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How Biden’s White House Gathering for Ramadan Unraveled Over Gaza

By Erica L Green

When the White House invited Muslim community leaders for a dinner this week celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, the responses started coming in fast: Decline. Decline. Decline.

Many of the invitees, distressed over President Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza, said they would not attend an iftar meal with the president on Tuesday evening while so many Palestinians were under siege.

Supporters of Palestine kneeling in prayer in front of the White House in protest as President Biden held a downscaled Ramadan event inside on Tuesday. Credit…Kent Nishimura/Getty Images.

“How can we talk to you about famine and starvation over bread and steak?” said Dr. Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian American doctor who was in Gaza in January.

The moment epitomized just how problematic the war in Gaza has become for Mr. Biden, who is increasingly critical of Israel but still resisting calls from within his party to set conditions on weapons sales to the country.

The White House pivoted quickly as it became clear that the Ramadan event would be controversial, holding a pared-down meal just for staff members and a separate meeting for Muslim community leaders like Dr. Ahmad.

The meeting, which lasted for more than an hour, was attended by Mr. Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris; Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser; and other senior officials. Three doctors who had recently treated patients in Gaza were among those who spoke to the president.

More than 32,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the Gazan health authorities.

Dr. Ahmad said he told Mr. Biden that Israel’s impending ground invasion of Rafah would be a “blood bath and a massacre.” He also handed the president a letter from an 8-year-old girl in Gaza who lost her entire family in the war.

“We in Rafah are suffering a lot because we live in a very small tent and the tank can enter the tent and run me over,” the girl wrote in the letter, which was obtained and translated by The New York Times.

The letter continued: “We don’t want massacres and suffering. We want safety, to live like the rest of the world’s children. Please, Biden, stop this war, it’s enough, stop this war please.”

After speaking for about six minutes, Dr. Ahmad told the president he was leaving.

“I said, ‘Out of respect for my community, and out of respect for the many people who are grieving, and who are in a lot of pain, I have to walk out of this meeting.’”

He said Mr. Biden responded that he understood.

“Part of me wanted to express the frustration that the entire community has, the anger and the resentment,” Dr. Ahmad said. “But also part of me wanted to get up and walk out on the decision makers, and give them an idea of how it feels to have somebody walk away from them.”

It was a far cry from a celebration last year at the White House marking the end of Ramadan, which drew hundreds of community leaders, White House staff and politicians who snacked on hors d’oeuvres and took selfies with the president. One attendee shouted “We love you!” to Mr. Biden before he started speaking.

Read more: How Biden’s White House Gathering for Ramadan Unraveled Over Gaza

SOURCE: nytimes

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