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Israel-Palestine war: Former US President Obama warns against downplaying Palestinian suffering

In a statement that begins with supporting Israel's "right to defend itself", Obama warns Israel not to make America's mistakes after 9/11
Barack Obama speaks onstage during the 2022 Sandy Hook Promise Benefit at The Ziegfeld Ballroom on 6 December 2022 in New York City.
Barack Obama speaks onstage during the 2022 Sandy Hook Promise Benefit at The Ziegfeld Ballroom on 6 December 2022 in New York City (AFP)

Former US President Barack Obama has weighed in on Israel's war on Gaza, publishing a statement on Monday in which he supported Israel's "right to defend itself", while also warning Israel and the US against ignoring the plight of Palestinians.

The statement, published on Medium, does not stray far from the Biden administration's current position of backing Israel's actions in Gaza, but makes some significant distinctions.

"But even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters," Obama said.

The former president said that navigating the current conflict means "guarding against dehumanising language towards the people of Gaza, or downplaying Palestinian suffering - whether in Gaza or the West Bank - as irrelevant or illegitimate".

Obama also addressed some of the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the continued displacement of Palestinians since the creation of Israel in 1948.

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"It means acknowledging that Palestinians have also lived in disputed territories for generations; that many of them were not only displaced when Israel was formed but continue to be forcibly displaced by a settler movement that too often has received tacit or explicit support from the Israeli government," Obama said.

Obama himself was president during Israel's war on Gaza in 2014 when the Israeli military launched a ground invasion of the besieged enclave.

At the time, he similarly backed Israel's action, while calling for a ceasefire. That war also revealed tensions in the US-Israel relationship, with Israel going behind Obama's back to restock American weapons.

"The world is watching closely as events in the region unfold, and any Israeli military strategy that ignores the human costs could ultimately backfire," Obama said in his statement.

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Lessons after 9/11

In the statement published on Monday, the former US president also warned Israel against making the same mistakes Washington did after it launched a number of wars following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

"America itself has at times fallen short of our higher values when engaged in war, and in the aftermath of 9/11, the US government wasn't interested in heeding the advice of even our allies when it came to the steps we took to protect ourselves against Al-Qaeda," he said.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, in which 3,000 people were killed when hijackers flew commercial planes into the Twin Towers in New York City, the US launched an invasion of Afghanistan, accusing the country of harbouring the al-Qaeda group responsible for the attacks.

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It also later launched an invasion of Iraq, and began rounding up men in CIA black sites and later in the then-newly formed Guantanamo Bay detention centre. The US ended up engaging in numerous human rights violations, including using torture against detainees at black sites, Guantanamo and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

And when Obama came into office, he oversaw more air strikes in his first year than his predecessor George W. Bush carried out in his entire presidency.

A total of 563 air strikes, mostly by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama's eight years in office, compared to 57 under Bush, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Obama's administration also carried out hundreds of strikes in Libya and Syria. The Council of Foreign Relations estimates that 3,797 people were killed in drone strikes during Obama's tenure, including 324 civilians, a number that is disputed.

Those drone strikes also killed US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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