Voices from Gaza (with Ahmed Alkhatib)
Mar 18 2024

hope-for-peace-254x300.jpg Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib spent much of his childhood in Gaza before becoming an American citizen. He has lost dozens of family members and both his childhood homes in Israel's war in Gaza. But he hasn't lost hope for peace and the future of the Palestinian people. Listen as he describes the reality of life in Gaza under Hamas rule, and what he believes most Gazans think of Hamas. He also shares his thoughts on how to save Israel's hostages, and how Palestinians can thrive once the war is over.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.

READER COMMENTS

Mark
Mar 18 2024 at 12:18pm

Excellent episode. I felt like Russ was in top form for this interview. He made a point at the outset of emphasizing that this wasn’t about ‘setting the record straight’ or digging into ‘what really happened’ in the history of the conflict. Instead, the focus of the conversation was curiosity about how people on ‘the other side’ of the conflict from Russ’s experience interpret the situation. For all the talk about ‘dehumanization’ of Palestinians, this episode was an effective antidote to that trend.

While some might be upset that Russ didn’t challenge many of Ahmed’s assertions, I’m glad Russ chose to spend the time exploring the various feelings of Gazans on the ground. While facts may not care about your feelings, most people act based on feelings, not facts. Building bridges begins with understanding feelings, even if you disagree about the facts. Sure, there’s a time and place for working those facts out, but not going there during this conversation made the episode much stronger.

For example, where Qatari funding for Hamas came from (and whether it was deliberate Israeli government policy) isn’t as important for this conversation as whether large numbers of Gazans perceive that they’ve had no power to influence their government for years because their voices are being drowned out by outside funding that runs counter to their interests. It goes to the heart of how regular Gazans feel about Hamas, and informs how 2+ million of Israel’s neighbors feel about this most recent incitement. Russ allowed that conversation to proceed by not getting bogged down in rounds of accusation/counter-accusation that go nowhere.

Finally the level of respect Russ showed was fantastic. The comment near the end about how Palestinians feel this is their land as much as Israelis feel this is their land (as part of the question of whether it’s possible to co-exist) was as poignant as it was respectful. It really felt like it gave Ahmed the space to answer the question with an optimism I wish I could share.

Ben Service
Mar 19 2024 at 4:04pm

I agree it was a very well run interview that wasn’t about point scoring but understanding another persons point of view.  In order to do this Russ definitely went with the you have two ears and one mouth approach.  I am sure he disagreed with some of what was said but the point wasn’t to rebut it but to understand it.  I contrast this to a recent Lex Friedman podcast debate that just descended into not picking, quote archeology and name calling.  Maybe the Lex version is more click bait entertaining and I am all up for people trying different things but I find Russ’ approach much more informative.  I strive to have conversations with people I have different views from like Russ does but I pretty much always fall short.

My top two take aways from this podcast were:

Israel can’t incorporate a lot of arabs and remain a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time.  The unspoken bit was that therefore you can let it be dominated by arabs because you must be a democracy, what if it wasn’t a democracy could that work?  Would an Arab dominated non fully democratic Jewish state be possible?  I suspect the answer is it wouldn’t be stable.

The other takeaway is that Israel really is an economic outlier in the region so hence you can see why people want to have a chance to move there if you asked the average Arab person would you want the chance to emigrate to Muslim Egypt or Israel where they are a cultural minority which would they choose? Why is Israel so successful despite all the handicaps it has, it is pretty amazing.  My hypothesis is that it was founded by a lot of highly motivated immigrants who self selected to work super hard, be innovative and just have lots of grit.  Not sure what evidence there is to back this though.

Mark
Mar 20 2024 at 3:37pm

Interesting. One of the key take-aways I got from this was a more rich understanding of the character of Gaza as a place. On one hand, I hear people make bootlegger/Baptist arguments from both sides of the conflict arguing that Gaza is a waste heap.

(Whether the argument is “it’s been run into the ground by Hamas” or that “Israeli restrictions make this essentially a prison” the claim is the same: that there’s nothing in Gaza but suffering, poverty, massive unemployment, etc. The difference is who gets the blame for that situation.)

As with so many aspects of this conflict, a little digging past the surface-level arguments reveals contradiction, and brings serious questions to the fore. If everyone in Gaza is a refugee living in oppressive conditions, why is one of the biggest sticking points for Palestinians the right to return to after the war? They’re not returning to their homes, since those have been destroyed at this point, as have the government buildings, universities, etc. And also, why were there a bunch of universities/hospitals/etc. in this place that’s described as such a terrible place to live? Something doesn’t add up.

What was enlightening about this episode was getting a richer understanding of the heterogenous nature of Palestinian life in Gaza. Did they have a large number of refugees? Yes. But they also had a thriving community of people who had been there for decades/centuries. That community was forced to find their own ways to live with this massive influx of refugees, with a corrupt quasi-government run by Hamas, with restrictions imposed by Israelis, etc. Lots of competing interests interacting in complex, unpredictable ways. It’s a strong contrast to the game of attaching simplistic labels for vast swaths of people as “good”, “bad”, “victim”, “terrorist”. It allows us to view real people behind all the rhetoric.

Shalom Freedman
Mar 19 2024 at 7:02am

I would like to second the comment of Mark. He said the best of what I would have said could I have said anything at all.

 

 

J Mann
Mar 20 2024 at 9:51am

There’s a story that has stuck with me for a while now.  The speaker’s dad was born in Israel, and in the aftermath of the 6 Days War, he strongly opposed land for peace, because he thought it was obvious Israel needed that territory for security.

Until Sadat spoke to the Knesset. The speaker remembers his Dad breaking into tears and screaming at the TV: “He means it! Can’t you see he means it! Give him whatever he wants!”

With some people on both sides who don’t want peace, and more people on each side who don’t believe peace is possible, it’s so important to have people like Ahmed who keep believing it’s possible and charting a path.

It can’t be easy, so special thanks to Ahmed for his ideas and his faith in peace, and thanks to Russ for hosting him. Inshallah, Ahmed will be proved right.

Ron Spinner
Mar 20 2024 at 11:01am

“And then, you do a political settlement to basically starting out with a long-term truce–5, 10, 15 years–between Israel and Hamas.”
This idea is what happened for the last 18 years. Every few years a war. It seems that October 7 convinced the Israelis not to continue with this situation.
British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin (not a friend to the Jews) explained the crux of the problem in a speech to the British Parliament, Feb, 1947:
His Majesty’s Government have thus been faced with an irreconcilable conflict of principles … For the Jews the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish State. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine
Because of the way the Palestinians are educated I don’t see this changing in the near future:
As Mr Alkhatib said the Palestinians are educated using books from the PA. He didn’t go into how these materials teach the kids to hate Jews. It is fascinating to read the material – the 3rd section focuses on the textbooks: https://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/UNRWA-Education-Textbooks-and-Terror-Nov-2023.pdf
For example: on page 108 children are taught that dying is better than living. On Page 104: Teachers teach Grade 6 students “The Zionists are the terrorists of the modern age, and they are fated to disappear.” The illustrations used to teach math and science are also not to be missed.
It seems that one way Israel and the Palestinians will have peace is if Israel is strong enough to convince the Palestinians that it is not worth it to attack. Permanent peace if Israel is perceived as being too strong to attack.
There is one other option – the option of the Abraham accords where many Arab states signed peace treaties with Israel. As its name implies – these Arab states interpret Islam differently and accept that the Jews have been in Israel for the last 4000 years. There was a period of 1300 years than many left due to foreign armies conquering and oppressing the Jews. But that does not erase their connection to the land.
The impact-se.org website documents how many Arab countries are reducing the amount of anti-semitism in their textbooks.
If one day the Gazans and West Bank Palestinians can accept that Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jews – predating the Moslem conquest – they will find a willing peace partner.

