Hussain Abdul-Hussain Interview

This is the original transcription of the 'Goy Friendly' podcast interview with Hussain Abdul-Hussain.

This interview can be heard in the Season 3, Episode 6 of GoyFriendly


Apu (Goy Friendly): Our guest today Hussain Abdul-Hussain ( has a very interesting view and personal story on his approach to Israel. He was born in Lebanon, he’s a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) which is a non-partisan organization in Washington. He’s also a former Visiting Fellow at the Chatham House (London) and he’s a graduate of the American University of Beirut where he studied History of the Middle East. He has contributed to a number of important newspapers and TV stations and worked for the US Congress-funded Arabic TV Al-Hurra as a news producer. Thanks for being with us, Hussain.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain: Thanks for having me on.

Apu (Goy Friendly): You were born in Lebanon and you were embedded in the narrative that in Lebanon people have on what Jews and Israel are. When did you first realize that the narrative was not -how should we say- accurate, and how was that process for you in approaching Israel and Jews in a different way?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Well, it takes time, such a thing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. For me it started… I can’t remember really when, but I can remember the turning points, and one of the major turning points was when Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in May of 2000. Like most Lebanese, I was one of those who drove to the borders to see what’s going on, and by doing so I could catch a glimpse of Israel for the first time. If you’ve been to that area, you know that only a barbed wire separates between the two countries, the landscape is… there’s no river or high mountain that separates the two, just people decided “okay, this is the border”. So I stood there and I watched and I looked and it didn’t look to me at all what I had thought it should have looked. It looked like a regular country, much more organized than the country where I was standing. Looked too me much more prosperous and much better governed.

And before then, the whole idea of withdrawal from Lebanon, it just beat so many ideas or prejudices that I had and many Lebanese had about Israel. If you grew up or are still growing up in most arab countries today, the number one thing you’ll learn is that there is a Jewish hostility and aggression against Arabs in general and Muslims in particular. And this is rooted also partially in religion because when you read the Quran, when you read religious texts, there are a lot of incidents between historic characters of Islam and Jews, in which Jews are not depicted in the best way possible.

So, to your mind if you’re growing up in that part of the world you’re thinking that Israel is not only a state but Israel is a force that’s here to occupy, kill, torture, rape, you name it, every Arab it can lay her hands on. And this is usually also reinforced by a narrative, antisemitic narrative of course, and I think that came from Czarist Russia, all these Protocols of the Elders of Zion and fake documents if you’ve heard about it. There’s a part which says that the Land of Israel extends from the Nile to the Euphrates. This rhymes in Arabic. And I was a regular guy, I believed that, I believed that Israel not only wanted to stay in Southern Lebanon but wanted to expand to take all of Lebanon and Syria and all the way, you know, to half of Iraq. So, when Israel withdrew, that raised some question marks in my head: these guys want to occupy everyone but now are withdrawing and suing for peace and they have a decent country that doesn’t look like a military camp like I imagined it to be. These were among the earliest signs that pushed me to start looking for more. And mind you, looking for more is usually really hard, I mean, if you live in many Arab countries there’s no way you can get anything close to being fair about Israel, let alone getting to learn Hebrew or to consume Hebrew literature or culture or whatever Israel produces.

Apu (Goy Friendly): That was the first disruptive moment where you said “OK, maybe this narrative is not accurate, something’s going on”. How did you action on that being as you said in a society where approaching anything Israeli is so difficult and even dangerous.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain: It raised a lot of curiosity and when I’m curious I usually read, I look up books, I look up material, I especially read the literature produced by the people I’m curious about, and in this case I had to get my hands on Israeli stuff, on Hebrew stuff, I wanted to learn Hebrew to understand what’s going on, and it was an arduous and complicated process. I managed to get a friend to get me one of those “Learn Hebrew” tourism guides to Israel, you know, this basic stuff, and then from there I used the internet, looked up the Hebrew press, printed it out and tried to decipher the words and the alphabet and the meanings. I found one spot in Beirut, where I used to live, where I could get the Israeli radio channel Reshet Aleph on the AM radio. So I parked on that spot and listened endlessly and consumed long hours just trying to learn the language, learn the culture, listen to what actual Israelis have to say in their own language. You know, the thinking was that the Israelis were saying things in foreign languages, in Arabic or in English mainly, and saying something else between them, so I was expecting if I listened to Hebrew media and Hebrew people just talking among themselves like calling on a radio station or a radio program I expected them to be saying really nasty stuff about Arabs and conspiring and saying “yeah, let’s kill them all” and to my surprise this was not the case. And this kept on going.

