Thursday, November 2, 2023

Washington, DC


MS. NICOLLE WALLACE: Joining our coverage is Samantha Power, the Administrator for USAID, someone who has worked on these issues for longer than just about anyone we could get to talk to. And I want to ask you – I want to peel the layer of your expertise in atrocities – and I want to just ask you to step back and tell us what you have seen since October 7.

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I've seen what humanity has seen, which is monstrous, intentional, long-planned attacks on people dancing in the desert, families sheltering and huddled in basements being incinerated, beheadings in front of children. And we've seen a response in which Israel is exercising its legitimate right to self defense but civilians are caught up in that in which, you had just heard, is a very densely populated area.

And now we see mothers digging their kids out of rubble, and a desperate need for food and water that we, at USAID, are trying to meet with our partners on the ground. We see President Biden, who's becoming almost a humanitarian desk officer in pushing for trucks, and water, and fuel, and respect for international humanitarian law, and distinguishing between Hamas and civilians – as hard as that is when Hamas is willing to cause its own civilians to pay the price and willing to set up shop in places where civilians are gathered, including refugee camps and so forth.

So, this is an excruciating, devastating civilian conflict. I think we've already seen more aid workers killed in this conflict in such a short period of time than anywhere else in the duration of conflict over the course of the last year. So it’s a really, really difficult circumstance. Our emphasis, as USAID, as a U.S. government, is mitigating humanitarian suffering and right now that is Palestinian civilians who are facing really difficult circumstances in Gaza.

MS. WALLACE: This term ‘humanitarian desk officer’, it creates an image but it's also sort of a term of art. And U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken since his first trip to the region, I remember that first weekend I was anchoring on a Sunday and he was trying to get the water turned back on, can you just talk about how involved the United States government is? Your staff, the White House, the State Department, and in this piece that you're talking about, aiding the civilians?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, it is a level of granularity on specific supplies and that is very unusual for me to have seen in my eight years in the Obama administration and my several years here in the Biden administration. But it is because the political decisions need to be made on the part of Israel, but also Egypt, to be allowing, for example, Palestinian – Palestinians who have medical issues and need to be medically evacuated, you know, that's for entry into Egypt. And it requires high-level political guidance from Prime Minister Netanyahu and from President Sisi.

For trucks to move, for water to get turned back on, for fuel to be allowed in, given that the government of Israel's position had been that fuel was dual use. But we see on the ground with our humanitarian partners that when you run out of fuel, that means hospitals can't run on generators anymore. That means desalination equipment can't work to turn contaminated water into drinkable water. And so these are the kinds of tactical issues that President Biden has been working every day.

And as you say, Secretary Blinken now just dispatched back to the region in order to engage on the question of humanitarian pauses, localized pauses, multiple pauses so that, again, food can get in, hostages and those in need of medical evacuation can get out. But also I think to the point that was made, again in the previous segment, you know, there are civilians now who are in Gaza City who for whatever reason, because they were elderly, they were infirm, because they were scared that their house would – they'd never get to go back to their house, that they'd be permanently displaced – that stayed in Gaza City. We need to find a way to ensure that if that ground combat is now coming to their neighborhood, that if they are civilians, that they have the ability to get out and to get to southern Gaza for example, which is safer. And so these, these pauses are incredibly urgent, incredibly important for civilians caught up in harm's way.

MS. WALLACE: You mentioned that Hamas sets up shop in civilian hubs. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made that point in the region and other places. NBC reported today that Hamas is hoarding the fuel that is available and some that has come in. How do you work around a terrorist network like Hamas?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, there's no simple answer to that. U.S. forces faced, not the same situation, but analogous circumstances, in fighting terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a tried and true tactic, sadly, tragically. But one of the things I know that Secretary Austin conveys to his military counterparts on the Israeli side, is that it is a strategic and moral necessity to find a way, nonetheless, to abide by international humanitarian law, to respect schools, and mosques, and facilities where civilians are gathered.

I mean, you have UN facilities, schools where hundreds of thousands of people are gathered, four times the capacity of some of these facilities. So even though it's a terrible burden that the Israeli Defense Forces have to bear and that U.S. forces had to bear in their conflicts when terrorists were taking advantage, again, of civilian infrastructure, to go forward, and attack civilian targets, sets back the cause fundamentally. It means that the legitimacy of the effort is undermined. And that's why, in addition to all of the tactical discussions about fuel, and water, and food, and getting people in and out, so many discussions at the highest levels on international humanitarian law, on the importance of respecting even those civilians who, the lives of those civilians, who stayed in northern Gaza and didn't take up the evacuation order for any reason. They're still civilians, and somehow to find a way to distinguish between legitimate military targets acted upon in legitimate self defense and civilians who were not part of the attack, against Israel, and want nothing more than to be able to live and take care of their families.

MS. WALLACE: Samantha Power, it's an extraordinarily complicated moment in an extraordinarily complicated part of the world. We're grateful to get to talk to you about it. Thank you very much.


USAID Response in Israel and Gaza - October 2023 Video Library Samantha Power
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