In State of the Union, Biden to announce temporary Gazan port

A bipartisan group of members of Congress has invited at least 17 family members of American hostages held by Hamas in Gaza to attend the State of the Union address.

The Port of Gaza in 2015. (Photo: Wikicommons)

By Andrew Bernard
March 7, 2024

(JNS) — During his State of the Union address, U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce an “emergency mission” to establish a port in the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian supplies, senior administration officials told reporters on Thursday.

The port, which will be set up in “a number of weeks,” will allow the equivalent of “hundreds” of truckloads of aid to enter Gaza daily, the senior officials said.

Speaking on background, the officials said that Washington coordinated with Israel and Cyprus, with the shipments arriving from the island country. U.S. troops will not participate in the operation on the ground in Gaza, and Washington will coordinate security for the port with Jerusalem.

“The president has directed that we look at all options, that we not wait for the Israelis, and that we are pursuing every channel possible to get assistance into Gaza,” one of the officials said.

The Biden administration has increasingly described Israel as an obstacle to aid entering Gaza and has said that it was considering opening a maritime corridor. The U.S. military began airdropping food supplies directly to Gazan civilians on Saturday, but it has acknowledged that the tens of thousands of meals delivered in each airdrop are only a small supplement to the aid requirements of more than two million Gazans.

Once maritime aid arrives in Gaza, the United Nations and “other humanitarian partners” will deliver it, the senior officials said.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients said in an interview with Politico on Thursday that Biden’s State of the Union would address Gaza “head-on.”

“The president is working hour by hour to negotiate an immediate and sustained cease-fire in Gaza over a period of at least six weeks, as part of a deal that would release hostages and get significantly more humanitarian aid in,” Zients said. 

“He wants enduring peace in the region so that Palestinians and Israelis can live with security, dignity in two states—something he is actively working towards every day,” Zients added.

Ronen Neutra
Ronen Neutra (center), the father of Omer Neutra, whom Hamas is holding hostage in the Gaza Strip, speaks with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.). Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.).

SOTU guests

In his State of the Union remarks Thursday evening at 9 p.m. in Washington, Biden will address at least 17 family members of American hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Some of the hostages have been released. The 17 relatives are the invited guests of a bipartisan group of members of Congress.

Eight of the Americans whom Hamas terrorists kidnapped and took to Gaza on Oct. 7 remain in the Strip, including two who are known to be dead.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and 14 other House members from both parties, spoke at a Wednesday press conference in the Cannon House Office Building. Family members of hostages joined them.

“This was an attack on America, and, as a reminder, as much as they hate Israel, they also hate us,” said Gottheimer, who organized the event. “They are Iranian-backed proxies who continue to wage attacks on our bases, on Americans and our families.”

“We want to make sure that no American forgets that Americans are still being held hostage as we speak,” Gottheimer added. “Despite Israel’s agreement to terms of a temporary pause, Hamas refuses to agree to the negotiated terms.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) asked why the Israeli hostages in Gaza haven’t received worldwide attention and support as did the nearly 300 Nigerian school children, whom Boko Haram kidnapped. (Wilson was a leading advocate of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign.) 

“I am demanding the same kind of worldwide advocacy for the release of the Israeli hostages kidnapped by the terrorist group Hamas,” she said. “Bring back the hostages. The time to act is now. We cannot allow these families to endure endless suffering, living each day in the shadow of uncertainty, not knowing whether their loved ones are even alive, much less what conditions they are in.”

Wilson called on fellow members of Congress to wear blue each Wednesday in solidarity with the hostages and to promote the cause on social media. (She wore red weekly on Wednesdays for seven years as part of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.)

Congress hostages
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and other members of Congress speak alongside relatives of U.S. hostages in Gaza at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

Members of Congress can invite a guest to attend the president’s annual address to Congress, with congressional leadership and the White House allotted additional invites. Sixteen senators and congressmen extended invites to the hostage family members, including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

“This has to stay in front of politicians. It has to stay in front of the media, and it has to stay in front of the public,” stated Ronen Neutra, father of American hostage Omer Neutra, who with his wife Orna Neutra will be a guest of Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) at the State of the Union.

“This is one of the biggest stages of the year,” Neutra said. “We are hopeful that President Biden will mention us and our dear ones in his speech, and I know he cares deeply about the situation.”

Biden has said that he wants a ceasefire-for-hostages deal in place in time for the start of Ramadan, which is expected to begin Sunday at sundown. 

The senior officials said on the press call on Thursday that there was no hard deadline for the deal, acknowledging that Hamas leaders have directly called for violence during Ramadan. “I think Hamas has said what their intentions might be,” one official said.

Leave a Reply