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Graeme Wood On The Horrors Of Hamas' War

Graeme Wood On The Horrors Of Hamas' War

He's more optimistic than I am over Israel's fate.

Graeme is a foreign correspondent, and one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met. He’s been a staff writer at The Atlantic since 2006 and a lecturer in political science at Yale since 2014. He’s also been a contributing editor to The New Republic and books editor of Pacific Standard, and he’s the author of The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State. Graeme was in Israel when we spoke earlier this week. It’s — shall we say — a lively conversation, covering every taboo in the Israel/Palestine question.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on the ways Hamas is more evil than even ISIS, and on the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: growing up in an upper-middle-class home in Dallas; how his parents gave him the travel bug, which he took to the extreme; why the challenges of travel are often the best parts; how time slows down abroad; Paul Theroux and Emerson on travel; going to Afghanistan in 2001 at age 21; why ISIS hated the Taliban and considered them non-Muslims; the caliphate; the easy divisibility of Islamists because of doctrinal differences; Israelis leaving Gaza in 2005; a Nakba in the West Bank; Bibi opposing a two-state solution; the savagery and evil glee of 10/7; the rank corruption and greed of the Hamas government; the dismal economy of Gaza; the terrible conundrum of killing Hamas among human shields; Fallujah vs. Gaza; the fanatical settlers; how the Orthodox right doesn’t start tech companies or join the military; Kushner funding the settlements; Trump and the Abraham Accords; Graeme disagreeing with me over the Accords; the protests over judicial reform; the Israelis who oppose settlements; AIPAC and the dearth of US pushback on Israel; the Dem rift over the Gaza war; far-left denialism over 10/7; destroying the posters of hostages; and the upcoming mass protest in London on 11/11.

Browse the Dishcast archive for another convo you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: David Leonhardt on his new book about the American Dream, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira on Where Have All the Democrats Gone?, Cat Bohannon on Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, Matthew Crawford, and Jennifer Burns. Please send any guest recs, dissent and other comments to

A listener gushes over last week’s convo with NYT columnist Pamela Paul:

This was so good! Love Pamela Paul and love you. The two of you together were amazing.

A clip from that pod:

Another fan dissents:

I really enjoyed the first half of your interview with Pamela Paul, and I promise I'll listen to the second half. But I wanted to comment on your discussion with her as to whether Israel had botched the PR of its response to the attack by Hamas on October 7. 

What you don’t seem to understand that it doesn't matter whether Israel does nothing but demand the return of the 240+ hostages (who are still held hostage, I remind you), or counterattack the way they’re doing. The Palestinians, the Arab world, the left, the UN, and Western Europe will all clutch their pearls and scream about how Israel has been committing genocide. It has happened in every single previous flareup. On October 7, I predicted that the civilized world would lose its nerve in a month, and sadly I was right. Israel, and Jews worldwide, know this is how the world responds, and we no longer care.

There’s a meme going around Facebook. It shows an image of the gates of Auschwitz, with the Arbeit Macht Frei gates, and says “Slaughter me once, shame on you, slaughter me twice, shut up when I defend myself.” That captures how Israelis and diaspora Jews feel, and it explains why all the calls for a ceasefire will fall on deaf ears. 

Why are Jews the only people not allowed to defend themselves? You’ll note that I said “Jews” and not “Israelis” or even “Israelis and Jews.” Anti-semitic incidents in the US have quadrupled since October 7, and even before that, anti-semitism made up more than 55% of religion-based hate crimes, even though Jews make up less than 2% of the US population. France announced that there have been approximately 1,400 anti-semitic incidents since October 7. A pro-Palestinian demonstration took place in Malmo, Sweden recently ... in front of a synagogue. That’s textbook anti-semitism. 

So we. don’t. care. We are going to take care of each other, and ourselves. This isn't about PR, because quite frankly, no amount of PR can overcome the worldwide hatred against Jews. Look at the explosion at the hospital in Gaza last month. Within moments, the Arab world lost its shit. The NYT and other media outlets printed Hamas’ version like it was a press release from PR Newswire. Even with the facts showing that it was really an errant missile from Palestinian terrorists, and that it didn’t hit the hospital, and it didn’t kill anywhere near the 500 initially claimed, none of these media outlets have really walked it back and actually apologized. The reason for this is simple: it doesn’t matter whether Israel really did it; it just seems like something they think Israel would do. And that’s enough for them. 