I say this in one of my articles: I really got my break when I moved to the US, because over here it’s really easy to obtain whatever Hebrew or non-Hebrew or English language material you want about Israel. So over here things became much faster and easier even, you know, with all these internet platforms where you can watch Israeli series, and Israeli movies and music and what not, so all of this just helped me accelerate answers to my curiosity. At a point, it was as if I was living in Israel without actually being physically there. And the more I did that, the more I discovered that these guys are just like everybody else. The majority of them just want to live a decent life. Peace is possible, but I think both sides will have to isolate the fringe factions. In every society there are fringe voices that are angry and populist and willing to fight at any minute. And what both sides do -mostly the Arab side more so than the Israeli side- what these people do is that they pick one fringe character or voice and they amplify it and say “See? This is your guy, he wants to make [the town of] Hawada disappear”, like [Israeli Finance Minister] Smotrich said [on March 1st]. Or, you know, some Israelis will pick some… I mean, there are many, many more Arabic statements, but they’d pick Arabic statements made by crazy Arab people and say “See? These people want us to die”.

I think if the moderates on each side, if normal people on each side drop the prejudice and start learning the culture of one another, started talking, I think that will bring peace much faster. One of the things I learned eventually, one of the things that Arab regimes or radical regimes like the Iranian regime and, you know, all these crazy regimes like Saddam Hussein and Kaddafhi and these guys, one of the things that they understood and were scared of is that once people start talking, peace will be possible, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why they came up with the idea of boycotting Israel. So, if you are a Lebanese or an Iraqi like myself (I’m both Lebanese and Iraqi before I became American) you are legally liable and they can take you to prison if you just talk to an Israeli citizen, just talk, I’m going to repeat this. You don’t have to go to Israel or to do any official transaction if you see an Israeli citizen and you talk to them, that’s the end of it. So I think these crazy dictators understood that talking in this case is dangerous. So let’s not talk, let’s boycott, let our athletes never play against their athletes, let’s never compete in soccer or other places. And this has been going on for 70 years. And no surprise that on the Arab side, peace is still way, way behind. And I’m not saying every Arab is against peace. I think there’s a big and major chunk or number of people who support peace like myself. I’m just saying at this point, the mainstream rhetoric is still way, way anti-Israel and anti-peace.

Apu (Goy Friendly): So basically what these authoritarian regimes are trying to do is to dehumanize Israelis, because just by getting in contact with an Israeli or a Jew, you realize that, well, we don’t have horns and a tail. So you’re preaching to the choir with me. I will let Pasante take it from here.
Pasante (Goy Friendly): Hussain, I was listening to your story about how you tried to learn the language and I related to that, because back in the days when I was younger and more idealistic, I did the same. I just tried to look for some places where they could teach me some Arabic. And I found somewhere and then I learned some words and I actually found out that it’s really, really similar to Hebrew, a language that I learned in school.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Yes, that’s correct.

Pasante (Goy Friendly): Yes. I learned also words that were not similar to Hebrew, but had a wonderful effect on the Arab people that I’ve met during my trips, like tasha rafna, which means “It’s an honor to meet you” or something like that. And I realized that when you get in contact and you show someone that you really care to know more about their culture, you get out of the fringe zone and you just go to the middle. And even though you are describing the landscape in most of the Arab nations, it’s worth noting that there are other Arab nations like the Emirates. They are like the champions of peace right now. And then there are cultural things that are happening mostly with Fauda, which is the most seen show on Netflix in Lebanon, if I’m not wrong. What do you think is going to happen aside from the usual conflicts that we are going to witness in the coming month, probably, when it all settles down and maybe if it doesn’t end blowing up, is there a chance that we might actually get to live in peace?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Well, I think to my mind, the UAE peace with Israel was probably made in the best way possible. And the UAE peace with Israel is not like how the opponents of peace think. It was not made to betray Palestinians or against Palestinians. The UAE, over the past 10 or 15 years, its policy, its perception of the world, how the Emiratis understand the world, is that what matters is national interest and followed by personal interest. And I think seeking national interest and personal interest is not wrong, it’s how things should be. I mean, I’m an American. I’ve been here for 20 years. And every time we go and vote, we’re looking at candidates who we think are safeguarding our interests, the interests of my children, social security, health care, all things that I care for. That’s how I vote. I vote based on interest and I don’t vote based on emotions or history or, you know, the ancestor of this guy was once engaged in a battle of my own ancestry. That’s not how countries are run.

