United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres took office two years into my tenure as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Over the years, I got to know him well. We talked on many occasions, worked together and navigated some challenging situations in the Middle East.
I respected Guterres for his extensive experience in diplomacy. It seemed to me at the time that he had a nuanced and insightful understanding of the complex and volatile situation in the Middle East. He remained committed to promoting dialogue and peaceful resolutions to conflicts.
However, his speech on Oct. 24 to the U.N. Security Council on Israel’s war against Hamas, followed by an attempted clarification the following day, was reprehensible. There can be no justification for his claims that the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre “did not happen in a vacuum,” clearly implying Israeli responsibility for the savage and inhuman attack on its own citizens.
Guterres appeared unaware of the fact that there is no justification for beheading babies, raping young girls, torturing children and their parents, tearing babies from their mothers’ wombs, burning children and the elderly alive, mutilating and dismembering bodies and desecrating the dead—no justification whatsoever!
While Guterres acknowledged that “nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians—or the launching of rockets against civilian targets,” he then justified precisely that, not only with his “vacuum” comment but with lengthy remarks on the “56 years of suffocating occupation” that the Palestinians have supposedly suffered.
I would like to suggest to the secretary-general that the facts may have escaped his attention. Israel does not occupy Gaza in any way. Israel exited Gaza in the summer of 2005 in the hopes that it would help promote peace and tens of thousands of Israeli citizens were removed.
Instead of using this opportunity to build a better life for themselves, in 2006, the citizens of Gaza elected the terror organization Hamas, whose sole ambition is the annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people. Every year since, without exception, Israel has experienced round after round of rocket fire targeting its civilians. Instead of creating a place of prosperity and peace, the Palestinians in Gaza created a hell. The situation in which they now find themselves, and the war zone Gaza has become, rests squarely on the shoulders of Hamas and its supporters.
Guterres spoke of how the Palestinians have been “plagued by violence” and their economy “stifled.” He failed to mention that the violence they are “plagued by” and their poor economic situation are the direct results of the government the people of Gaza elected to power. Hamas digs up water pipes and turns them into rockets; uses electricity meant for houses, hospitals and schools to power generators in their underground tunnels; and builds terror tunnels to target Israel’s citizens rather than an underground transportation system for Gaza’s population.
Over the years, Gaza and Hamas have received billions of dollars in aid from multiple sources. From 2014 to 2020, numerous U.N. organizations sent almost $4.5 billion to Gaza, including $600 million just in 2020. Qatar has provided $1.3 billion in aid to Gaza since 2012. These figures do not include the funds given to the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, which has received billions of dollars, most of which is supposedly meant to fund education initiatives, or to USAID, which has received millions for various projects in Gaza. No one knows how many of these billions have been stolen by Hamas for terror purposes, but the number must be very high indeed.
The international community should be rightfully outraged that the billions of dollars in aid that they have given to Gaza, which should have been used to build hospitals, schools, educational centers and other facilities for Gaza’s citizens, have instead been rerouted to the Hamas underground terror infrastructure. Hamas should be held fully accountable by the international community, and certainly by the U.N., for the billions of dollars in funds that continue to pour in to aid civilians but are instead stolen by the terror group.
Given these indisputable facts, Guterres’s statement was outrageous. He asserted a parity between Israel’s defensive war against inhuman terror and the crimes of Hamas. Indeed, he essentially pardoned Hamas and took its side in the conflict.
There is only one way to deal with Hamas’s evil: Calling it out for what it is and eliminating it. This is a defining moment in which moral clarity is required. Guterres failed to provide this clarity in the most spectacular manner possible. If, after all his years of public service, he cannot understand the difference between the victims of terror and the terrorists, then we have a serious issue at the United Nations.
I call on Secretary-General Guterres to retract his statement. At the very least, the outrage he has witnessed in response to his speech should indicate to him that the speech was neither moral nor just. If he does not retract and recognize that he was mistaken in his moral equivalence between a democratic state defending itself and a terror group that slaughtered 1,400 innocent civilians in an unprovoked attack, Israel will no longer be able to work with him.
It is our hope that Guterres will sincerely apologize and clarify that there is zero justification for the genocidal horrors perpetrated by Hamas. If he cannot do so, then he should resign from his position as head of an organization that was established to prevent such atrocities. He has failed not only to prevent them but also, at the very least, to condemn them unequivocally.