Christopher Dufresne
Mar 20 2024 at 9:09pm

Very well run interview and an excellent counterpoint to some of the Israeli points of view lately on the podcast (not to disparage the other views). I could tell it was tough for Russ but I appreciated the chance for Ahmed to have a forum to speak his mind and opinion. Frankly this is an intensely complicated and the most “human” of conflicts. I’m glad to have this type of nuanced discussion (including the viewpoints I disagree) which must be difficult truly must be trying for all sides. Thank you for providing this.

[Edited with commenter’s permission–Econlib Ed.]

Gary Lynne
Mar 21 2024 at 10:32pm

Been listening carefully to the conversation on EconTalk about the Hamas and Israel interaction. Couple of key points come to mind:  1) religion and state, church and state must be separate in order to resolve such conflicts.  Both the Jewish State and the many versions of Muslin States, well, such political economies cannot work, especially in dealing with each other.  2) it has become clear that Islam, and perhaps Judaism, needs reformation.  Am thinking here especially of the book Heretic…   Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. 2015. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. New York: Harper Collins.  The Christian Reformation starting 1517 not only stopped the Crusades, wherein  both Jews and Muslims were infidels to be destroyed if conversion was refused, well, it did not work.  The Reformation pointed to “stop-it”  — as well as to separate church and state — so that reasoned (secular) resolutions could be found. Tolerate the other religion and get along, please.  A MetaEcon, as in Metaeconomics, talking here…

Ben Service
Mar 23 2024 at 12:38am

Interesting, I too wonder why a secular state is not the most logical option, why do we need a Jewish or Muslim or Catholic or Hindu etc… state?  If we had a state where all religions could practice their faith what would be the issues?  I suspect there would be some issues, the Indian Hindus dispute the location of Muslim temples and in Jerusalem there are issues around some temples and mosques as well.  Maybe there is a neat secular way to solve those conflicts but I suspect that there isn’t.

I live in Australia which is secular and reasonably tolerant of all religions, we don’t have a lot of conflict over historical artefacts given the migrant version of the country is very young, there are increasingly issues around indigenous cultural sites which are hard to resolve to the satisfaction of everyone so I can see why areas of the world with more complicated histories are problematic.

Hanoch
Mar 24 2024 at 4:58pm

It seems to be an assumed bedrock principle — as unquestioned as the existence of gravity — that the onus is upon Israel to plan for the “day after” in Gaza.  I don’t deny the importance of the issue for Israel, but I do wonder where are the moderate Gazan leaders who, like Mr. Alkhatib, would like to see the end of Hamas and the establishment of a peaceful, prosperous, self-governed Gaza operating in accordance with the rule of law.  Is not at least some (if not the majority) of the burden upon such individuals — assuming they are out there — to come forward on behalf of their people to to work with Israel to establish something new and better?  As gratifying as it was hear Mr. Alkhatib speak about these ideas, it seems there can be no end to this miserable state of affairs without the emergence of such leaders.

David
Mar 25 2024 at 7:20am

A very interesting episode.

I think that if all Palestinians were like the guest, we would have had peace a while ago, though obviously there are areas in which Israelis will disagree with him.

The question is whether Mr. Alkhatib’s optimism is justified.

To me, he seems to be an outlier (I’ve never ever heard a Palestinian speak like him), and also he’s not in Gaza. Outsiders are great in theory, but in practice, we need people like him there, not in the USA.

And finally, I hope he wasn’t insulted by Russ expressing the wish to meet him over a beer…that’s haram! 🙂

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AUDIO TRANSCRIPT
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
0:37

Intro. [Recording date: February 22, 2024.]

Russ Roberts: Today is February 22nd, 2024, and my guest is activist and writer, Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib. His family is originally from Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel. From the age of five to 15, he lived in the Gaza Strip until he went on an exchange program to the United States. He was unable to return to Gaza and ultimately became an American citizen.

He has been an eloquent writer on what is happening in Gaza today, and in a recent article he wrote for Foreign Policy, he wrote the following. Quote:

I am originally from Gaza. I have lost more than 31 of my family members who were killed by IDF airstrikes in Gaza City and Rafah. Both of my childhood homes are gone. My immediate and extended family are all homeless, having had to regularly flee in pursuit of safety. This personal dimension is precisely why I've been desperately seeking pragmatic ideas, outlined below, that address humanitarian aid provision and the stabilization of post-war Gaza through new security arrangements. This is not an intellectual or analytical issue for me. It is an existential one that threatens the survival of what remains of my family in the Gaza Strip and the preservation of the territory that I once called home.

End quote.

And those words will be the basis for our conversation today. Ahmed, welcome to EconTalk.

Ahmed Alkhatib: Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it.

Russ Roberts: I want to add, before we begin: this episode will probably air three weeks after it's recorded. Please keep that in mind. Things may change quickly for some of the issues we discuss.

2:18

Russ Roberts: Let's talk about your boyhood in Gaza, to start. That was during the time when Israel was occupying the Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew in 2005. You left just as Hamas began to take power. Can you share your memories of Gaza as a boy?

Ahmed Alkhatib: Certainly. I mean, as I had shared previously, our family moved back and forth between Gaza and Saudi Arabia during the 1990s. We lived in Gaza for almost three years out of that decade. We permanently moved to the Gaza Strip in June of 2000, right before the Second Intifada, three months before the Second Intifada. And, I remember always feeling an outsider, if you will, because I never--I mean, our accent that we spoke wasn't exactly 100% in accordance to the Gazans who never left the Strip. And so, I remember that.

But once the Second Intifada took place, and once the violence began spreading as far as the demonstrations, the protests, the strikes, the funerals, later on suicide attacks and suicide bombings that took place within Israel, which would then elicit a significant Israeli retaliation--once that took place, I was very much so a Gazan, just like everybody else. There was a complete erasure of any differentiation.

We went to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] schools because our family is from historic Palestine, and my parents were born in Rafah in refugee camps. And, the word 'refugee camp'--I mean, they started as actual literal refugee camps. But, as time has gone on, they evolved to be their own mini small neighborhoods or even mini small cities, if you will. So, that's why they're exceptionally crowded. They're particularly just undeveloped, and the scene historically of a lot of trash and sewer, whatever, even though as time has gone on, there have been efforts to improve them.

But, the area where we lived in Sheikh Radwan, right between the neighborhood of Rimal and Jabalia--you hear about the Jabalia Refugee Camp--that was, I would say, in a quasi-developed area where it was. We didn't have any sewers. There were the people who had septic tanks that I just remember; and we didn't have paved streets in the entirety of the area where we were in. So, just from a quality-of-life point of view, anytime it rained, the streets would become these massive ditches because there was no drainage, no infrastructure.

We went to UNRWA schools. It was crowded, it was rough. They had two periods--they had the morning period and the afternoon period. And, I always begged for the morning period. That way you could be done with school by 12:30--because I just despised going to school from 1:00 to 6:00.

Well, UNRWA schools were very crowded. They had a serious lice problem. I have an Afro: I actually have hair, but I choose to shave it. But, in Gaza, anytime you saw someone with my cut, you assumed that they had lice from school, and the UN [United Nations] and UNRWA would--well, I don't know that it was an UNRWA directive, but a lot of the UN teachers would instruct us to use gasoline to get rid of the lice.

