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Absent from Biden's remarks in Israel: mention of a cease-fire


NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv. Daniel, what more did you hear in the president's remarks?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, the president spoke to Israel's pain right now. He said the brutality of the Hamas attacks cut - would cut deep in any place in the world, but they cut deeper in Israel. He said it was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust and that it brought up painful memories of that history. And I think that is really going to resonate with a lot of Israelis. I've been hearing from Israelis really speaking to that. But he did say very clearly - he made a turn and said to Israelis, don't be consumed by your rage. He said the U.S. has made its own mistakes, referring to wars in the past. And he said Israel should ask hard questions. Israel should have clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about the path of those objectives. Biden said Israel is a nation of conscience, and he called on Israelis to recognize Palestinian suffering. But, A, what did he not say? He did not call for the end of the war. He did not call for a cease-fire. He did not call for Israel to end its bombardment of Gaza or for the Gaza border to be open to allow civilians to flee to safety. They're - 2 million civilians in Gaza are trapped. And he did not spell out what vision he has for the endgame here.

MARTÍNEZ: One of the things that Biden said that struck me, Daniel, was that for a country the size of Israel, the attacks must have felt like 15 9/11s. The sense that he must have gotten just by being there and speaking to people in person must have sparked that comparison.

ESTRIN: That's right. I mean, that's something - that's the language we've heard from Israeli leaders. And it truly is a shocking - deeply shocking moment for Israelis. I mean, they're still identifying their dead. They're still burying their dead. And something else struck me about what the president said. He spoke about his memory of speaking with the Israeli prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, about how Israelis have no else to go - no place else to go, that that's something that fortifies Israelis, that gives them a sense of resolve.

I have to tell you that in his - speaking with Israelis here, I'm hearing something very different. I'm not hearing a lot of resolve. I'm hearing a lot of fear. I'm seeing a lot of Israelis boarding with their children on planes and leaving. I'm hearing Israelis who evacuated their communities that were attacked, saying, we'll never go back there and saying, for the first time in my life, I don't feel safe in my own country. So - and of course, you know, despite all of that pain, there is an ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza, where hundreds of Palestinians were just killed in a recent hospital attack yesterday in a blast. The death toll rises. The humanitarian crisis deepens. And again, we don't know what is the plan going forward? What is the plan, especially for the day after?

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, A.


I am joined by NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Asma, what did you hear? What stood out to you from the president's remarks, especially as someone who's been watching him closely for some years now?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I will say I was struck by the word of caution, that he advised his Israeli counterparts that he was there in the room making some of those foreign policy decisions, and there were - and these is his words - mistakes made during that time period. And so there should be lessons learned from that in terms of how to engage in a conduct of war, cautioned that Israel is a democracy and it needs to abide by that rule of law. I will say, Michel, I was struck, though, by the lack of detail explicitly on what's being done to provide any sort of humanitarian corridor. I heard earlier this morning from a lawyer who represents an American family - in fact, an American family that was interviewed here on NPR - who says that they are still stuck at the border between Gaza and Egypt and have not gotten a timetable from the State Department about when that border will open. So the issue is not just aid going in. It's American citizens who are trying to flee and get out of the Gaza Strip.

MARTIN: I have to say, there has been criticism from progressive Democratic lawmakers, as well as international criticism, as I think you've pointed out, that the administration has not been sufficiently critical of the loss of Palestinian life due to Israel's, you know, overwhelming response to the attack last week. And I'm just interested of your opinion of whether you think that the president's remarks here will assuage some of that criticism.

KHALID: You know, Michel, I think that is a great unknown. But one clear message we have consistently heard from this White House is that they do not want to see this conflict expand. I think, from some of the visual imageries and the stories we've been hearing about what's happening in the broader Arab region and some of the violence and protests that has erupted, I think there's a lot of uncertainty about whether or not this conflict will potentially expand.

MARTIN: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.