And unfortunately, in most Arab countries, this is still the thinking. and let me give you an example that’s not really connected to Arabs and the Israelis. I’m sure many of you know that Islam is divided into two big blocks, the majority Sunnis and the minority Shia. And to this day, whenever the Shia of Lebanon go to the polls during election, they don’t vote for Sunnis because the Sunnis killed the third imam, Imam Hussein Ibn Ali, in the year 680. That’s over 1400 years ago. So you’re thinking that these guys are voting because of a vengeance, 1400 years old, but they’re not thinking of the economy, the national currency has lost 98% of its value since September of 2019… the idea is that many Arabs do not perceive of state affairs, of policies, in the proper way that they should, that you should pursue national interests and personal interests. And many of them vote in an emotional way. Like I told you, they think of some battle that’s happened 1400 years ago. They open the Quran and the Quran is saying, okay, the Jews are not Muslims and they should become monotheists, because the Quran says that they’re not. They pick up these emotional and historic incidents during which they choose.

Now, to my mind, this is the most basic problem that most Arabs face. Now, if the Arabs, like the Emiratis, ever understand that, let bygones be bygones, okay? We all have families to raise. We have kids to look after their future. We have personal interests. We want good jobs. We have ambitions in our careers. If you think about things from this perspective, then Lebanon will go to peace with Israel yesterday. And like I told you, if you look at the barbed wire that separates the two countries, if you remove the barbed wire, they can just become one country. When I say become one country, I don’t mean one government. I just say it becomes like France and Germany; you can drive without even noticing the border. And when this happens, this is a net Lebanese gain because the Israeli economy is 400 times the size of the Lebanese economy. Ask any economist and they’ll tell you this is pure Lebanese gain. So the fact that the Lebanese, where everything is falling apart, and you don’t even have an economy, you can’t keep the lights on, and at the same time, you’re thinking, “you know, we hate them because in the year 1964, some guy was walking and the Israeli side shot him dead, and that’s why we’ll never talk to them”. I think this is the major problem.

And more often than not, the Lebanese add the disclaimer that “Oh, we have 100,000 or something Palestinian refugees, unless the problem of these refugees is solved, we cannot go to peace with Israel”. Well, guess what? These refugees are not allowed to even work in Lebanon. They are restricted to their refugee camps. Camps that they came to in 1948 or 1967. And they don’t have any civil rights. And you think, okay, if you want to look after the interests of these Palestinians, then make peace with Israel and allow these guys to work. And then an improving Lebanese economy will give these guys a decent life, much better than the non-life that they’re actually living. And maybe, you know, if there’s peace, maybe these guys can just cruise down Israel and tour places they’d like to tour and come back. So whichever way you slice it, if the Lebanese and the Syrians, and Palestinians, if they seek actual peace… and not the kind of peace that, you know, “we’ll make peace now and then we’ll come after them in 5 years or 10 years, or demographics will change and we’ll beat the Jews and everyone will be Arab and then we’ll throw them out”. Not this kind of peace, like actual peace, where you think with clear eyed interest. If you think about that, I think everyone will sue for peace. Unfortunately, it’s not happening.

Apu (Goy Friendly): So did you say 100,000 Palestinian refugees and sons and grandsons of refugees are in Lebanon? Was that the number?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): The official number I think is around 300,000. These are the people registered with UNWRA. But I think many of these people migrated out of Lebanon to countries throughout the world. I mean, like the Lebanese, because, you know, even the Lebanese are migrating and leaving the country. I think the last time I checked, the actual numbers stood at a little more than 100,000. They declined by two thirds over the past 20 years.

Apu (Goy Friendly): And there are, as you said, about 72 professions they cannot exercise, but also, according to current Lebanon law, they are not granted citizenship, not even their kids who were born there, right? And they go to separate schools.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Well, they’re not granted anything. They’re hardly granted documentation. You know, they can’t even have proper passports. When I used to live and work in Lebanon, I worked as a journalist, as a reporter, and I’ve been to these camps. I’ve been to Ain al-Hilweh, which is the biggest refugee camp, near the southern city of Sidon. It’s beyond miserable, I can’t even start describing how bad it is the situation that this people are living in. And there’s no justification whatsoever. The Lebanese accuse that these Palestinians are Sunnis and if we make them Lebanese we’ll alter the delicate Lebanese demographics between the Muslims and the Christians and between the Sunnis and the Shias and what not. That’s a horrible excuse because you can give them all the civil rights that you can give them without allowing them to vote, and therefore they will not change anything in the politics and demographics of the country.