Nevertheless, I will say the UNRWA schools were very good in terms of the academic standards.

Russ Roberts: In the aftermath of October 7th, UNRWA schools have gotten a lot of criticism, and I think a lot of Israelis believe that they teach children to hate. I don't know if that is true today. Was it true--to hate Jews? Excuse me--to be clear. Did you sense that in your time?

Ahmed Alkhatib: Well, it's complicated in the sense that I don't believe that UNRWA schools specifically teach to hate. UNRWA doesn't control the curriculum. That is controlled by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, which is driven by the West Bank-based Ministry, which, historically--when I was there, for example, I was in the first year of the pilot program for a new curriculum that was funded by the European Union [EU]. And, I remember specifically--because I had a lot of family members involved in the Ministry of Education--I remember the stipulations that the European funders had for the curriculum such that there were things that you could not--there were clear and explicit instructions on what could not be said.

So, I think where a lot of the incitement and the potential for hatred comes from the instructions provided by the teachers, some of whom just believe that there's--like, some of whom basically editorialize the content. But, I don't believe that UNRWA specifically and explicitly either teaches hate or, at least on paper, allows for the teaching of hate. UNRWA does have standards for what its teachers can and cannot say.

I remember hearing stories of teachers getting in trouble, when I was in Gaza, for having overt political activism. Again, keeping in mind, this was before the withdrawal of Israeli settlements. This was before Hamas. Like, this was an entirely different era. So, I concede that perhaps some things might have slightly changed.

And, I'm not here to say that UNRWA was flawless. But I do think, unfortunately, there are reductionist, over-simplistic points of view and kind of statements made about UNRWA that are just factually wrong. They're just factually inaccurate. UNRWA doesn't control the curriculum. Neither does Hamas.

UNRWA schools, I will say, because they--so, 2/3 of Gaza's populations are considered refugees; 1/3 are considered natives. Those are actual Gazans from Gaza. I mean, there are cultural and political differences between those two subsets, those two populations, and even just amongst each other, like, at least when I was there. And, things have changed, but nevertheless, it still exists today. It's even a big thing when the refugees--we call them [foreign language 00:09:04, sounds like 'hajirim']--marry from [foreign language 00:09:08, sounds like 'moachnim'], the native.

So, like, when you just--people's last name can be indicative of, 'Oh, where are you from?' And, they don't mean, like, what neighborhood do you live in? Where are you from, from? What part of Palestine are you from?

And so, there is this kind of segregationist mentality that exists within Gaza's community that are descendants of refugees such that those are the populations that go to school--to the UNRWA schools. That's the population from which the teachers come. So therefore, there's very much so this sense of historic injustice. Like: We're kind of languishing in these--a lot of the students are living in horrible, crowded refugee camps and throughout the Gaza Strip, and a lot of them are aid dependent. For a variety of reasons, including Hamas's practices and choices later on.

So, I believe that's where a lot of the hatred that we hear about comes from.

10:14

Russ Roberts: Now, I mentioned on the program that I've seen--we actually hosted a showing of a documentary about Gaza here at Shalem College that was very sympathetic to the Gazan experience--and it was fascinating, and it was very depressing, because it highlighted the shutting off of electricity frequently, insufficient access to clean water sometimes, limits on activities in the ocean because of Israeli surveillance.

But, I always assumed--trying to be empathetic--that that was all of Gaza, the slum-like poverty. And now it appears--and I just want your take on this--since the war started--we see lots of footage of parts of Gaza that look quite nice and developed. Are those videos--is it true? Were there swaths of Gaza City that looked like a resort, that had luxury cars, and so on? And was that part of your experience, again, in the time you were there up to 2005? Or that your relatives tell you about?

Ahmed Alkhatib: Certainly, no--I mean, and that's the irony. That's, again, the nuance and the multiple truths and just the need for kind of an intricate understanding of this without the simplistic reductionist views--on either side.

Ironically, Gaza got its first shopping mall in the year 2010, and it was during the height of the Israeli blockade and restrictions. And, it was also, ironically, a bunch of Hamas-affiliated businessmen who got together: I mean, Hamas invested in luxury and leisurely stuff and businesses and shopping centers, partly because it was a way for them to collect more taxes and a way for them to create an economic base that filled the vacuum due to the financial sanctions on them, the blockade. And, it was an economic engine to help Hamas sustain its government and its group and its members.

But also, because--and as we've seen in other parts of the world, like, with the kind of information technology, with digital technologies--like, there is an economic evolution in different parts of the world that includes in the Gaza Strip that has happened while the blockade took place--while 70% of Gaza became aid-dependent, while youth unemployment reached 76%, while overall unemployment in Gaza kept worsening, reaching up to 41%.

So, that's what's challenging: is to understand that multiple things happen simultaneously.

However, it is absolutely the case that there are beautiful parts of Gaza, partly because just random people decided to develop them, partly because there were businessmen and there was commerce, and partly because of Hamas-led initiatives.

And I'll say, finally, that Qatar actually poured some of those billions of dollars that Qatar has poured into Gaza were in fact directed toward economic development and infrastructure projects that really transformed parts of Gaza.

13:48

Russ Roberts: So, how much access have you had since you left Gaza in 2005 to information about what's happening there over that time period?

I understand that there's a lot of restrictions on Gaza by Israeli Security Forces. We can debate whether those were justified or not. I don't want to--in a way it doesn't matter. They obviously made life hard for people in Gaza: whether they were defensive or not, it doesn't matter for this conversation.

But, have you been able to talk to people there over the last 20 years, in general? Are you able to have open conversations via cell phone and in other ways, to have a feel of what's happening on the ground there? And in particular since October 7th?

Ahmed Alkhatib: Absolutely. So, generally speaking, yes, I have not only kept in contact with what's happening in Gaza, I've also very much so been--through family, through contacts, through friends--making a point of understanding the developments, political, economic, the humanitarian, kind of the security, having an understanding of how Hamas operates, what are they doing, who are the players, how are the tunnels being dug. Like, down to even understanding how Hamas even digs its tunnels.

And I'm not saying I have information that other people may not have. I'm simply saying that in addition to keeping up through just the news and the analyses and the developments and the political events, I have been interested in Gaza because--like I shared in the Foreign Policy piece--I've always envisioned using the privilege of being in the United States, using the privilege of having lived there, to ultimately turn around and do something useful and meaningful and pragmatic and practical that helps people there.

So, I had every intention of eventually being involved in Gaza's affairs, even though I didn't know how exactly that would transpire.

Now, I haven't physically accessed Gaza since 2005, but I honestly would claim that I know Gaza in a way that most don't, by virtue of having family and having kept those contacts.

I will further add that I launched a nonprofit organization in 2015 to advocate building an international airport--a humanitarian, internationally run, IDF-approved [IDF=Israel Defense Forces] airfield in Gaza. And, I worked through an army of volunteers and emissaries and intermediaries in Gaza to collect information and relay it to relevant parties. So, that was also particularly helpful. Since October 7th, it's become exceptionally difficult to just--because the network doesn't work; there's no Internet. Nevertheless, I do maintain contact with quite a few contacts and family members there.

Russ Roberts: And, we'll put a link up to your nonprofit on this page.

