Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib at his home in Pacifica on Jan. 19, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib at his home in Pacifica on Jan. 19, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Bay Area Gazan turns loss into compelling case for a ‘different future’

Call it karma, call it destiny. In the aftermath of Oct. 7, Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib felt he needed to publicly speak his truth. Even if it made him a target.

A Middle East political analyst in Pacifica known for his “pro-humanity” position and his criticism of Hamas, Alkhatib said his distress and alarm were propelled by the “sheer dehumanization of Palestinians, and the horrific embrace of violent terrorist activity as a legitimate form of resistance.”

Alkhatib, 33, grew up in Gaza City and Saudi Arabia, coming to study in the United States when he was 15. He has lost 30 family members in Gaza so far in the Israel-Hamas war, including his 13-year-old niece, Farah, and two uncles. His childhood homes have been destroyed.

While he could call out for revenge, he’s doing exactly the opposite.

“I’m trying to honor the memories of my dead family members by using them as fuel for a different future,” he told J.

His reasoned views in the current climate have raised his profile. His byline has appeared above thoughtful commentaries in the Atlantic and Newsweek, among many others, and he has been writing lengthy posts on X, where he has over 18,000 followers.

He has been highly critical of Hamas, as well as of its supporters abroad who consider the group’s violent acts a legitimate form of resistance.

“Hamas and its tactics are not a mere expression of resistance,” he said. “It is a nefarious political group that has been hiding its failures behind the resistance narrative.”

Even though he fields accusations of being a shill for the Israeli government, Alkhatib has been critical of the Israel Defense Forces’ operation as well, writing in a Nov. 26 opinion piece in the Forward that Israel’s efforts are doomed to fail and “ultimately planting seeds for further violence, extremism and hate.” He wrote in the same piece that while Hamas is deeply unpopular among many Gazans, the “intensity of Israel’s military operation is overshadowing dissenting voices.”

Alkhatib told J. that his writing doesn’t consistently please either side.

“When I share something critical of Hamas, a lot of folks who are pro-Israel gravitate toward that,” he said. “And when I share scathing critiques of the IDF’s operation and the horrors Gazans are experiencing, then I get attacked by them.”

When Oct. 7 happened, he said, he was driven by personal anguish to speak out. He emphasized that he does so on his own behalf and does not have an institution behind him.

Though the spotlight makes him uncomfortable, Alkhatib said “this conflict is so much bigger than me. I knew Gaza would cease to exist as we knew it, and there would be tremendous casualties. I was terrified of what could happen to my family.”

His brother and other family members are among the 2 million civilians suffering in Gaza, he said. Alkhatib has called for a cease-fire coupled with demands for the release of the hostages and a “political change for the people of Gaza.”

“I think his perspective is an important one for us to hear,” said Rabbi Andrew Straus, the Northwest regional director of J Street and former rabbi of Temple Sinai in Oakland. “I am amazed that given that so many family members have been killed or wounded and his homes in Gaza destroyed, he continues to stay true to his ideals and values and perspective.”

Alkhatib was willing to do this interview with J. but said he hates being tokenized as “the good Gazan.” Still, his personal history and his ability to write cogently about the conflict have made him a popular source for rational discourse.

He said he gets a steady stream of messages from Palestinians who agree with him but are too scared to speak out, and he receives just as much hate. He is single without children, so he said he doesn’t have to worry about putting immediate family members in danger for voicing his views.

Alkhatib feels the pro-Palestine movement outside the Middle East — which includes many anti-Zionist Jews, he notes — is harming the Palestinian cause more than it is helping. It may be well-intentioned, he said, but “there is shrinking intellectual and political diversity within the movement, which forces conformity and diminishes space for an explicitly anti-Hamas position and an anti-violence narrative that can hold Israel accountable for its actions while not excusing violence as resistance.”

While Alkhatib advocates for working with Jews, Zionists and Israelis, he also points to harms the Zionist movement has caused. He said any solution to the conflict must address the Palestinian right of return.

“If the Zionists believe that a 2,000-year-old-connection to the land justifies a modern state,” he said, “then they have to believe that Palestinians’ 75-year-old displacement justifies a just resolution.”

Alkhatib’s family became refugees from what is now Israel and ended up in Gaza in 1948 during what Palestinians call the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, and what Israel calls its War of Independence. He spent his early years in Saudi Arabia, where his father worked as a physician, and then moved to Gaza when he was 10. He said he still suffers from hearing loss from an Israeli rocket exploding and nearly killing him in 2001.

Describing himself as an “old soul,” he became interested in politics at a young age. He can still remember debating his classmates at age 12 — when Hamas was carrying out regular suicide bombings inside Israel — about whether terror attacks were a legitimate form of resistance.

He argued that they were not, and he recalls persuading some of his peers. Though the experience showed him that “it can be costly and uncomfortable to swim against the tide,” it also taught him about the power of speaking up.

Hamas and its tactics are not a mere expression of resistance. It is a nefarious political group that has been hiding its failures behind the resistance narrative.

He came to the U.S. in 2005 as a high school exchange student through a State Department program. When it was time to return home the next year, there were serious tensions, with the border crossing from Egypt closed after Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“I saw the writing on the wall and knew things will only get worse,” he said. He applied for political asylum, finished high school at San Francisco Waldorf, attended City College and then University of San Francisco, and became an American citizen. He went on to earn a master’s degree in intelligence studies from American Military University, and today works for a nonprofit that does development work in Africa.

In his early years here, his “host mother” heard about the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, founded by Libby and the late Len Traubman of San Mateo, and suggested they attend a meeting. Prior to that, he said, his only interaction with Israelis was at security checkpoints.

Not only did he come to understand how much Israelis have suffered and what the State of Israel represents for most Jews around the world, he said, but he made personal connections, too. An Israeli American doctor offered to treat his hearing loss without payment.

But he grew frustrated that the group would only talk and not take any action. “Now I yearn for the days of dialogue, as basic conversation about this topic isn’t happening,” he said.

Alkhatib has taken his own action, with varying degrees of success. Long interested in aviation, in 2015 he launched the nonprofit Project Unified Assistance, which worked on a proposal for an airstrip in Gaza that would be overseen by the IDF and the United Nations. He had funding and many volunteer experts on board. But in 2018 he gave up, disillusioned by the corruption and other issues that prevented it from being realized. (In 2017 he flew to Israel but never made it past the airport. He was interrogated and denied entry, despite his U.S. passport, because he still had a Palestinian ID number.)

Recently he has been calling for food to be airdropped into Gaza — he suggested that initiative in a recent op-ed in the Forward — as a way to alleviate the threat of starvation.

He wrote an X post on Jan. 5 titled “What About Zionism?” He described the origins of the ideology and its “vast diversity” and said it is only through understanding and interacting with Israelis and Jews that the “legitimate grievances” of Palestinians will be heard. “Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are going anywhere,” he wrote.

“Throwing the word Zionist around as a slur isn’t helpful for connecting with [Israelis] and helping them see our humanity,” he told J. “And yet, the Palestinians have every right to detest the outcomes of Zionism because to them, it doesn’t matter if they were liberal or right-wing, or peace-loving Zionists. To them, the outcome was that Jewish self-determination was done on their land.”

Alkhatib has seen enough in his life so far to know that the endless cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has no chance of being broken if the status quo stays the same.

“I want a fundamentally different future to be considered,” he said. “I’m devastated, anxious, heartbroken and furious, but not hateful. It takes a daily commitment not to be consumed by anger and hate.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."