ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much, Dan [McDonald}. Thank you all for making the time to be here, it’s great to see some board members we’ve only seen virtually, here in person. And thanks, as I know a number of you are actually in the region joining, including, of course, first of all our Mission Director, who you will hear from momentarily.
So, it’s been more than five weeks since Hamas’ ghastly, horrifying terrorist attack on October 7. During that time I have been thinking often about this group. I know many of you have loved ones across Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank whose lives may be endangered or already forever changed by the events of the last five weeks. I want to offer my deepest condolences to those of you who’ve lost family or friends, or who are fearing every day for the well-being and survival of people you hold dear.
We are all mourning the deaths of thousands upon thousands of civilians. My heart goes out to the families, Israeli and Palestinian, who’ve lost loved ones, whose homes have been destroyed, whose family members and friends are still missing – whether held hostage by Hamas, or buried under the rubble in Gaza.
As you know, the United States is supporting Israel as it responds to Hamas’s brutal onslaught and as it seeks to ensure that the terrorist organization can never again perpetrate such horrors. We are also working around the clock to address the grave and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In a few moments, Amy [Tohill-Stull] will elaborate on our efforts to protect Gazan civilians and get food, water, medicine, shelter, and fuel to communities in need.
I want to make clear, though, that we recognize these efforts are not having the impact yet that we need. The UN has reported that the fuel they rely on is completely depleted, which will imminently force essential services – water pumps, sanitation facilities, wastewater disposals, and even the trucks carrying desperately needed supplies – to stop functioning. Fuel shortages are also preventing hospitals from treating patients, even as injuries and fatalities continue to rise. Clean water will become even more scarce, as desalination plants grind to a halt. And cellular and internet services are also predicted to cease this week due to the fuel crisis, which is going to cause even more extended blackouts which in turn hinder emergency services, evacuations, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Israel’s restoration of communications, electricity, water lines, and fuel to Gaza is imperative. Imperative as well – and we are working on this behind the scenes – are substantial humanitarian pauses so that much more assistance can reach civilians, so that those trying to exit Gaza can safely leave, and so that the remaining hostages, which there are many, can be released through negotiations which are ongoing.
And even as Israel defends its people, it is imperative that the IDF adhere to international humanitarian law. Thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza are paying a devastating price. This is also already the deadliest conflict for our UN partners – deadliest in UN history, in fact – and according to Reporters Without Borders, more than 41 journalists have already been killed in the first month of the war.
So as the U.S. government’s lead humanitarian agency, we will continue to support President Biden’s efforts to make clear to all parties that they must take all possible measures to protect civilians, humanitarians, and civilian infrastructure.
We are also making our case to Congress for the resources to respond to this crisis and others around the world – and here this is really important, I do want to stress that even as we negotiate everyday, more and more access to civilians, we need resources to be able to take advantage of that access.
The request from President Biden is for $10 billion in humanitarian assistance. I want to stress, this is a global number, this isn’t a Gaza only number by any means. The number of people in need globally exceeds 300 million. Obviously, the population of Gaza is two million. But this is absolutely essential humanitarian assistance that USAID needs and that our State Department colleagues need, to be able to deploy.
Without this supplemental going through – this humanitarian assistance request – the USAID humanitarian budget is going to drop by 35 percent. Even as needs, because of these new conflicts that have occurred not just here but also in Sudan since last year, needs have increased by more than a third. So, to see a 35 percent drop, needs increasing by more than a third – you can imagine how many rations would have to be cut, how many people would find themselves unable to feed their kids or find shelter for their families.
Cutting humanitarian assistance, whether in Ukraine; in Jordan and Lebanon, which are sheltering Syrian and Palestinian refugees from before; Sudan; Haiti – that is what these resources are for. Countless vulnerable individuals around the world. So, there’s a lot going on, on the ground, of course – it’s a searing crisis.
And, given the very difficult circumstances, we could have decided not to convene today – I think that would not have been an unreasonable decision. But I, and George, and many of you felt it was very very important to come together. I, personally, just want to underscore how much we, at USAID, value your work, your advocacy, and your insights, as we try to look toward that future free of conflict – that seems more and more out of reach. We are still committed, of course, to the predicate for MEPPA – which is Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace, and we are still, of course, committed to each governing states of their own.
As President Biden has said, we cannot give up on peace. And I would add that in fact, it is moments like this where it might feel tempting, and some may be giving up on a vision for peace, that it is especially important to hold on to that hope and to that vision. Last week, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution. That means, he laid out a set of things that meant – no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza or attempt to occupy or reduce Gaza’s territory. It means no use of Gaza or the West Bank, as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks.
It means Palestinian voices leading post-crisis governance in Gaza. It means a sustained mechanism for reconstruction. And it must mean upholding all Israelis’ and all Palestinians’ rights, wherever they live, rights to freedom, economic opportunity, and to dignity – it is by respecting those rights, of course, that we would lay the groundwork for durable peace and security.
We know that securing true and enduring peace is not merely a matter of ending the violence. It will, in fact, require strong people-to-people connections, shared and mutually reinforcing prosperity, and care for marginalized communities.
Your insight and your expertise has already achieved a lot on the ground. That intellectual and practical wisdom has put MEPPA in a position to have created, for example, economic hubs and business accelerator programs that bring together Israeli and Palestinian women entrepreneurs. That wisdom has helped MEPPA bring together Israelis and Palestinians to fight climate change. And you have played a role in helping connect Israelis and Palestinians to design sustainable water systems and to train young professionals in water diplomacy.
Just as we cannot give up on peace, we cannot give up on important work like this.
But, as so many have said, we also cannot simply go back to how things were on October 6. The landscape of the region has changed – and we know, you know, that MEPPA will need to change, as well.
We recognize the need for a full stock-taking of our programming, a review of how we work, who we work with, and how we can achieve the impact that we all hoped for when this initiative began.
Your insights will be crucial for the broader discussion of what comes next – as communities on both sides begin to heal from their respective traumas and try to move forward.
I want to thank you for continuing your work and advocacy as you grapple with your own grief, fear, and uncertainty – and I will continue to do everything in my power to support your efforts to help Israelis and Palestinians recognize their shared humanity and common dream for peace.
Now I will turn to Amy to offer updates from her team at the USAID West Bank and Gaza Mission.
Over to you, Amy. Thank you.