Palestinian American doctor explains why he walked out of meeting with Biden and Harris

A Palestinian American doctor who walked out of a meeting with President Biden and other Arab and Muslim leaders and activists on Wednesday said he left “out of respect for my community.”

Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency physician from Chicago who traveled to Gaza earlier this year, told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan the White House meeting was the first time Mr. Biden heard directly from people who had been on the ground in Gaza since Oct. 7. He said the president asked him to speak first and he detailed his experiences in Khan Younis and Rafah, telling Mr. Biden there was no way Israel could safely invade the southern Gaza city where more than one million Palestinians have fled since the war began.

“And then I asked to be excused, out of respect for my community who’s mourning, who’s grieving, who has really wanted to be heard and has felt silenced and excluded this entire time,” Ahmad said. 

Before leaving, Ahmad said he gave Mr. Biden a letter from an 8-year-old orphan in Rafah, asking the president not to allow an invasion. 

Ahmad said he accepted the invitation because “I think there’s a lot of us right now that have a serious sense of urgency and panic about what’s taking place in Gaza, and specifically about the looming Rafah invasion that could take place.” 

“It seems to me that there’s one person who can maybe make a difference and could put a stop to this, and that’s President Biden,” he said.

Ahmad said he feels Mr. Biden is not doing enough to stop Israel from going ahead with its planned invasion, and he says he’s not alone.

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Ahmad said he spoke to delegation members of U.N. Security Council states, “and they all felt that if the White House decided to make Rafah a red line, that the war would stop tomorrow. That it just required President Biden to say, ‘Under no circumstance can this take place.'”

White House officials have previously said Mr. Biden has attempted to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale back plans for a Rafah invasion and to do more to protect civilians.

“Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last month at a White House briefing. “But a major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally.”  

Ahmad said he felt comfortable leaving because he knew the other attendees would also be able to impress upon Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris the dire situation in Gaza.

He said he wasn’t initially sure he was going to walk out of the meeting, but that “when the president didn’t even really mention Gaza or Palestine in his first initial comments to me, I felt that I needed to get out and I needed to at least express the hurt and the pain that the entire Palestinian American community is feeling.”

“I don’t speak on their behalf, I’m just one Palestinian American,” Ahmad continued. “But the fact that there were no other Palestinian Americans in the room and that so many people are suffering right now, it was important for me to at least communicate that hurt and to walk away from the president like we felt he’s walked away from us.” 

Ahmad told CBS News he plans to return to Gaza, despite the enormous risks involved. He said the last time he was in Gaza he saw the Israeli military raid a hospital where families had been sheltering. 

“It’s important to note that the Israeli military has done this to multiple hospitals. This is not just a one-time incident,” Ahmad said. “So what I saw, there were families in these hospitals. Children playing ring-around-the-rosie. I saw kids who were affected by this war, who had been injured by it, who had been traumatized by it … I can list hospital after hospital. And so that’s really what makes me want to go back, is realizing that these people in the Gaza Strip are under a tremendous amount of pressure and pain, including the health care workers, including the aid workers. And if it’s not people like us who are going to stand with them because the entire world has turned their back on them, then who else is gonna do it?”

Ahmad also said he never saw any signs of Hamas operating in hospitals.

“We saw the opposite of that,” he said.

“I’ve been sharing those details since I’ve come back. I’ve been sharing those details with anyone who will listen. Senators, congressmen, I said that to the president and the vice president prior to leaving,” he said. “There are real people that are there, innocent people, families, and they’ve been displaced multiple times. They’ve lost so much, including their homes, they’ve lost their everything… their livelihood.

“The idea of an invasion into Rafah by the Israeli military is just something that could be so disastrous,” he said. “To a place that’s seen so much disaster and humanitarian suffering.”

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