Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the first Republican presidential candidate to visit Israel on Sunday, meeting with government officials and victims of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, as well as the families of some individuals held hostage by the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.
Touring the grounds of Kfar Aza with officials on the invitation of the Israeli foreign ministry, Christie surveyed the grim scene of the now-destroyed kibbutz, situated less than 2 miles away from Gaza's border. Israel Defense Forces said it was one of the first places Hamas militants laid siege to in early October, murdering and maiming dozens of Israeli civilians amid broader attacks that killed more than 1,200 people and resulted in roughly another 240 kidnapped -- the status of many still unknown, according to Israeli officials.
"To still be able to walk into one of these homes and smell the death -- still, a month later -- is something that I think the American people need to know and hear directly from someone who has seen it himself," Christie told reporters, standing alongside Amir Ohana, speaker of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
"Leaders in our country need to see this for themselves. Because you can't," Christie said, trailing off for a moment, "You can't really understand it until you see it."
Christie, who also spent the day meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, viewed raw footage depicting the carnage of Hamas' assault and visited victims of the attacks at a hospital in Tel Aviv. The GOP presidential hopeful said he would talk about the experience regularly once he returns to the U.S. to illustrate the stakes to Americans and help them understand why providing support for the country of Israel "is not only a noble effort on their part, but also what friends do for friends."
He likened the Israel trip to the surprise visit he made in August to Ukraine, where he visited Bucha -- the site of another mass civilian slaughter by Russian troops in the early days of that country's war. He later met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But in the same breath, Christie dismissed calls for a cease-fire in Gaza, which have grown in recent weeks as Israel's devastating invasion of the strip continued to expand just miles west from where he spoke -- the sound of fighter jets occasionally streaking overhead.
"I said this back in the U.S., and I'll repeat it here, that I don't think it's the role of the United States to instruct the State of Israel on how to provide safety and security for its people," Christie said.
Israel's relentless offensive to weaken Hamas has become a political flashpoint in the U.S. as the civilian death toll has continued to mount in Gaza, killing more than 11,000 people since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "far too many" Palestinians have died and suffered in Israel's bombardment of the 140 square mile region. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, who has called for "pauses" in the fighting, expressed frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week over his response to requests the U.S. has made, which Biden said were "taking a little longer than I had hoped."
But Israel agreed on Friday to take limited steps to briefly pause the fighting, announcing it would institute a daily four-hour humanitarian pause during its assault on Hamas -- though Biden told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Selina Wang that he had asked for a three-day pause to get hostages out of Gaza.
"I've asked for even a longer pause for some of them," Biden said on Friday.
Many Republicans, though, have taken a more hard-line approach to the war and dismissed calls for pauses and cease-fires, throwing their firm support behind Israel despite growing international pressure for the staunch U.S. ally to take stronger steps to limit civilian casualties in the conflict.
During his visit on Sunday, Christie -- who has said the U.S. needs to support Israel in whatever ways necessary to neutralize the threat of Hamas -- again dismissed requests for a cease-fire.
"We can't ask Israel to stand down if they believe there is still a legitimate violent threat against them and their people," Christie said. "And I think there's no question that there is, so they must continue to fight until they have degraded that capability to a point where they can say to their people, 'Come back and live here safely and securely.'"
He added that until that day, "I don't think calls for a cease-fire make any sense," and challenged Americans advocating for a cease-fire to "come to Israel and see it for yourself."
But following his meeting with President Herzog, Christie noted that he did not believe a long-term occupation of Gaza would be in Israel's best interest either, but that the issue needed to be resolved outside of the context of the current crisis.
Appearing on CNN later in the evening, Christie reiterated that "discussion of what happens in Gaza after the war" must take a "backseat" to Israel's military objectives.
"I think, right now, task one is making sure that Hamas' capability is degraded," he said.
"Any loss of civilian life is tragic and should be avoided at all costs," Christie added later, but said that the focus must be on making sure "Hamas cannot use these civilians as a shield."