But anyway, like you said, they’re not allowed to work, and they’re barely allowed out of the camp so the camp is an actual camp. It has a fence around it and at the entrance there{s usually the Lebanese army, they have checkpoints. You cannot go in and out easy, you cannot build, you don’t have any permit to build to start with, you can’t get construction material into the camp. I think two days ago there was a regular fight in Ain al-Hilweh between a few Palestinian guys and they ended up using heavy machine guns and I think at least two died and the Lebanese police or authority didn’t do anything, they just called them from outside the camp, they just said “hey, you guys have to keep it down”. Then the Palestinians figured it out and they stopped shooting one another. This is how bad the situation is, and to my mind this does not say that you’re really looking after the interests of these people. This says that you’re using them as an excuse just not to sign peace. But if you’re looking after their interests, there is a whole set of policies that you will endorse that will be totally different with these Palestinians in Lebanon.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Why do you think this is completely unknown in at least the Western World? Why the discussions about the Middle East problem and the conflict, either Arab-Israeli or Palestinian-Israeli, however you want to frame it… why is it not including these situations in the refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries? I understand in Syria is very similar. They are completely out of the discussion. Why?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): I can think up two reasons. One is that western audiences are not interested in middle-eastern issues in-depth. As someone who’s been doing Middle-East foreign policy here in Washington, I can tell you that one of the problems that we have is that most of the time we have to get listening ears in Washington, in Congress and with the administration, even with the average American. When I write a piece about the Middle-East, something about my personal experience or something that I know about really well, it’s hard to place it. You have to haggle, you have to beg, you have to use your friendships and connections, and every editor will say the same, they’ll say “Hussain, look, there’s no real interest in this issue for an American audience” and if I publish it, it’ll have to be dumbed down to such a degree that these things that I’m talking about will be construed as being so in-depth that we can’t include them in an article. If you end up publishing something that’s longer than an article, say a monograph or a book or a long report, then that’s doomed too, because you know people are not reading these days. So this is one thing.

The other thing is that there’s a bunch of Americans and of Arabs who live in the US, Arab-Americans or Palestinian-Americans, who have coined some formulas and ideas about what’s going on in the Middle-East. Number one, that’s false and that’s mostly ideological and that’s mostly identity politics, and these are ideas that I disagree with. So take, for example, the binational one-state. There are a few schemes to settle the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. One of them is clearly the two-state solution. One of them is that you have autonomy and self-government without actual sovereignty for the Palestinians. And one of them is the bi-national state, and its biggest proponents and one of its loudest voices was the late literature professor here in the US Edward Said.

So these guys think “OK, from the river to the sea, all of these people will just become citizens of the same state”, just like here in the US all of us are citizens of the same state. Now the issue with this state is that not only the Israelis don’t want it, the Palestinians don’t want it. Do you think any of the Palestinians will want to pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag and be considered a citizen of the state of Israel? Of course not. The Palestinians want a state with the Palestinian flag, whose emblem is a Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Israelis want a state with the Israeli flag, where the official language is Hebrew and where you take a day off on Shabat, on Saturday. So there’s a huge difference between what these two groups of people expect and their state. Nonetheless, the people who live in North America keep on peddling this and depicting as if the issue is one of rights, and I keep on counter arguing by saying: listen, guys, you cannot give equal rights when people are not citizens of the same state. If I’m Lebanese and my neighbour is Syrian, it’s natural that we don’t have equal…  I’m American and to my north there are Canadians. They get free health care. I don’t get free health care. It doesn’t mean that there are no equal rights, it means that we have different governments and each of our governments works differently and each of our voters vote differently for these governments. So the people who are dominating the narrative in North America go with the binational state, and these are the people who are trafficking in ideas like “Israel is apartheid” and “the settler colonial” etcetera to the end of the story this, these ideas are not popular with the average Palestinian. If you go to the Middle-East and talk to the average Palestinians, they’re not interested in this, you wouldn’t hear from them the talk about apartheid and racism and stuff. You will hear that they want a Palestine for the river to the sea and some of them will say: “Okay, maybe two states, Palestine and Israel, but all the Palestinians will have to go back to Israel”, and so the end result would be one Palestine and next to it an Israel that’s half-Jewish, half-Arab, so you have 1.5 Palestine and 0.5 Israel.

Anyway, you’re hearing this from me because I’ve spent time to read about this, to understand this, to write about this. It’s unfortunate that in most of the West, in America specifically, there’s no interest, and people who are interested in this are just the loud voices who make of this something like colonialism (because apparently anticolonialism is something that’s really in fashion these days in the US), or identity politics, or… so there’s no actual debate. What I’m saying is that people are shouting past one another about this issue, about the Middle Eastern issues, but there’s no actual debate.

