As we are reporting, Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC commented critically about the State Department yesterday, saying it was blaming Hamas for Israel’s killings of four boys on the beach in Gaza. From Facebook:
Mohyeldin was evidently referring to yesterday’s press briefing at the State Department, which became strained over Israel’s killings of those boys on the beach, in plain sight of the press corps in Gaza. Reporters alleged that State has a double standard. They wanted to know why the State Department was not condemning Israel for the attack even as it condemns Hamas for targeting civilians.
At one point State’s Jen Psaki came close to blaming Hamas for the boys’ killings inasmuch as it has continued to fire rockets at Israel.
Rosiland Jordan of Al Jazeera asked:
Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that civilians who, for whatever reason, happen to be living in Gaza would not become more hardened in their view of the Israeli Government, of the Israeli people, when their own children can’t ostensibly go play in the surf, and instead, the next time they see their children they’re on funeral biers?
Jen Psaki of State responded:
I would remind you that yesterday there was a cease-fire proposed that was abided to by the Israelis for a couple of hours that Hamas did not abide to. And they’re putting their own people at risk by continuing to escalate the situation on the ground.
Update: Bill Clinton made a similar statement yesterday, that Hamas is “forcing Israel to kill Palestinian civilians” so as to gain sympathy– excerpted at bottom of this post.
Here is a fuller transcript from State:
QUESTION: Does the Administration believe that Israel is in violation of the laws of war?
MS. PSAKI: I have not heard that concern expressed internally, Matt, specifically.
QUESTION: So you don’t agree with the Human Rights Watch report?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I have not – there’s not been a discussion I’m aware of a violation of international law by Israel.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, but even if there – whether there’s been a discussion or not, the Administration’s position is that Israel has the right to defend itself and it is – and its operation in Gaza is defending itself and therefore it’s not in any violation —
MS. PSAKI: That remains our position and that has not changed.
QUESTION: All right. The —
QUESTION: Hold on a sec. The Human Rights Watch statement said – also says that Palestinian armed groups should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched toward the Israeli population, Israeli population centers. You would agree with that, yes?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we would agree. And we view – and need to urgently bring an end to the escalation that we’re seeing on the ground.
QUESTION: So you agree with Human Rights Watch when they say that the Palestinians should stop their shelling, but you don’t agree with them when they say that Israel should; is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s not exactly what I said at all, Matt. I think we —
QUESTION: Well, I’m trying —
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish.
MS. PSAKI: Our view is that there are great risks in what is happening in the region to civilians. That is of concern to us. That’s why we want to see a de-escalation from both sides.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m just – I just want to – I want to know why you are willing to accept or echo this Human Rights Watch call, which is something that you have been saying in the past, that the Palestinian – that Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza need to stop their indiscriminate shelling – their shelling of population centers in Israel, but you’re not willing to call on Israel to stop its bombardment of what Human Rights Watch says apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re – been calling on and publicly and privately all sides to de-escalate. But the circumstance here is that we have a terrorist organization indiscriminately attacking and sending rockets into Israel. They have the right to defend themselves. Obviously, we’d like to see a return to the ceasefire. That’s what our focus is on.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone is arguing that Israel does not have the right to defend itself. But if you don’t think – but my question is whether or not you think Israel is targeting civilian structures and with the result of the deaths of civilians, including children.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I have anything more to add on this particular question.
QUESTION: Shouldn’t Israel be held to the same standards in this case?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Said, I’ve answered this question.
QUESTION: No, I have —
MS. PSAKI: Do we have other – Roz, go ahead.
QUESTION: No, I have —
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m going to Roz.
QUESTION: I have – I asked another question.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: All right. I’ll try this a different way.
QUESTION: I have another one —
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you next. We’ll go to you next, Said. Go ahead, Roz.
QUESTION: Several journalists, including my colleague Stefanie Dekker, a correspondent from The Washington Post, a correspondent from The Guardian, all saw an attack on what can only be described as a civilian target, a fishing pier several yards from their hotel where many journalists are. And as they responded to the scene, they found that four children from one family, the Bakr family, had been killed. They said there wasn’t any rocket strike that they could see or detect or hear that might ostensibly be coming from Hamas.
