U.S. Ambassador To Israel Defends Response To Gaza Protests

May 14, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 9:19 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The U.S. ambassador to Israel is defending the country's response to Palestinian protesters. David Friedman spoke this morning before the news that Israeli troops killed more than 50 people today. But it was after weeks of confrontations in which dozens of others were killed. We're going to hear some of the ambassadors talk with our colleague Steve Inskeep, who is in Jerusalem today and on the line now. Hey, there.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So set the scene for me. Where did you meet the ambassador?

INSKEEP: This was in Jerusalem, where, by the way, he was opening the new U.S. Embassy today. And he was at the King David Hotel, which is this ornate and famous old hotel. When we met at this hotel, it was in the morning. This big day of protests was expected but had not yet happened. No news was in. Nevertheless, Friedman was aware how deadly the past six weeks of protests have been. Dozens of people have been killed.

And he was fierce in his defense of the Israeli military. In defending them, he brought up Hamas, the militant group in Gaza that's been supporting the protests. And I'd like to play you a good chunk of this conversation.

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Tell me what country allows enemies bent on murdering your citizens to have free access to cross the border? I mean, this is not unique to Israel. This is true anywhere in the world.

INSKEEP: Has Israel used an appropriate amount of force? Dozens of people have been killed.

FRIEDMAN: I think they've used an absolutely appropriate amount of force. I've studied this carefully. They have significant training and limitations placed upon their soldiers. They have pushed back women and children, who have been pushed to the front, without firing. They obviously do the best they can when they have to fire to aim below the knees. Look, this is a terrible, cynical manipulation by Hamas of the public discourse and of the political arena to try to garner sympathy.

There was a narrative that they play into to help gain public opinion. And when people stop providing them with a platform, I suspect this will calm down.

INSKEEP: When you visit there, though, you realize the complexities of it. You do have Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. But you also have 1.8 million people in far more poverty than you would see just a few miles away inside Israel, who for most people on most days are literally prevented from going anywhere. They can't travel, they can't go anywhere.

And many of the people involved in these protests feel that all they're trying to do is walk out into land that they would argue that they have a claim to. Is there anything that Israel or the United States can do for them to address that specific concern that they feel imprisoned?

FRIEDMAN: I think the United States and Israel would do almost anything to alleviate the humanitarian crisis if it didn't result in a compromise of Israel's security. There's no lack of will. There are a limited number of options because the security situation there is so desperate because Hamas, frankly, is so treacherous.

INSKEEP: Although you also have this unresolved question of a Palestinian state.

FRIEDMAN: Well, it's not going to get resolved if the Palestinians continue to burn tires and fly kites with swastikas that fly over the fence and explode in Israel. That's not going to give them a state.

KELLY: That is David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. And just to repeat, he was answering questions there before the full extent of today's casualties became known. The person asking those questions was our colleague Steve Inskeep, who is still on the line. And, Steve, I've got one for you. Did you push him on that question of a Palestinian state?

It's been reported that Ambassador Friedman is among the people working on a peace plan, along with Jared Kushner, President Trump's adviser and son-in-law.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the two of them are working with Jason Greenblatt, a presidential adviser. So I asked Friedman, have you got a document, you have a paper with a plan on it? He acknowledged maybe they had something but maybe not the final version. And he went on to say, quote, "we're still working on it. Timing is everything in life. I think we're waiting for the right time." And apparently, whatever time that might be, it's not now.

KELLY: It's not today. All right, NPR's Steve Inskeep reporting today from Jerusalem. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Good to talk with you.

KELLY: And this footnote - once the scope of today's casualties became clear, NPR asked Ambassador Friedman if he wanted to add anything to his comments. A spokesman replied, his words still stand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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