Pasante (Goy Friendly): Hussain, I was listening about maximalists… I call them that way because they basically want something from the river to the sea which is not going to happen unless there’s an extinction war. And then we have people promoting a bi-national state, which is like you said something that neither party want. Then there’s a huge mass of people, the ones that we tried to understand at the beginning of our conversation, the common people, that can be somehow connected emotionally. And right now, you said that when they vote they’re connected to a war that happened many centuries ago, but they can also be reached out through TV shows like Fauda as I mentioned before, and maybe through comedy, I don’t know. What do you think would be a good cultural way to promote relations between the citizens of these countries that are not engaged in the conversation like the Emirates or Bahrain… Egypt and Jordan are not maybe the best of neighbors for Israelis and Jews, but… they recognized each other. What should be the next steps towards the countries that are really not understanding exactly what Israel and Jews are?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): I think it starts with making a majority of the Arabs… and especially in Egypt and Jordan like you said they have peace treaties, but they’re not really the best neighbors. We’re not talking about governments here, we’re talking about the average person. I think this starts with making people realize that it’s in their interest to have peace and once this starts kicking off, I think the second thing is to start thinking outside the box. And by this I mean, look, there are many countries where there are more than one ethnicity and where there is disagreement over sovereignty. When people discuss this issue, the Israeli-Palestinain conflict, they do not realize that there are multilayers here. People usually confuse real estate ownership and sovereignty. So the Palestinians say “look, I have the deed to this piece of land and you’re taking it as Israel and you don’t have the right to”. Well, that’s not a right argument, because if Canadians buy all the land in the United States, the government of the United States will remain American and sovereignty will remain in American hands. The ownership of real estate property and sovereignty are two different things.

What I’m trying to say here is that: look at Scotland or Wales and Britain. Look at the arrangement that they have. Look at Spain and Catalonia. They have roughly similar disagreements. We know that many of the Catalans want their independent state, want their own sovereignty away from Spain. But what happens there is that from time to time they hold referendums on independence and these referendums do not go the way of the people who want independence. And the reason why they don’t is that if you’re Catalan and you’re thinking “Do I really want a small country at the time the European Union promised not to let us use the euro? Can we come up with our own currency and our foreign relations or just stay here and our interests will be best served as part of Spain?”. I think the same calculus went into the people who voted on independence in Scotland. Britain said “Okay, if you will be independent, we will just pull out our nuclear submarines and other perks that you get from Britain”.

What I’m trying to say here is that you can have your own government, you can have your own parliament. Look at Catalonia, look at Scotland, look at Wales, you can have your own national soccer team. All of these sciences of nationalism and cultural identity can exist in the West Bank and in Gaza and in peace with Israel. They don’t have to be against Israel and they do not need Israel to disappear for them to be expressed. What the Palestinians cannot get at this point is sovereignty, and to my mind the main reason is that Palestinians disagree on this. Even with Arafat and Oslo, Hamas never stopped suicide bombing. Arafat was saying “Okay, I talk on behalf of Palestinians”, and then you have Hamas doing its own thing, and then you have 20% of the Israeli population, which is Arab Israelis. These are technically Palestinians, but these also said Arafat doesn’t talk on our behalf. So when the Israelis sit and talk to the Palestinian Authority or Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, who are they talking to exactly? And what can these people deliver if you agree with them? So one of the issues that Palestinians fail to see and the majority of the Arabs fail to see all the time, is: listen, guys, this is not only an issue of people fighting over one strip of land, which is Area C[1]. I don’t think most people understand this. All of these fistfights and house demolitions, you name it, all of this happens over a strip of land that’s Area C. In Area C only 300,000 Palestinians live out of how many Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel? 5, 6 million? Out of all these millions only 300,000 Palestinians are in the disputed area. We know that in Area A building permits are given by the Palestinian Authority and Israelis don’t demolish any houses. And Area A and B they’re 2500 square kilometers. To give you perspective, Singapore, which is one of the wealthiest and most successful countries in the world, is only 700 square kilometers.

So you have four or five times as much as Singapore does, with the same number of population. Singapore is much more dense than Gaza and the West Bank, so you know, make something like Singapore! Just focus on building something where you can attract capital. And this is a huge economy right next to you, a vibrant economy that depends on technology and tourism, that’s really next to you. Anything that you will do in Ramallah, you will get so much economic traction because Israel is next to you. So instead of thinking, you know, which olive tree my ancestor really planted over which hill, just try to be practical. And the reason I say be practical is because many of us were practical. I left Iraq and Lebanon, my ancestors’ land, and became American, came to the US, seeking my interests and the interests of my children. And so many people are like me, that’s what people do. So how can we always seek our interests but then when we go to this hill, we’re always engaging in fistfights and burning olive trees and accusing one another of wanting to go to extermination. So, to my mind, if we manage ever to get what I’m saying now, this interest debate, this probabilities, this Scotland scheme, if we ever manage to get this into the mainstream debate, not someone like me who’s living in Washington and just saying this, you know, to a limited amount of people, this will change a lot. And like I said, if Arabs start reading the Hebrew press and Israelis start reading the Arab press, people might understand one another much better than what we have now.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Yes, and we only need to look at history where since 1967, until the Intifada, both economies were de facto integrated and Gaza and the territories in the West Bank were booming, growing, the GDP was growing more than the Israel mainland. But I’m afraid Arafat could not deliver. First, he did not deliver the same speech in Arabic and in English, and also he could not deliver the monopoly of violence that is necessary to negotiate with another country. He never dared or intended to “sink the Altalena[2]”, as Ben Gurion did, I don’t know if you [catch the reference]…

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Yes, of course, yes.