17:04

Russ Roberts: I'm curious about what it has been like for you to have access to American media--which of course is a mixed bag like any media--but it is relatively, it's much freer than the media that your friends and family in Gaza are receiving. Or at least I would think so, and you correct me if I'm wrong. And I'm curious, I mean, you're a remarkable person and I deeply appreciate you coming onto the program. I follow you on X--on Twitter--and you are the most--one of the, if not, the most thoughtful commentators on the situation and tragedy of what's happened since October 7th from a Palestinian perspective. Which is why I invited you to be on the program.

But, I'm curious whether in this period where you're in the United States and you're interacting with people in Gaza, your impressions are different because of information you have access to that they don't. Or vice versa: that they have experiences that you don't that color their attitudes.

I mean, in particular, there's a lot of conversation--we've had some on this program--about October 7th itself. A lot of people in Israel feel that a lot of Gazans supported October 7th. Celebrated. We have video of some of that.

And my answer has always been, my response to that is that: Well, there were some people who celebrated. I don't know how many. In the video, it's not a large number. It's a large number for a city street. It's not a large number out of 2.2 million.

There's also a question of whether people in Gaza know what happened. They're getting access to information that could be highly limited. They may not know the scope of it. Hamas has, in Arab language broadcasts, has often said, Hamas leaders: 'We didn't attack any civilians. It was a military operation.'

So, it's a terrible long rambling question, but I'm curious if you could just reflect on differences in both perception and reality as you see it, between someone living in America who is sympathetic to the Gazan people and people living there on the ground.

Ahmed Alkhatib: Absolutely. I mean, I have--this is a recurring theme in terms of, yes, I mean, let's say 5,000-10,000 people celebrated. And I think that was shameful. And, I think there was also just the initial--I think there was just a spectacle of having how the attack unfolded with the paragliders, with naval commandos and the sappers[?] blowing holes in the wall, and the motorized units and the motorcycles, and the successive waves of the attack. That, I think to a lot of people, it was just unprecedented and there was definitely a spectacle component of it. There was a wow component to it. And then, scenes of Israeli Humvees being driven around Gaza. I mean, that's never happened before. Scenes of dozens of hostages being brought back to Gaza, some of them being paraded, some of them being subjected to horrendous abuse, which I once again think is shameful.

Nevertheless, I immediately--and I remember very vividly; it was October 6th here. It was Friday night, and I had just come back from a long walk. And I went immediately to social media, which I have thousands and thousands of accounts that I check out and follow and whatever and list from my airport advocacy days.

And I saw hundreds of posts of people saying, 'Oh my God, you just signed our death sentence.' 'Oh my God, guys[?] as we know it is going to cease to exist.'

Some people, for example--I saw--opposed the scene of that one elderly woman who was paraded on a golf cart and they thought that this was shameful. Like, why didn't you at least put that woman in a closed off area and just, like, offer--this is an elderly woman. Why did you have to parade?

Like, people detested the acts that anticipated the consequences or knew that this is Hamas basically running away from its failures as a government, as a political entity, as an economic provider for the people of Gaza by launching this horrendous attack.

I think the other thing that is absolutely true, in the same way that I have Israeli friends who tell me that in Israeli media right now, in the mainstream media at least, is very sanitized. You don't see images of dead Gazans. You don't see widespread imagery of the maiming and the killing. Similarly, in the Palestinian Press and in kind of, like, the Arabic media led by Al Jazeera, led by Hamas propagandas, they don't put it out there that Hamas killed civilians.

Many Palestinians still believe that the Israeli military erroneously or deliberately killed a lot of its civilians during October 7th, either during the confusion of the battle or during the execution of the so-called Hannibal Directive--which, some of that may have been true, but therefore they're, like, 'Oh, well, Hamas didn't kill any civilians.' And, Hamas put out this long statement recently about, 'Well, we don't actually target civilians and we never have.' Other lies, of course.

So, there's that component to it.

Well, I think what's shameful, in my opinion, is--while I can understand why some people in Gaza think that way and are impacted by either, call it the conditioning, the priming, the circumstances, the totality of their lived experience leading them to, or many of them or some of them to believe that--what I think is exceptionally shameful are the folks who purport to be pro-Palestinian, in the Western world, where there is kind of a broader margin for accessing information and doing your own research and doing your own homework, parroting those Hamas talking points, further propagating the idea that this was strictly a military attack that did not target civilians.

And, that's where I think--I, talking to people on the ground in Gaza and interpreting them--I mean, even some of my own, like, extended family members, initially, didn't believe that there were any civilian casualties.

And, when I sent them some pictures and I sent them some videos and I detailed to them what was going on, not only did they believe it, but they genuinely, there was this feeling of, 'Oh wow, we really are screwed, aren't we?' And, I said, 'Yes, we're absolutely--this is going to be a continuous disaster of epic proportion.' And, I never once thought that even though there've been the Palestinian National Movement and the armed resistance in the past has engaged in some horrific crimes, either in the Munich Attacks or the 1970s and 1980s with a secular or Marxist resistance, or in the 1990s and early 2000s with the Islamist resistance and the suicide bombings. But, even though that was horrific in its own way, I was horrified that this was yet another chapter of brutality that I never--I'm ashamed to have that be permanently now associated with what I perceive as the urgent and just Palestinian quest for freedom and self-determination, and statehood, and sovereignty.

The other thing that I will say is that: I understand, I mean to me, this is not just an opposition to Hamas based on their ideology or based on what I perceive are their corrupt practices, etc. But, for years and years and years--personally, through my own personal, professional work, or just through my contacts, hearing about what Hamas does to torture people, hearing about Hamas beating up protestors, hearing about Hamas schemes for essentially, like, siphoning off not just the aid that's coming in now, but historically, a lot of the development money that makes it into the Palestinian Territories or in Gaza in particular--how Hamas had the best of both worlds: basically, it outsourced its responsibility as a government to the United Nations, to UNRWA, and turned its people into aid-dependent subjects while it received funding from Iran for its militant component and armed resistance efforts and money from Qatar and other sources for its members, for its leaderships, for its government.

So, like, there's just thousands and thousands worth of, I don't know how to quantify them, call them words, call them pages, call them minutes of conversations that I have at recently and historically, and since 2006 when Hamas won the election since 2007, when they violently took over the Gaza Strip--they took over on June 14th, 2007, which was actually the very day that I was 17. But, I was here in the United States having a political asylum interview--the very day of my interview--when they took over.

So, all of that information enables me to be, like, 'Okay, well, there's obviously Israeli propaganda and some of it is real. Some of it has kernels of truth. Some of it I think is false.' But, nevertheless, I have a detailed understanding of how nefarious and destructive and sinister Hamas is, in a way that a lot of others--including again, the well-intentioned pro-Palestine, people who think they know and think that simply by just focusing on Israel and everything is Israel's fault--that that is somehow doing a service to the Palestinian people.

When I actually think it's doing a disservice, because we need to normalize critique of Hamas. We need to isolate them. We need to humanize our people. We need to separate Hamas from Palestine. We need to condemn them and isolate them and call them out, not normalize them and call them resistance fighters and legitimize essentially the horror that they did on October 7th.

And, I try to write about this--I'll leave you with this: One of the biggest challenges for me, unfortunately, and yes, I'm big on dialogue, I'm big on engagement, and I have a large following of pro-Israel folks or Zionists or self-described Zionists and right-wing Zionists, or left-wing Zionists, and centrists, or a lot of Israelis across the spectrum. And, that is deliberate. That is by design. Because that is an unreachable target audience right now, and I want to build bridges because peace and coexistence are the only path forward.