How is an Israeli airstrike on what can only be described as a civilian target in full view of international journalists be acceptable to the U.S. Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, let me first say that obviously the circumstances on the ground are of great concern to us, including the deaths of civilians, including the impact that the tensions on the ground have had on civilian communities. Obviously, there have been a number of lives lost in Gaza, including the lives of children, and that’s absolutely tragic in our view.
I’m not in a position here to confirm or give you ground updates of what’s happening on the ground. What we’re focused on here is de-escalating the situation using every tool in our diplomatic toolbox to do that, and beyond that I’m not going to speculate on reports of what people may or may have not seen on the ground. We know the situation is tense. We’re concerned about it. That’s why we’re focused on seeing if there’s a diplomatic path forward.
QUESTION: Let me follow up, Elise. Why wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that civilians who, for whatever reason, happen to be living in Gaza would not become more hardened in their view of the Israeli Government, of the Israeli people, when their own children can’t ostensibly go play in the surf, and instead, the next time they see their children they’re on funeral biers?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, let me first say I’d remind you again that the deaths of any individuals, any civilians, the deaths of children, how this is impacting people in the region is why the Secretary’s been working on this morning, noon, and night for the past several days. Obviously, the tensions have escalated. Obviously, that has caused a great deal of violence that is of concern. But I would remind you that yesterday there was a cease-fire proposed that was abided to by the Israelis for a couple of hours that Hamas did not abide to. And they’re putting their own people at risk by continuing to escalate the situation on the ground.
QUESTION: If Israel does have the legal right to defend itself, and I don’t think anyone in this room would dispute that, because I would expect the U.S. to protect this territory from attack how is this considered an acceptable form of retaliation? Why wouldn’t people on the ground who weren’t near any sort of Hamas airstrike into Israel, why wouldn’t they believe that this is not an act of retaliation?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what your exact question is.
QUESTION: Put it more simply: If rockets didn’t emanate from where I happened to be living or playing or visiting or doing whatever, and suddenly my area is targeted by a foreign government’s airstrike, why wouldn’t it be reasonable for me to think this is an act of retaliation and punishment, vengeance, rather than a direct response to a military attack?
MS. PSAKI: I still don’t understand what your question is.
QUESTION: I think she’s saying that if – that because these are civilian areas, I think you’re saying that this is indiscriminate, that wholesale – the whole Gaza population is suffering. And we – I understand what you’re saying about that Hamas is the party responsible for what’s coming from the territory, but that the whole Palestinian population in Gaza is suffering at those hands. And yes, it may be Hamas’ fault, but that they’re the ones that are bearing the brunt of it.
And let me just follow up on that: Given that, is there any discussion with Israel about how you can help them or whether they have better technology for better precision in these strikes? I mean, during the – for over many years, for instance, during the Israelis surrounding the Muqata when Arafat was alive, I mean, they used to boast that they knew exactly what room he was in. So they knew – they – it was very – when they want to, they can pinpoint with pretty exact precision. So is there any discussion of any technology or intelligence or anything that could help them better with their precision?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not in a position to outline any of that, Elise. Obviously, their targeting or their response is something that the Israeli Government is overseeing, not the United States. Certainly, we’ve expressed our concern about civilian deaths and civilian casualties to all parties involved here. …
QUESTION: Are you counseling Israel not to bomb hospitals?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think —
QUESTION: Are you telling the Israelis not to bomb hospitals like Wafa Hospital and the Shifa Hospital? Again, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: Said, I think I’ve been clear —
MS. PSAKI: — that we’ve expressed our concern about civilian casualties. Obviously, we want to see an end to what’s happening on the ground, and a de-escalation is in the interest of everyone.
QUESTION: I understand. But I remember last week asking you, and you said that the Israelis give warning to the Palestinians to evacuate. Now many of them evacuate to the beach out there, as was the Bakr family, and they have been hit. There isn’t really many places to evacuate to, so what should the Palestinians do to escape this onslaught of Israeli bombardment? I’m talking about civilian – Palestinian civilians. What do you suggest to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I think part of our focus here is on working with all of the parties who can have influence on the circumstances on the ground so civilians are not impacted. And obviously, that’s one of the driving forces and motivations for us being as engaged as we are.
Here is the Bill Clinton lecture on Indian TV, thanks to Taxi:
Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired one thousand and they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them….
In the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas. But it’s a crass strategy that takes all of our eyes off the real objective which is a peace that gets Israel security and recognition and a peace that gets the Palestinians their state.