Apu (Goy Friendly): So the picture you are painting here as a potential future if Palestinians and Israelis start building human bridges between them and trying to understand and humanize the other side, we may get to a situation, and I’m trying to make sure that I get it right, where the Palestinian state would be kind of an autonomous land like Catalonia, without full sovereignty, not armed forces, but with many advantages over the current situation. Am I getting that possible solution right?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Yes. Well, look, I’m not saying that this is the solution, I’m just giving ideas about many solutions that are possible. What I think is a problem now: if we want to get to peace and we try to assign blame, why peace is not happening, to my mind it’s 85% of the blame falls on Palestinians and 15% falls on Israel. That’s the percentage roughly, and the reason I say that is not because I’m being impartial or I hate Palestinians, even though I have tons of Palestinian friends whom I love. The reason I say so is that if you look at Arab governments, you will notice that there’s an issue with the Arab ability to build states, to build their capacity. Throughout the history of the Palestinians there hasn’t been a single functioning institution that you can point and say: “look, this is an institution, if we can manage to take this model and make it into a state…”.

You talked about Arafat speaking with two tongues and that’s correct. But what also Arafat failed to do was that he was never a guy who could build an institution. I know many people in Lebanon who were very close with Arafat, and you know Arafat spent so many years, decades, in Lebanon. At one point he was technically the ruler of Lebanon. And these people who knew him up close say he was the king of chaotic administration. All of the money that he managed, and he got billions of dollars from the Gulf, all of the money he managed was on a small notebook in his front pocket. And even then you wouldn’t know how much money they had, who was using what. The point here is that most of these countries… look at Lebanon and Syria now and you’ll understand what I’m saying. If Israel disappears tomorrow, how do you think a Palestinian state would look like? My guess is it’d look something like Lebanon, and Lebanon is really not a country. It’s a bunch of people living over a piece of land and it’s disintegrating, it’s falling apart.

So we have an issue with state building, we have an issue with capacity. The world’s superpower, the US, went to Iraq, took its superpower army, took its money, its superpower economy, and tried to build the nation from scratch. It failed and it didn’t fail because America is a failure. It failed because the Iraqis could not sustain or operate a modern state. So along these lines there’s a lot of blame to fall on the Palestinians for their inability to build any institution that looks like a state or, you know, this is an institution that’s elected and that can talk on our behalf and manage our issues. Now compare this to how Israel happened. Everyone thinks that Israel happened with, you know, there was a UN resolution and then Palestine became Israel or something like that. If you observe closely, Israel started long before the State of Israel. The Jewish Agency, the Zionist organizations, they were electing officials, people who talked on their behalf, they were collecting money, they had their treasury long, long before there was Israel. So there was a semblance of a state that was happening even without having a land to manage. It was managing a bunch of people, getting them out of Nazi Germany or other places in Europe. You have some semblance of state that was happening and the minute this organization got a land it just turned into a state.