But, one of the challenges for me is that there's so much that I know about Hamas. There's stuff that I want to talk about Hamas. From--and, again, from their tunnel digging, from their use of civilian infrastructure, from their, even, strategies--indirect strategies--of using human shields: It's not like they're holding Gazans and being, like, 'Okay, let me use you as a shield,' but it's an indirect strategy.

I want to write--I have tens of-, hundreds of thousands-worth of words that I want to write about it.

But I struggle; and I still am writing about it.

But, I struggle with that because that then gets picked up by folks who are blindly pro-Israel. And then, they use it to say, 'Oh, look, Ahmed Alkhatib, he's a Gazan[?]'--it gets used to dehumanize my people. It gets used to justify horrible mistakes by the IDF, including the killing of dozens of my family members to say, 'Oh, well, don't blame us.' The idea of, 'Blame Hamas for using them.'

That's where I struggle: is, like, how can I relay this information as a matter of, like, a historical record? And, I have the gift of writing and the gift of just being, kind of, detached, a little bit, without inadvertently feeling the dehumanization of Gazans and my own people.

Russ Roberts: It's hard to be an honest man. I feel for you because I know how often things get taken out of context like that. Any nuance that you try to offer is going to be stripped away, often, in those kind of propaganda settings.

29:33

Russ Roberts: Let's turn to what's happening on the ground now and the tragedy you're talking about. You know, I look--again, it's very hard for those of us who aren't on the ground to understand what's happening. It's pretty clear to me that much of the northern part of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, a significant part. My impression is that Israel made some effort--maybe a lot; I want to be open-minded about it--I like to think we made a big effort to evacuate people, to encourage them to leave before those buildings were destroyed.

And, obviously there are precision bombings that Israel does that literally take out a handful of people, and we also make mistakes and we maybe do some cruel things that are unacceptable. I am proud of the fact that Israel, at least to some extent, investigates certain incidents. I hope what happened to your family is investigated. But it may turn out it was just callous, insensitive, just an error. And, God forbid it could even have been done on purpose. I don't know, obviously, and I hope we find out.

But, talk to me about what you experienced again from talking to people in Gaza now about what it's like on the ground there. Because at the same time that the northern part of Gaza looks like the moon--meaning totally decimated. There's a refugee camp further south. You'll tell me the name. It's there--'Al-something.' And, I saw a video yesterday of people buying Valentine's Day presents for their wives. And, you see in the background, there's a lot of people on the street, but there's some normal life.

And, yet at the same time, I'm aware that when 2.2 million people or a good chunk of them are trying to get away from bombing and are in a very small area now, which is mainly Rafah, as far as I understand, there's really no place left to go.

And, Israel is going in there. And it's horrible. Because that's where we think Hamas is, where we think the last remaining hostages. We don't know how many are alive even.

Talk to me about that. Talk to me about--share your own tragedy, which again, I salute you as a fellow human being and as a bridge builder that you've maintained your humanity in the face of that loss. So, talk to me.

Ahmed Alkhatib: So, starting with October 13th, soon after the horrible events of October 7th and the massacre, that's when my family home where I grew up was hit. It was--and I've kept in contact too with, like, I've kept tabs on understanding who are my family members? Who are they associated with? What are they doing? And, again, with the full confidence that I have, I can assure you that there were no tunnels or Hamas militants or fighters in that building where I grew up. Which is multiple stories. And each uncle--my dad and our family lived on one story, and then each uncle kind of builds above. That's a very common Gazan practice due to the lack of space.

So, it was hit, with 33 people, no warning, and miraculously most survived in that building, although a lot of people were injured horribly. And then--and my brother and his children were there, and he has four kids, and he and his 13-year-old boy pushed their way out of the rubble to try to escape and everything was gone.

Then some of my uncles and some of my cousins moved over just a few houses down to try and seek safety with their in-laws. And then, on the 25th--about a week later or two weeks later--another massive strike basically wiped out the whole neighborhood, and that's when I lost my dad's brother, Uncle Riyad. We had lost my niece--my cousin's daughter was 13 years old, she's one of a twin--and my cousin, who was quadriplegic, then, who was, who became quadriplegic, and my uncle's body wasn't retrieved for nine days.

And then, slowly my brother and his family began moving from house to house, even southern Gaza, moving south within Gaza City. And he works for an international NGO [Non-Governmental Organization], and he was responsible for a lot of, not just some efforts that he was working on, but he was also, like, looking after our surviving family members who were in the Shifa Hospital and who were injured. And, basically he made the decision not to leave the north because he said if he left, they would die. There's no one just to even change their gauze and administer basic, basic care due to just the sheer numbers of casualty. And then, they slowly started making their way down south.

Right now, Rafah is horrible. Yes, you see Rafah and Deir al Balah--you see resemblance of what looks like daily living, people walking around, people trying to fetch food, trying to fetch water, trying to fetch supplies. Some of that is just organic things that people have had, and it's dwindling and running out. Some of that is those tiny bit of the trickle of aid, making it through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.

There's unfortunately--like, multiple things can be true also at once. For example, some people who have some money are able to afford the extremely expensive supplies that are in there. Some of these supplies are stolen aid goods that get resold for massively inflated prices. And, that's done partly by Hamas, partly by organized crime, partly by just desperate civilians who are basically, they're, like, 'Okay, well, I have a little bit of food, but my mom has diabetes and there's very little medication of that left in Gaza, but it costs a thousand shekels, and so I'm going to take the little bit of food that I have and go and do a little stand in the street and sell it.'

Some of that is barter-based system. Some of that is just utter desperation.

Also--and a lot of these things are incredibly uncomfortable to talk about--but I mean, we're talking, people haven't taken showers in weeks, and even if you do clean up, it's simply just you do a basic wipe, you do just a basic wash. Imagine going through that. You can't do a laundry. It's cold. A lot of children and young girls are placed in horrendous crowded conditions. They're at elevated risks of sexual abuse and being molested or whatever. Like, there's just layers upon layers upon layers.

Then there's obviously the elephant in the room, which is ongoing Israeli bombardment--ongoing in that it doesn't always happen in a sustained fashion. Sometimes it's like a series of strikes, successive strikes, and those tend to be particularly horrifying because when they happen, those tend to be like when you have the fight-or-flight response: there's fight or flight or freeze. When a bunch of strikes happen at once and you see them and they surround you--and they call them these fire belts, these successive strikes--you're, like, 'Oh, where do we go? What do we do?' Versus, like, one strike here: you know you can retreat somewhere.

So, then you have the threats of the incursions in Rafah where people are, like, 'Well, okay, we want to head back up to Deir al Balah, to the center. My brother, who again went through seven different displacements, with each time the place that he and his team were at being partially or fully destroyed. Now they're in Rafah. They found a place in central Gaza in Deir al Balah, and then all of a sudden after they found this place for his team, there was just an unprecedented increase in the amount of bombardment, such that two days ago--I've shared this on Twitter--there were three families that had fled Gaza, sorry, Rafah, and went to the center in anticipation of this military operation, and then they were killed, Deir al Balah. So, the horrible irony is that they might have been better off just staying in Rafah than leaving.

So, the IDF has identified a bunch of supposed safe zones along the coast--and we can talk about this more in detail later--but, you can't simply just tell people, 'Okay, well here's a bunch of coastal areas'--right on the water, where it's freezing, where there's sand dunes. Like, there's nothing. There is no infrastructure, no tents, no access to any food. You're cut off from any tiny supplies that are coming through the Rafah crossing. People aren't just going to pack up and say, 'Okay, well let me leave my tent and whatever and go and freeze to death in front of the ocean.' So, like, that's where I have been calling for the IDF itself, because it has units there; the United Nations, Arab Nations, using small boats that can offload some tents and supplies and some food to make it feasible for people to just sustain themselves, to not freeze to death or starve to death onto the coast.

