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Israel pushes back as the Biden administration pressures it to spare Gaza civilians


Under domestic and international pressure, the Biden administration has increased calls for the Israeli government to protect civilians as it goes after Hamas in Gaza. As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Jerusalem, the Israelis don't want a rift with the U.S., but they have other priorities.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Officials here have praised President Biden since he gave his full support for Israel's invasion in October. Simcha Rothman is a member of the Knesset, the right-wing religious Zionist party.

SIMCHA ROTHMAN: I, of course, am very thankful for all the support the United States and the state of Israel fight against terror. President Biden has made tremendous effort to do so.

LANGFITT: The U.S. is arming Israel and is the country's indispensable ally. But Rothman doesn't appreciate American pressure on Israel to hold back on the battlefield and President Biden's call for an eventual two-state solution.

ROTHMAN: I think he should stay on the right side of history in this - in that matter and not try to push forward solutions that might appease someone but will not help the safety of this region and the world.

LANGFITT: For Reaven Friedmann, who's 72, how Israeli forces wage war hits close to home. His house is less than three miles from the Gaza border. Hamas fighters passed by while he was hiding inside with his wife on October 7.

REAVEN FRIEDMANN: The battles now in Gaza is in front of my house. To get Hamas out of Gaza, I think, is going to take time. How much takes to - you say, to get out al-Qaida from Afghanistan?

LANGFITT: The Gaza ministry of health says Israeli attacks have killed at least 17,000 people. Images of suffering have driven outrage among many around the world, but Raviv Drucker says most Israelis see little of this in mainstream media coverage. Drucker is a leading journalist here.

RAVIV DRUCKER: We rarely cover the suffering of Gazan casualties, civilians, kids. We don't - we rarely interview someone from Gaza. Like, why? Why is that? - because the trauma is so hard. You can hear people that usually used to be, like, moderate or define themselves as part of the peace camp. They are now saying, it's us or them.

LANGFITT: And Drucker says if Israeli leaders let up in Gaza, they'd pay a price.

DRUCKER: Nobody in Israel can reach a decision now to stop the operation against Hamas. The leader that will dare to even contemplate the idea of doing that is done.

LANGFITT: Israel is not completely ignoring U.S. pressure. For instance, it's allowed more fuel deliveries into Gaza, even amid domestic criticism that it'll only help Hamas. And Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general, says American pressure can help. Fewer civilian deaths mean less suffering and more time for Israel to target Hamas.

SHLOMO BROM: The U.S. administration - because basically, they understand the strategic dilemma, they will try to do whatever they can do to give Israel the time that it needs.

LANGFITT: And, Brom says, the White House has to consider the broader landscape as other countries challenge the U.S.-led world order.

BROM: And I think there is a real understanding in the U.S. administration among the people that are important that Israel has to win.

LANGFITT: Because, Brom says, U.S. rivals - Iran, Russia, China - will see an Israeli loss as an American one, too.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.