On the Palestinian side, we have the opposite. They had land but they didn’t have anyone to run it. I mean, mind you, the Palestinians never ever had any sovereign government over this land in the history of it. If you go to any year in history, you cannot name a single Palestinian king who ruled this land. Even when this land was under Arab sovereignty, the sovereigns did not live in Palestine. It was ruled from Damascus, it was ruled from Bagdad, from Cairo and later on from Istanbul. But this was never a sovereign land, the governor of this land never lived in this land. So when the Ottomans left in 1918 there was no one to run this land, the British took over and they didn’t really establish a government, a Palestinian government, anything that resembles it. And when the Palestinians had an opportunity, like we said, with Arafat, he didn’t establish anything. The only period that I can think of was a short period where, under American supervision, the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad managed to get something up and running, something that was simple but a good start. And even then you had all these Palestinian oligarchs, they just conspired against him and threw him out. And that’s why I’m saying, 85% of the blame falls on the Palestinians. If you do not get your affairs together, then no one is going to get them together for you and you can sit there and blame the Israelis all you want that you don’t have a state, but the state starts with you. And once Israel realizes, “OK, look these guys have a state”, when there’s confidence, I don’t think Israel will mind giving you an airport and an army, but Israel will not be giving you an airport if the next day Qasem Soleimani will land in that airport, right? I mean that’s a justified israeli position. If the Palestinians ever manage to have a state and the state is really friendly and wants to live in peace, and the Israelis really trust these people, then by all means, have your sovereignty, have your airports, have your parliament and government. There’s your state, here’s my state and, like it’s between Germany and France and Luxembourg, we just drive-through invisible borders and who cares where the border actually is.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Yes, the Palestinian Jews were building the statehood many decades before the independence was achieved. As you said, they were managing the money, they were building universities, a Philharmonic, the army or proto-army, and that did not happen on the other side. Now I would like to use you as a window to the Arab world in general. From the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco there has been some opening in terms of not just the governments signing the Abraham Peace Accords but also at the people-to-people level. I have seen and been following with a lot of interest some trips of people from these countries, mostly Muslims, and also from Pakistan, even I think Bangladesh, to Israel. And they are normally very shocked not just about what they see, because it’s not what they expected, but also the warm welcome they receive because, for example, Emiratis go dressed in their traditional clothes so they are easy to spot, and how Israelis go and greet them and take pictures with them and thank them for coming. So, this warm peace, as opposed to the cold peace that Israel has with Jordan and Egypt: how do you see it may be creating some doubts, some disruptions, as it happened to you in May 2000, in the younger generations? Do you think that may be happening under the waves? For instance, in the year 2021 in Iraq, 300 prominent Iraqis met in Erbil, I think that’s in the Kurdish autonomous region, but there were Sunni and Shiite leaders that demanded Bagdad to join the Abraham Accords. Then the government of Iraq said “no, this never happened”, they had to apologize, etc, but we know it happened. Do you see shockwaves of the Abraham Accords might be penetrating the younger layers of the Arab and Muslim societies?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Well, look, first let me make a quick point, and this point I made and it was published in the New York Times, and this was about the idea that many in North America say that peace of the UAE and Bahrain and Morocco and these guys, this is not actual peace, because these countries are not democracies and therefore we cannot know what the people think, and the people of course are opposed to peace. And what I counter argued is that if autocracy is an issue, then autocracy is also on the side of countries that oppose Israel, so Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran, these are huge autocracies and someone like me, I cannot go to the hometown where I grew up and campaign for peace. If you let people act freely, I’m sure you would have gotten many more Iraqis and Lebanese and Syrians visiting Israel and maybe trying to invite Israelis to come over. But this is not the case, at this point we have to wait for governments to make peace and when governments make peace, then people will start following. This is the first remark. The second remark: always keep in mind that the UAE is currently the country where every Arab wants to live and raise their families unless they come to the West. I mean, you have people who migrate to Europe and the US, but then you have the majority who go to the UAE. If you are sitting in Dubai and I’ve been there so many times, now you can see an Israeli family at restaurants, having a meal next to you and speaking in Hebrew. And mind you, in Dubai there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who live and work there, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians and all these nationalities now they’re coming face-to-face with regular Israelis, not with Bibi Netanyahu or Yair Lapid.

One of the Lebanese friends who lives in Dubai told me a story that he suddenly discovered that his neighbor for about 10 years turned out to be an Israeli who was living in Dubai long before the Abraham Accords using a Dutch passport, I think. And now with peace he came out as Israeli and [my friend] said “wow, I loved him as a great neighbor and then I discovered he’s Israeli, and now I can’t hate him because I really like him”. If people were free to visit and be visited, I think this whole dynamic would have been different. But since this is not the case, I think big powers, especially the United States, will have to put some pressure on these governments. I mean decent governments. We know that America can’t put pressure on Iran, but America can really put pressure on Iraq and say “Hey, Iraqis, we came here, spent all this blood and money to take out a dictator. You cannot really tell people what to do and what not to do. You can’t really censure a conference of peace with Israel”, or peace with whoever they want to be at peace with. There are basic stuff that… if these things happened in any other country, they’d be front page New York Times news, “These people are not allowed to speak, where’s their freedom, gender freedom or other kinds of freedom”. And I of course support all these kinds of freedom, gender freedom and otherwise.

But what happens is that we demand freedom for all these guys and then when it comes to peace and Israel, all of a sudden we’re okay with people saying “let’s fight until forever” and “the Israelis don’t deserve a state” or “they’re colonial settlers” and what not. I think there’s a big part that governments can play, especially the US government. I’m one of the people who keep on trying to push for this, whether on social media or in my articles, just trying to get big governments to push a bit for peace. We don’t have to wait until Palestinians figure out what they want and then they go to peace and then only after that a person like me can go to Beirut and talk to his friend and say: “let’s sue for peace with Israel”. This won’t happen, probably, in my lifetime. America can tell Lebanon, the Lebanese army lives off of American money. They can tell them: freedom of expression is essential. For Khashoggi and for other people, and these other people should be allowed to go and discuss peace and say they want peace and campaign on peace.

