State Department officials warned not to use terms "de-escalation/cease-fire" about Gaza

Diplomats told not to say "end to violence/bloodshed" and "restoring calm"

Published October 16, 2023 4:01PM (EDT)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)

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As Israel on Friday bombarded civilians in Gaza and prepared for a ground invasion in response to Hamas' recent attack, U.S. State Department leadership reportedly instructed officials not to publicly use some terms that would advocate for less violence.

According to HuffPost, which reviewed official emails, "State Department staff wrote that high-level officials do not want press materials to include three specific phrases: 'de-escalation/cease-fire,' 'end to violence/bloodshed,' and 'restoring calm.'"

HuffPost noted that "when reached for comment on the directive, a State Department official said they would not comment on internal communications." However, others were quick to blast the policy as "disgusting," "maddening," and "pretty shocking."

Guardian columnist Moira Donegan called it "a horror and a moral abdication that we, Americans, can never atone for."

Adam Shapiro, director of advocacy for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said that "if you work at the U.S. Department of State and you believe that you are there for diplomacy and making the world a better place—now is the time for resignations and collective action."

"This is unconscionable and will leave an indelible stain," added Shapiro, who was far from the only critic to call the directive " unconscionable."

The reporting comes after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken came under fire earlier this week for deleting a Sunday post on X, formerly Twitter, in which he said that during a conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, "I encouraged Turkey's advocacy for a cease-fire and the release of all hostages held by Hamas immediately."

Noting HuffPost's article, DAWN executive director Sarah Leah Whitson directly called out the secretary, writing on social media, "This your leadership for peace and security ⁦Antony Blinken⁩?"

CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin took aim at President Joe Biden. "It just gets worse and worse," she said. "Biden is giving a total green light for Israel's collective punishment of Gazans."

Anthony Zenkus, an adjunct faculty member at Adelphi and Columbia universities, asked, "What is wrong with these people?"

Nina Turner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy, stressed that "there is no peace without de-escalation."

As of Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, Israeli airstrikes had killed at least 1,900 people, including 614 children, and wounded thousands. In addition to the bombing, Israel has imposed a full blockade, cutting off fuel, food, and medicine into the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas-led weekend attack and rocket fire, which has killed more than 1,300 Israelis.

The United States already gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid, and the Biden administration has ramped up such support this week. After visiting Israel on Thursday, Blinken on Friday met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank and controlled Gaza until it was taken over by Hamas.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Blinken "reiterated the United States' unequivocal condemnation of the abhorrent terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel. The secretary also detailed U.S. efforts to coordinate with partners to prevent the conflict from widening. The secretary extended his condolences to the families of Palestinian civilian victims of this conflict, and reiterated that Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people's legitimate right to dignity, freedom, justice, and self-determination."

Meanwhile, ahead of its anticipated ground assault, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Friday ordered the roughly 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza—or about half of the strip's population—to evacuate to the southern part of the occupied territory within 24 hours, which United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric and groups such as Doctors Without Borders warn will have devastating humanitarian consequences.

A group of 55 House Democrats on Friday wrote to Biden and Blinken that they "are deeply concerned about the order" and urged them to pressure Israel to limit harm to civilians ahead of the IDF's expected action. That letter was not signed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American member of Congress, who separately called for "immediate de-escalation and cease-fire to save countless civilian lives, no matter their faith or ethnicity."

"President Biden has not expressed one bit of empathy for the millions of Palestinian civilians facing brutal airstrikes and the threat of a ground invasion of Gaza that would intensify this humanitarian crisis," Tlaib added. "Many families in the U.S. seeking help to get their loved ones out of Gaza feel that Secretary Blinken is not making their safety a priority. The Biden administration is failing in its duty to protect all civilian and American lives in Gaza."

By Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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