So it's, again, layers upon layers from the bombardment, from the lack of treatment, from just--you have blood pressure, you have diabetes, you have any chronic illnesses and diseases, forget any kind of follow up or care, even having regular access to your medication. You have the weather conditions.

You have, even just--I had friends who were doctors who went in there as part of delegates to go and do surgeries in Deir al Balah and Khan Yunis's Nasser Hospital before it was taken out of commission, and now they're at the Emirati Field Hospital in Rafah or the Yousef El-Najar Hospital, which my uncle who was killed in an airstrike used to manage. He retired a few years ago. They speak of the stench, man[?] just of garbage everywhere--of the smell of dust, the smell of gunpowder, like I said, the lack of sanitation, the lack of people having showered, people having taken, people can't do laundry. Just the smell of death. It's just the stench. Gaza is now just has the stench of misery that you can just immediately detect, any- and everywhere you go.

40:21

Russ Roberts: So, the terrible dilemma--regardless of how one feels about the Israeli Defense Force [IDF] and the cruelty or misfortune of the aftermath of October 7th--Israel has this terrible dilemma. Which is that Hamas doesn't wear uniforms--obviously--or if they did, they don't now. Hostages are mingled in with everyone else, as are their keepers, and we're kind of desperately eager to get those folks back.

I feel the people who claim that Israel is genocidal in its response: Israel could have easily decimated much larger swaths of Gaza than it has.

We did see people streaming away from the north in the early days of the war.

It's a terrible situation. I think any compassionate human being, regardless of their political views, has to empathize with what you're describing. And, yet we don't have an easy path as long as Hamas is, quote, "in control" or could regain control. I think right now their sovereignty is very decentralized, is my impression.

But, we want our citizens back. We don't want this to become a common occurrence. It's already scary.

What could make this better? I mean, some people suggested--in a minute we'll talk about longer-run solutions, which you write about in your piece. They're very thoughtful. I call those intermediate solutions.

But, just if you think about it from the Israeli perspective, what I would have liked is for the world to tell Qatar that it's unacceptable to shelter the leadership of Hamas. It's unacceptable to fund Hamas, which clearly was not widely shared among the people of Gaza. And there should be pressure for Hamas to surrender and to give the hostages back.

It hasn't really happened. So, we're pursuing a military solution, which is horrible. My heart goes out to you, Ahmed. It's brutal. I live in Jerusalem. There aren't a lot of airports in Jerusalem. None. What there are, are air bases. And, when I hear planes in the air, I know where they're going. And, a friend of mine reminded me that they're going to kill people. And, some of them are not Hamas. They're innocent people, as you have tragically described. So, it's a terrible thing. Any thoughts on what might make it--might have made it better? Did we have a better strategy in responding to October 7th, in your mind?

Ahmed Alkhatib: To begin answering that is that I--and while I speak for myself, I can confidently tell you that a huge number of Gazans don't want Hamas. They don't want the group to be back in charge. They want this to end as soon as possible. We share the goal of seeing a fundamentally transformed Gaza with a different future and different administration.

I have studied elements of military science and insurgencies and counter-terrorism, intelligence and national security. And, what I will tell you is that unfortunately, there are inherent limits to what can be achieved militarily when organizations like Hamas or others hold hostages. I mean, look back at the crisis of the American hostages in Iran in 1979 and 1980. Look back at what happened with the pirates in Somalia, for years, initially, at least back in 2007, 2008, and 2009, when they would have taken hostages from commercial ships.

And, the strategy initially was very much so to have a negotiated settlement of a lot of these hostage-taking situations. Look at what happened with Bowe Bergdahl. I mean, there are multiple examples where--Bowe Bergdahl was a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who was released in a deal with the Taliban.

So, I don't think there's an alternative to negotiating with Hamas and to having a settlement that entails the release of some Palestinian prisoners.

Now, who gets released and how--I understand that's the thorny sticking point. And, I also know that Hamas is now presenting pie-in-the-sky, like, ridiculous conditions or statements about--they call this the Aqsa flood, and now they want to present things about the Aqsa Mosque and what's happening in Jerusalem, etc., which is not even under the Palestinian sovereignty. It's like between Israeli control and the Jordanians. So, I do think Hamas's negotiating strategy and positions are ridiculous.

And I wish--and you saw what I wrote in Foreign Policy. I called for unprecedented pressure on Qatar to get Hamas to moderate its position, even if we have to push the Qataris through kind of the cornerstone of their national security, which is the Al Udeid Air Base. And I've talked to--like, I put that out there because a lot of people are thinking it, but for some reason it's very taboo in Washington to bring that out even though people are genuinely thinking it, and they know that Qatar would ditch Hamas--and wants to ditch Hamas, which is ultimately becoming a geopolitical headache.

So, that's where I believe that--I don't believe the military strategy right now is going to help with either retrieving the hostages--which we know a lot of hostages were killed by a lot of the bombardment. Yes, of course: like, it's criminal for Hamas to have them in the first place, 1000%, but because of how they're dispersed, in tunnels, above ground, among the population. And, because of few attempts we saw at increasing pressure on Hamas, hostages were killed by Israeli bombardment.

So, I dispute the idea with the exception of the limited successful operation, which we know came at the expense of dozens of Palestinian civilians and children in Rafah last week. This operation has not achieved that goal, Number One.

Number Two, in terms of degrading Hamas--I mean, I don't think you can do both at once. I don't think you can work out--you can pressure Hamas to release the hostages while also degrading the group's military capabilities because of how they fight, because of how they're embedded among the population. Even though you can weaken Hamas, you can't fully eliminate them. And, I don't know that eliminating Hamas fully and entirely should even be the goal. I think you weaken Hamas enough to prevent them from controlling Gaza, prevent them, obviously, from launching another massive attack on Israel.

And then, you do a political settlement to basically starting out with a long-term truce--5, 10, 15 years--between Israel and Hamas. You basically push for some kind of a political and administrative rehabilitation of Hamas--what remains of Hamas in Gaza--even though you offer alternate options for leadership to leave, but the actual rank and file.

Just like we saw with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] in the Oslo Peace Process, just like we saw with the FARC [Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia] rebels in Colombia. Just like we saw with the IRA [Irish Republican Army] in Northern Ireland. There are precedents where people who were involved in either violent ideologies or extremist actions, with the exception of those who are maybe involved in especially egregious acts, there could be a political path forward to basically transform what remains of Hamas and turn them into a new administration.

That's my vision, is: I don't think the military operation--I've talked to families of hostages. I talked to a couple of former hostages who were held by Hamas and released. And I've been making a point of trying to humanize the hostages. And, any time I talk to Palestinians or pro-Palestine activists or people who want to do a ceasefire proposal or resolution, city councils and across the United States, I say, 'Don't call for a ceasefire without calling for the immediate and release of Israeli hostages. Pair both of them.' Like, you cannot forget about the hostages. You cannot lose sight of the humanity of the hostages while also mourning the lives of dead Palestinians. So, I don't believe the current campaign is going to retrieve the hostages, unfortunately.