By the way, I have friends who are now in the Lebanese Parliament and when I talk to them, they support peace 100%. Now good luck trying to get a statement out of them in public, because they know this will not only bring rage on them, it’ll bring probably physical harm from Hezbollah, Hezbollah will probably assassinate them. A close friend of mine, Lokman Slim, was killed in Beirut two years ago. He was openly advocating for peace. He was Shia, he lived in the southern suburb of Beirut, which is a Hezbollah stronghold. He advocated for peace with Israel openly. They killed him. We saw the US raising hell over Khashoggi, and rightly so, no one should be killed for their opinions. But the US didn’t say a word about Lokman Slim. What’s wrong with this journalist? There are journalists that we like and other journalists that we don’t? No, the answer is that the Democratic Administration wants to spite Saudi Arabia so it makes a big deal out of Khashoggi and it doesn’t say a word about Lokman Slim.

But governments can play a role, people can play a role, it’s so many of us. That’s why in a piece I wrote for The Dispatch[3], I just called on people who support peace and who send me a bunch of messages… like after this very call that we’re doing right now, I’ll get now a bunch of messages from Arabs saying: “oh, we heard you speaking and congratulations, we support you, you’re brave”. I don’t have to be brave, I only have to be sane, and everybody else can be “brave” like me. Step out and say it. Abraham Accords have brought a lot of people to step out of the closet and say: “okay, we support peace”. I know Lebanese who live in Dubai who now are openly supporting peace and I talk to them and I go see them and they say that’s it, there’s no reason why Lebanon can’t be like Dubai. So the more Abraham Accords we can get, I think that the bigger the snowball can go.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Yes, and I take as an action item for us in the western and free world that we have been broadcasting the voices of Arabs and Muslims that do not want peace with Israel, we have been broadcasting and amplifying the voice of Jews and Israelis who are with the peace, against the peace, but there is a voice that we have kept [in the dark]. We have to amplify the voice of Arabs like yourself and your friends, that do not see Jews as demons and Israel as their eternal enemy, because they exist, but they just cannot speak because -except those who have migrated- they live under authoritarian regimes where they cannot speak freely, but they exist, and the best way to help peace is to give voice to these people, right?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Totally agree. Yes. Absolutely.

Pasante (Goy Friendly): Hussain, I would like to thank you, like we say in Spanish, muchas gracias, realmente muchas gracias. I think starting these kind of conversations and showing that we can actually give ourselves just an hour to know what the other side thinks… not that you’re on a different side from what we are, but just finding the opportunity to pick someone, it could be video games, it could be art, it could be anything, it can be politics too. But there’s a lot in common and I think as Apu said it’s about amplifying and showing that maybe we are the silent majority and even though there is a loud minority, maximalist, leftist, wanting to install an antisemitic agenda, peace might prevail.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): And rightists too who can be antisemitic.

Pasante (Goy Friendly): Yes, we’re starting to feel them too, but yeah, I think it’s this kind of experiences that allow us to be more optimistic. Once again, thanks, shukran jazilan[4] and tasharrafna[5].

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Tasharrafna, Naim Meod[6], Todah[7], thank you everyone for dialing in and listening. Thank you everyone.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Todah Rabah[8]. Hussain, where can people follow you and read what you write?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): They can follow me on twitter, I usually share the things that I write on twitter and social media.

Apu (Goy Friendly): Perfect. Thank you very much.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain (Guest): Thank you, bye bye.


[1] Oslo II Accords (1995) divided the West Bank into 3 administrative divisions:
Area A is under full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority.
Area B is under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.
Area C is under full Israeli civil and security control.

[2] David Ben Gurion ordered in June 1948 the sinking of the Altalena ship that was bringing military equipment and fighters for the Jewish paramilitary group Irgun, to force them into merging with the unified Israel Defense Forces being formed during the Israel Independence War.


[4] “Thank you so much” in Arabic.

[5] “An honor to meet you” in Arabic.

[6] “Pleasure to meet you” in Hebrew.

[7] “Thank you” in Hebrew.

[8] “Thank you very much” in Hebrew.

Ezequiel Baum

Economista especializado en educación financiera. Autor de Ordená tu Economía (Aguilar).

Hugo Glagovsky

Licenciado en Sistemas de Información de las Organizaciones (FCE-UBA) y Analista Programador (ORT). Trabaja desde 2003 en consultoría de sistemas.

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