza have wreaked utter devastation and havoc in Gaza, killing more than 34 thousand people, including more than 14 thousand children, and injuring more than 78 thousand. Violence and death have also boiled over into the West Bank. Hostilities have extended to surrounding states, sparking a direct exchange of fire between Israel and Iran.

Protesters are escorted out of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after interrupting a speech by President Joe Biden on Jan. 8, 2024. (Mic Smith/Associated Press)

For the large majority of Americans, including millions of American Christians, the dominant feeling about this disaster is “Enough is enough.” In the history of the US-Israel relationship, virtually any time a U.S. president has put their foot down and substantiated their rhetoric with firm conviction and action, the government of Israel has acquiesced. In 1973, the U.S. played a decisive role in encouraging Israel to negotiate an end to the Yom Kippur War with Egypt. In the early 80s, President Ronald Reagan told Prime Minister Begin to “stop,” shortly after that, the First Lebanon War ended.

Israel’s invasion of Rafah, and the entire war in Gaza, must be stopped. Otherwise, not only will thousands more civilians die, but Israel’s acceptance as a legitimate power integrated into the Middle East will be dealt a terrible blow.

If Biden doesn’t act boldly now, he never will. With tens of thousands of people killed and many more in danger of meeting the same fate, now is the last chance to stop the madness.

With so much at stake, the American people are looking to President Biden to do his job — plain and simple: be a bold and courageous leader. The president has the opportunity and the power to change the course of history. He must use it.


Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of more than 30 national Church communions and organizations.