50:01

Russ Roberts: I don't know about that, but I agree with you. I don't think it's possible to, quote, "eradicate Hamas." Some will say you can't eradicate it, anyway: it's an idea. But, to me, the only goal--presidents, prime ministers, premiers often say things for public consumption and motivating the populace that are unrealistic in wartime. There's nothing new there.

The real goal that every Israeli cares about is that Hamas be unable to do this again. And, more importantly, anybody who comes after Hamas would be either unable or uninterested in doing it. For us, our worry, I think, for many Israelis is that first, there isn't a rehabilitation possible because the antisemitism--the Jew hatred of some of the pieces of the leadership in the Gaza Strip--is endemic. It's built in.

I'd love to be told it's not true. I desperately want to believe that the vast majority of Gazans simply want to have a better life and a better life for their children.

But, I also respect the fact that they also care about their identity and where they live and how their agency and may feel as passionately as I do that this land is mine. They may feel the same way. And, when you say, 'From the river to the sea,' you're saying, 'I want that land, not the Jewish state.'

So, talk about your relative optimism or pessimism that there's a future for you and me to be friends, because I desperately want to believe in that. We can be friends in the abstract because you're living in the United States, and you're a thoughtful and empathetic person, but that your people and our people here in Israel could be friends. What do you think?

Ahmed Alkhatib: So, absolutely; and I have every reason to be optimistic. And I'm not just saying that out of thin air or some kumbaya notion. But, prior to that, I do want to stress something that I think we should in the moment reflect back upon, and we're not going to do that right this minute. But, Hamas was allowed to grow and fester in Gaza, and there was a political decision made by the leadership within Israel to not--I'm not going to say specifically, like, it might've not been this, like, 'Oh, yes, let them become so powerful so that they can attack us.' Maybe not in a conspiratorial manner, but it was very much so perceived to be this clever political 3-D [three-dimensional] chess, if you will, to divide the Palestinians, to weaken and undermine the Palestinian Authority.

Which, I used to be--and still am in a lot of ways--but, I used to be a fierce critic of the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, they were one of the viable few hopes we had at normalizing nonviolent political diplomatic engagement as the only way, even though Arafat made a horrible decision in 2000 to walk away from Camp David, Mahmoud Abbas made an even worse decision in 2008 to walk away from the Olmert Deal.

I concede that, nevertheless, this idea that you're going to weaken the Palestinian Authority by allowing Hamas to kind of turn Gaza into this resistance citadel, into this terrorism HQ [headquarters], I think not only backfired horribly, but allowed Hamas to hold Gazans and my folks hostage. Because, Gazans are held hostage, have been, by Hamas. Even though there's ideological support for Hamas, there's support for some of the resistance. There's kind of like a network of affiliates and membership and whatever. There are people that casually support Hamas--they want a job, like, whatever. There's tiers of why people have supported Hamas or have liked Hamas, just like there are tiers of why people oppose Hamas ideologically, politically from the consequences that Hamas brings, or because it has set our people back by decades.

So, I think it's important to acknowledge that Hamas is power; and the degradation of Gaza, not just politically and militarily, but even allowing for almost 20 years, almost for two decades of this space where you let a violent terrorist organization with an extremist ideology in sight and brainwash and hold its people hostage--that is not entirely organic because people hate the Jews or they want 'from the river to the sea.' That was the consequence of a series of political decisions.

So, flipping back to Gaza--I mean, yes, absolutely: because of this horrible situation that we're in, and the horrible deaths, and the horrible massacres of entire civilian neighborhoods and entire families, it's going to be difficult for a lot of people to hold conciliatory feelings towards long-term prospects.

However, we cannot wait for everybody in Gaza to harbor pro-coexistence and pro-peace feelings before we actually start taking steps. In the same way that we cannot wait for a lot of the extreme right-wingers in Israel, and the Ben Gvirists[?] and the [?] of the world and their following, to all of a sudden start embracing Palestinians as real people, worthy of life or worthy of sovereignty. Both of those camps have to be bypassed.

And, some of it will take time. Some of that will be a function of improved--you know, stopping the war, stopping the killing, allowing people to live, allowing people to be free from horrible leadership that has held them hostage and has launched this unbelievable disaster upon them. And, I can promise you that even though we see some pockets of protests here and there throughout Gaza, and we still do; but, if you're standing in line with a hundred other people waiting to use a single disgusting toilet, you're not standing there thinking, 'Gee, Hamas did me a solid with this horrible event of October 7th.' If you are desperate for food and water and medication, or if you're cold or if your kids are dead, you might on the surface of your head be thinking, 'Oh my God, Israel did this. This is criminal. This is horrible.' And, you're also deep down saying: This was entirely avoidable. This was a war started by Hamas.

The other day I was talking to a Gazan--I swear to God, brother--he told me, 'On October 6th, we soaked our hummus, our garbanzo beans, we packed our lunches, we fueled our cars. We were ready for October 7th to be yet another day of us trying to live and move forward. This was entirely avoidable. We thought we were going to send our kids to school. We were just going to carry on just another day. And, instead, Hamas chose to do this thing.' Like, what did they think? Of course, Hamas knew that Israel would have this overwhelming response; and it is counting on the overwhelming deaths and civilian casualties to pressure Israel to stop this attack.

So, when I say in my Atlantic article, in my piece in Haaretz, and in my piece in the Times of Israel, and in my other writings and opinions on Twitter, that I believe, out of this misery, out of this horrendous series of atrocities committed by Hamas and certainly by the Israeli government and by the Israeli military--I will never shy away from criticizing that and saying that because I experienced it--when I say that out of all of that, I genuinely believe that the seeds for a different future, for a different approach that is driven by pragmatism, that is driven by: Okay, we've tried--for 75 years, big picture--we've tried the Pan Arabism, we've tried the secular nationalism, and now we've tried the violent Islamism. Every year we keep losing more people, more territory, more standing, more--like, maybe, just maybe, we want to try something else. Maybe just maybe Hamas is full of crap and is not the resistance group that we thought it is. Maybe Hamas is genuinely wanting us to die while they are in the tunnels so that they can use that to delegitimize Israel and to create public pressure. Maybe just maybe the only path forward is for life not martyrdom.

Maybe just maybe we're yearning for the days--I mean, I'll be honest with you--I mean, it was a very close family member, and let me just not say who it was--they were like, 'Our hope lies with being open and connected with Israel from an economic healthcare and just kind of development point of view.' Not with Egypt. Because the Egyptians have a lot of problems, economic, political [?], kind of a desolate area, whereas Israel is right next to us.

This family member of mine, this close family member of mine was saying, like, 'I hope to God we don't get fully integrated with Egypt because that will actually long-term have serious degradation--economic and political and living standards. Our living standards and our prospects for a prosperous future would be great.'

So, it may not start with what you and I are able to do, which is having these detailed conversations that we can agree on some things, we can disagree on other things. I genuinely--like you, as a human being--I genuinely don't want you--I think I would love to have you as a neighbor. I think you have every right to be there just as I have every right to be there. It might not start with what you and I share, but it absolutely over time, and if, again, people are able to live--people are able to just carry out the most basic functions in life--I think there's definitely a path forward whereby some of this hatred and some of this incitement can be undone.

I think--I look back at the 1990s and how day laborers in Gaza and in Palestinian [?]--but especially in Gaza--the joke was Gaza has occupied Israel in the 1990s because of just how many day laborers were in there; and they weren't just standing outside of workstations. They were working amazing jobs, and half of Gaza was built by money brought back from these day laborers. They built friendships and connections with Israelis. It is entirely possible, and I genuinely see a path forward for that, even though it's going to take time, and even though we shouldn't wait for all of that hatred to be undone, to actually take steps that almost impose peace on both parties.

