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Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib
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As a Gazan, I still believe Israelis and Palestinians must talk

My relatives were killed, my childhood homes destroyed, yet I know dialogue is the only way to start building a different future
'Jews and Palestinians are not going anywhere' (Photo captioned 'Palestinians inspect their destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, January 14, 2024' via Shutterstock)
'Jews and Palestinians are not going anywhere' (Photo captioned 'Palestinians inspect their destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, January 14, 2024' via Shutterstock)

When I first came to the US as a 15-year-old teenager from Gaza in 2005, I had never had a meaningful conversation with an Israeli or a Jewish person beyond interactions with Israeli soldiers at border crossing checkpoints. This was during the tail end of the pre-social media and electronic communications revolution that made it easier to connect with people online and have dialogue or engagement on various issues. 

Interestingly, and unbeknownst to me then, a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group in the San Francisco Bay Area had put out a community message that led to me finding a home with an American host family. Within a few months, I connected with the group and began attending their monthly meetings. A combination of Israelis, American Jews, diaspora Palestinians, and Palestinian Americans were regularly engaged in open, honest, sincere, and, at times, uncomfortably difficult conversations and discussions. The goal was not to win an argument or promote a debate. Instead, the focus was on creating the challenging yet necessary space where multiple truths, beliefs, and lived experiences could be shared and acknowledged without shame, fear, hatred, or verbal abuse. 

This experience was invaluable in helping me develop listening and communication skills that became critical for my ability to advocate for Gazans’ humanity and describe their suffering. The presence of my family in Gaza was of great interest to so many Israelis and Jews who seldom got to interact with or hear from Palestinians in the coastal enclave. 

After years of participating in the dialogue group, I became frustrated with feeling that dialogue and conversations alone are inadequate for affecting change and forging a new path forward for both peoples. While the group was always transparent about its focus and scope, I was eager to go to the next step and be involved in efforts that build upon dialogue to engage in meaningful action that promotes justice and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. 

In the many years since my involvement with the dialogue group, and especially in the context of the horrendous Oct. 7 attack, things have unfortunately deteriorated to the point where I yearn for the days of dialogue and conversations. The Palestinians and Israelis have for years been entrenched in their narratives with limited conversations, engagement, and dialogue. There are obvious political reasons for this, including the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, tensions in Jerusalem, Hamas’s violence in Gaza, and a failed and stagnant peace process that has gone nowhere throughout the past four US administrations. More damagingly, social media has made it vastly easier for online engagement to devolve into shouting matches, hateful exchanges, dehumanizing arguments, and utterly useless debates that fail to change opinions and beliefs. 

Simplistic and reductionist slogans and arguments by both sides regularly fail to capture nuanced and balanced views that account for complex intricacies and details. Whether it is about Zionism, the Palestinian Right of Return, Jewish heritage and connection to the land, Jerusalem, the occupation of the West Bank, Israel’s military operation in Gaza, or ideas for rectifying past injustices and pain, it is difficult to find voices that can simultaneously navigate these serious issues. It can be pretty difficult to find a Palestinian or an Israeli who communicates these views with audiences outside of their own echo chambers.  

After October 7, I was deeply alarmed by the dehumanization of Palestinians in Gaza in the wake of Hamas’s murderous attack that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians and kidnapped hundreds more. Rising anti-Palestinian sentiments were fueled by scenes of Gazans celebrating the attack and numerous posts and online declarations that glorified the event as a legitimate act of resistance. This enraged many Israelis and diaspora Jews who are now so close to giving up on peace with the Palestinians. Furthermore, so many under-informed and ignorant voices within the pro-Palestine movement refused to recognize the depravity of Hamas’s actions and are unwilling to condemn and reject Hamas, which has severely harmed the Palestinian national project. Many are unaware of how Hamas specifically and deliberately sabotaged the imperfect yet viable Oslo peace process and, in so doing, empowered right-wing and anti-Palestinian extremists in Israel. They overlook how Hamas was a useful idiot in the Machiavellian 3D chess that Netanyahu played to undermine Palestinian rights and aspirations for statehood.

After Oct 7, I decided to invest in having a presence on social media to humanize the Palestinians in Gaza, share sorely lacking voices and perspectives, and specifically engage with audiences outside of my own side/echo chamber. Despite experiencing immense pain through the destruction of both of my childhood homes and the loss of dozens of my family members in Gaza, I have worked hard to keep the line of engagement and communication open with diaspora Jews, self-identified Zionists, and Israelis. This has been difficult, especially when many hateful and angry voices hurl insults, accusations, and outright mean-spirited comments. 

After dozens of my family members were killed, hundreds of pro-Israel accounts ruthlessly attacked me and mocked my grave loss with dehumanizing messages. However, thankfully, for every hateful remark, there were ten kind, compassionate, sincere, and loving comments and messages by people on that same political and religious side. This gave me hope that continuing to focus on cultivating Jewish and Israeli audiences can effectively bolster the case for coexistence, dialogue, mutual humanity, and, ultimately, peace. 

While I am under no illusions that dialogue alone will change the circumstances and conditions on the ground in Israel or Palestine, the devolution of the discourse around this conflict requires a return to basics. Some within the Pro-Palestine movement take issue with the fact that I have a large Jewish and Israeli audience. They view that as embarrassing, problematic evidence that delegitimizes me and makes me a treacherous coward. Instead, I sincerely believe this is a point of strength and requires courage to make the difficult decision to reach otherwise unreachable audiences. 

While it seems far-fetched and out of reach, ultimately, dialogue requires a difficult and uncomfortable, yet necessary, engagement based on mutual respect, tolerance, patience, and the rejection of zero-sum mentalities. The Palestinian cause is just and urgent and is worthy of a meaningful resolution after decades of occupation, violence, and dispossession. This will require building alliances across aisles and recognizing that millions of Jews and Palestinians are not going anywhere. The Palestinians must recognize that while they have valid grievances, a lasting and just peace can only be achieved through bolstering the peace camp within a deeply divided Israel and embracing Israelis as partners in the desired outcome. 

Furthermore, the Palestinians must acknowledge the failure of their own leaders and political groups in worsening their lives and failing to achieve meaningful outcomes after decades of “resistance.” Every day, numerous Palestinians and Israelis live together and find a way to forge a different path forward inside Israel, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. Normalizing dialogue, engagement, and contact between the two peoples, including on social media, is critical to moving forward away from violence perpetrated by Hamas and Israeli right-wingers and settlers. 

Dialogue and engagement between Palestinians and Jews/Israelis are desperately needed first steps to establish human-to-human connections and inject grassroots fuel for a different future. I remember vividly stories from the 1990s when tens of thousands of Gaza’s day laborers established unbelievably close and mutually respectful and beneficial connections with Israelis. 

My uncle, Riyad, who was killed in December by an Israeli strike on my family’s house in Rafah in southern Gaza, was one of them. Before I left Gaza in 2005, one month before the withdrawal of Israeli settlements, one of his last remarks to me was that by the time I returned, he would have gone back to work in Israel after years of inability due to the Second Intifada. While I mourn the unjust and senseless murder of Uncle Riyad, I dream of the day when his wishes will come true and Gazans and Israelis will reconnect as they once did. To make this a reality, I will seek coexistence and peace instead of revenge and, importantly, always be open to dialogue with Jews and Israelis. I dream of the day when this position is the norm, not the exception.

About the Author
Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib is a nonprofit administrator who is a naturalized American citizen from Gaza City and provides analysis and opinions on the Gaza Strip’s affairs and politics.
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