Why are 600 Americans Still Languishing in Gaza?

Why are 600 Americans Still Languishing in Gaza?

As the war rages between Hamas and Israel, Joe Biden has a bit of explaining to do. 

“No man left behind!” It’s an article of faith drilled into the heads of every volunteer of the United States Armed Forces from day one. It becomes imprinted on our DNA. We live it, breathe it, and—if necessary—die by it. We will never abandon a single American in harm’s way. But when it comes to our government, it appears when instead of one American, there are up to 600, different standards apply—at least if the American citizens in question are stranded in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the people of Israel in a speech on Saturday in which he articulated, in the strongest language to date, that his “number one objective” is to eradicate Hamas and considers it Israel’s “second war of independence.” The next stage of the war, he explained, had begun: the ground incursion into Gaza. 

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Air Force has dramatically escalated its attacks on Gaza in the past several days, and the destruction of the Strip’s urban areas has risen to a level the region has not seen in half a century. The civil population in the Palestinian enclave has suffered more than 8,000 killed and likely many thousands more wounded. There are between 500 and 600 American citizens trapped in this hellscape and continue to be denied permission to leave. 

Thus far, the State Department has communicated with many of the trapped Americans, but their messages have instructed them to move south to the Rafah Gate on the Egyptian border. One State Department official told ABC News that they were having trouble getting an agreement with Israel, Egypt, and Hamas civil authorities. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, however, put the blame squarely on one source.

“Hamas has blocked [U.S. citizens] from leaving,” Blinken claimed, “showing once again its total disregard for civilians of any kind who are stuck in Gaza.” He intended to shift the blame onto the terror group, absolving the United States government from responsibility. 

Yet just a couple of weeks ago, President Joe Biden scoffed at Scott Pelley on a 60 Minutes broadcast when the interviewer had the temerity to ask whether the United States could simultaneously support both Ukraine and Israel with war supplies. “We’re the United States of America, for God’s sake,” the president scoffed in reply, “the most powerful nation in the world—not in the world—in the history of the world.”

And yet we are to believe that this most powerful nation the planet has seen in the approximately 12,000 years of human civilization cannot get 600 of its citizens out of the Gaza Strip because a few Hamas fighters with rifles are allegedly blocking the exit—and we are powerless to overcome that obstacle? There have been now at least five occasions when the Rafah Gate was opened to allow trucks filled with food and water into and out of Gaza. How could it be that the United States cannot also direct its citizens out the same open gate?

The short answer: there is no reason. 

Well, no good reason. If the president made it a priority to free our citizens, they would be out within twenty-four hours. Many in Washington love to talk about how the United States should be a leader in world affairs. This is the time for demonstrating that resolve in deed, not just words. Here’s how the president could (and should) have already facilitated the release of our trapped citizens.

To show resolve and support to Israel because of the horrific attack they suffered at the hands of Hamas terrorists on October 7, Biden landed in Tel Aviv on October 18 and met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac with a hug. After the two men left the throng of photographers and reporters behind and met in private, Biden should first have voiced his sympathy for Israeli losses. But in the very next breath, some version of this:

“We have at least 600 passport-holding American citizens trapped behind the Rafah Gate in southern Gaza and I need to get them out. Immediately. We will give you more weapons, ammunition, intelligence assistance, and public moral support as you conduct military operations to punish the terrorists. But in exchange,” Biden could have said, “we must get our people to safety immediately. That is my number one priority.”

The United States gives Israel about $3.8 billion in foreign aid annually, and we contribute an additional $1.4 billion to Egypt. There should be no discussions with either Tel Aviv or Cairo about whether our people will be allowed out of the Strip. There should only be talks to coordinate when and how the exodus will be executed, and that should have been an approximate forty-eight-hour timeline to begin operations. As of this writing, it has been an additional eleven days, and still no movement. 

Why? Why has the “most powerful nation in the history of the world” been unable to tell two of its allies to get it done and open the gate to get our people out and to safety? Truly, it’s not that hard. It is all about political will. If the president forcefully demanded compliance, the process would start the next hour (for a deeper understanding of the plight of the 600, see my latest Deep Dive show). 

But he has been either unwilling or unable to demonstrate the necessary level of resolve, and our fellow American citizens continue to languish and suffer in Gaza along with the other 2 million Palestinian civilians.

Barely two weeks into his administration, President Biden went to the State Department in Washington on February 4, 2021, to address its employees. “We’re a country that does big things, and American diplomacy makes it happen,” he declared to the diplomatic staff. “Our administration is ready to take up the mantle and lead once again.” It is time, Mr. President, to make good on that boast. Get our people out of Gaza—today.

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He hosts the Daniel Davis Deep Dive show on YouTube. Follow him at @DanielLDavis1.

Image: Shutterstock.