1:01:57

Russ Roberts: That was beautifully said. The tragedy is in the 1990s, you had the day laborers. Even in 2023, you had people--it was a small number, tens of thousands, but it was not zero--who were working in Israel coming out of Gaza. And tragically, you know, our perspective is that some of those people were scouting out opportunities to kill the people they were working with and for, to provide intelligence for the attacks of October 7th.

It's unbearable, especially because the people who died, many of them were desperately eager to do the kind of connecting that you and I care about. They were so-called 'peace activists' who were trying to build bridges between themselves and the Palestinians in Gaza.

So, my question is: if we--and I encourage the listeners to read your Foreign Policy article[?] because[?] it shows some specific suggestions. But, whwhaten I'm thinking of as the following: Let's pretend. Let's pretend Hamas is not in control. Let's pretend there's an international security force--maybe as you suggest it's Egyptian, Jordanian; maybe it's from Norway, our favorite international unhated local security authority--that airport opens that you've been working on; a seaport opens that you advocate for in this piece--I think eloquently and appropriately--to allow at least humanitarian aid to get to some innocent people who should not be cold, hungry, and suffering. And, we're in that world. And, in that world, Gaza starts to thrive economically because there's economic activities. The trust gets rebuilt between our two peoples. Those day laborers start to come back and Gaza starts to thrive. Do you believe that that will be enough for the people who live there?

So, you made a reference at the beginning of our conversation with people who are refugees and non-refugees. The refugees are people who came--whose families, which I think include yours. You said your parents were born in Rafah, but I think your grandparents came from what is now Israel. Right? Those are called refugees. So, one of the sticking points for a political solution has been the right of Palestinians to have the property that they either walked away from or were expelled from, in what is now Israel. And I think for many Israelis and Jews around the world, slogans like 'From the river to the sea' are basically saying, you know: We want that land back. And, for those of us who live here now, we're saying, 'Well, we understand you might want it back, but we live here and you can't live here in large numbers: that we'll lose our Jewish majority, it won't be a Jewish state anymore, or it won't be a democracy. We have[?] a choice. Neither one. We're in a bind.'

Could you imagine a world where the people of Gaza--and let's leave the West Bank out of it because it's another level of complication--but, the people of Gaza would say, 'My family grew up in Haifa. I had a beautiful house there, but I'm going to build a beautiful house here in Gaza City when it's rebuilt with the billions of dollars that will come back.' I am sad that you lost your childhood home. It's unbearable. But something nice could be rebuilt there. It won't be your home; it'll be something else. But, the people and your children and your children's children and your cousins and your nephews that are alive could have a better life there.

Will that be enough? Because I think after October 7th, Israelis look at this and say, 'Well, if it's never going to be enough, we don't have a really attractive path forward that involves coexistence.' So, what are your thoughts on that?

Ahmed Alkhatib: Absolutely. The first part of your question, I mean: It'll be enough for as a starting point to get the humanitarian aid in. That's why, like, in the short-term, I want to--

Russ Roberts: For sure--

Ahmed Alkhatib: get food and humanitarian aid in. I want to stabilize Gaza. I want to help Gazans stay on their land, not flee to Egypt--with the assumption that the hostages are out. Let's assume in a month or two, some either a negotiated deal or a political settlement.

But, the first priority is stabilize, get the aid in, prevent hunger, get medical and food and other critical need--I mean, commercial goods. I mean, there's a feminine hygiene crisis in Gaza where women don't have basic needs for dealing with periods and menstruation.

So, stabilize; and then open Gaza up to the rest of the world, beyond just the traditional pathways, which is either the Erez Crossing for passengers in the north, the Kerem Shalom with Israel for goods and cargo, or the Rafah Crossing; by allowing humanitarian air operations, which the UN does in conflict zones throughout the world; by allowing a provisional seaport to take place.

I genuinely think that'll stabilize Gaza, whereby for the short-term, that's what people want, is: we just rebuild their lives.

However, economic development alone, without a political horizon for Palestinian statehood and Palestinian control and sovereignty, will not work. And, I respect him dearly, Salam Fayyad in the West Bank; and he was sabotaged--there were people that tried to undermine him--but we saw in the West Bank, while Hamas did its resistance citadel, the West Bank had a chance to develop and prosper. And during the Salam Fayyad years, there were reforms and institution buildings in the Palestinian Authority that I think were unprecedented and were incredibly positive. But unfortunately, they were not followed up--for a variety of reasons, including Abbas walking away from the Olmert proposal in 2008. They were not followed up by a political horizon and path forward. So, therefore, economic development alone is never going to be enough to break this cycle and solve this once and for all.

As for the right of return--and again, I've written about this--I mean, I'm under no illusion that millions of Palestinians and their descendants will simply be allowed to go back to historic Palestine. What I have been calling for--and I genuinely think was a horrendous mistake: Like, after 1948--1948, 1967--we had the West Bank and Gaza, but it was under Jordanian control and Egyptian control. Why wasn't a Palestinian State established? Why weren't on those two territories--and we had East Jerusalem, and East Jerusalem could have been declared the capital of the Palestinian State instead of the Egyptian and Jordanian administration. Why weren't the refugees from the Syrian and Lebanese and Jordanian ref camps [refugee camps] resettled in the West Bank, which was large? It is large. It was free of Jewish settlers. Why weren't they resettled there and allowed to rebuild their homes in there? That's the chronic failure of Palestinian leadership, in that, unfortunately, there is this--call it lack of vision, call it lack of leadership, call it lack of pragmatism. Call it--these maximalist simplistic ideas that, 'Okay, well, we got to have the right of return.' I believe in the right of return, but I believe in the right of return happening largely to the West Bank and to Gaza. I believe in developing both of those places so that if I am a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon or Syria living in horrible second-class ghettos where I am not allowed in Lebanon--you're legally not allowed to work outside of the refugee camps that are run by UNRWA--I'm going to be, like, 'You know what? I want to go to the West Bank and start a new life.' Honestly. Like, that's where--you know, there's cultural differences, whatever.

But that's what I believe we should do as Palestinians, whereby--I mean, look at places like Hong Kong or Singapore. You can do so much with small spaces. I'm not saying Gaza is going to become a Singapore. I feel like that's a simplistic propagandist point. But nevertheless, Gaza, it can have an airport and a seaport. It has a promising gas field. Gaza can be developed and we can have so much that we can do just with what we have.

Same in the West Bank. The West Bank is incredible. There's a lot of space. If those Jewish settlements are vacated, if you do territorial swaps, you can build entirely new communities.

And that's where I do believe there should be some compensation from Israel, some agreements, some mechanism either helping build new communities for Palestinians in the West Bank or the part of the territorial swap that you're going to do for Palestinian refugees. That, essentially the decommissioning of UNRWA--okay; like, help us. Like, help us build these new communities so that the right of return happens in Palestinian Territories, in a future Palestinian State, not in Israel. Which I genuinely believe is the only pragmatic, reasonable path forward on that particular issue.

Russ Roberts: My guest today has been Ahmed--I'm going to say that again; we'll correct it--my guest today has been Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib. Ahmed, I hope someday we'll have a cup of coffee or a beer or a falafel or shawarma, either in the West Bank or Gaza or in Jerusalem. And thanks for being part of EconTalk.

Ahmed Alkhatib: Inshallah. I'm confident we will. Thank you for having me.