So as I said, no amount of PR would help. We aren’t looking for the world’s approval or support. We note very clearly that while all the pearl-clutchers are demanding a ceasefire, none of them are demanding the immediate release of the hostages (which include 30 or so children, including babies) or the surrender of Hamas. So Jews and Israelis are going to do what we need to do, and the rest of the world can suck it.

Point well taken. This next listener looks to the anorexia portion of the Pamela pod:

The similarity between rapid-onset gender dysphoria and anorexia has seemed obvious to me from when I first heard about ROGD. Puberty for girls has always been difficult. Add ubiquitous, degrading porn and it’s hardly surprising that girls want to put off reaching womanhood. I have also wondered if, in addition to making oneself less attractive/womanly, it’s also a retreat into illness. If one is focused on that, there’s less room for thinking about relationships.

From a “long-time subscriber who loves the Weekly Dish”:

I heard your recent interview with Pamela Paul and wanted to mention that you’re mistaken about anorexia nervosa being a modern construct; there are documented cases going back at least to the Hellenistic era. The reasons compelling the dysfunction are different on the surface — having to do with religious zeal back then — but not so different at their core: anorexia is the pursuit of perfection and control, whatever flawed thinking kicks it off.

A quick note on the David Brooks pod:

Such a wonderful conversation with David. Engrossing. It makes me want to tone down my responses to others here and on other social media. Maybe I can change.

Another Dishcast fan wants to see a repeat visitor:

Of late, I’ve very much appreciated your coverage of the massacre/war going on in Israel-Palestine since 10/7. While I think my views are anchored more in favor of Israel than yours are (though I wholeheartedly condemn settlements and what the recent governments have done to encourage them), I really do admire and appreciate your ability and willingness to talk about the issue in a nuanced way that much of the MSM and others appear to not be capable of.

I recall really enjoying podcast you did with Yossi Klein Halevi on Zionism a while back. If you’re in the market for guest suggestions, I think that he would be a great guest to talk through the current war, how we got here, the current sentiment of (reasonable) Israelis, and, perhaps most importantly, where the country goes when the war ends. 

Another listener quotes me:

“And I don’t see this, as some have argued, as the equivalent of the bombing of Dresden (even though I think in retrospect the carpet-bombing of German cities was very morally suspect). Hamas is not Nazi Germany in its capabilities; it cannot carpet-bomb Tel Aviv in response, as the Nazis did to London or Coventry, even though Hamas would love to. And so the huge asymmetry of power and of fatalities cannot help but skew the moral analysis, and frame the global popular response to Israel’s campaign against Hamas.”

So the morality of parties in conflicts comes down to who you say has the most power? 

No. But when one power has an overwhelming advantage and can attack without any serious resistance, when the casualties are 10-1 between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and when the entire world is watching, a little prudence and moderation is in order — for Israel’s sake as well as the Palestinians.

Another reader is on the same page as the one above:

You wrote the “huge asymmetry of power and of fatalities cannot help but skew the moral analysis,” and I have several strenuous objections to any skewing of the moral analysis. First, let’s look at the asymmetry of fatalities. Nazi Germany suffered far more civilian fatalities than the UK or the US. The asymmetry back then dwarfs the difference between Israelis and Palestinians. In fact, so many German civilians were killed that their death rate rivaled Russia’s mind-boggling loss of civilians. There was a similar, but less dramatic, disparity in military casualties. In the US Civil War, Southern soldiers and civilians died at dramatically higher rates than their Northern foes. In fact, the Confederacy mobilized about 1/3 the number of troops and still suffered 3X as much death.

Does this mean that the “moral analysis” should have skewed in favor of the Nazis and the South? Should historians review their perspective on the evils of the Third Reich and the Confederacy? Should their destruction have been delayed? I doubt that’s what you mean, yet you make a case that if applied to WW2 favors the Nazis, and if applied to the Civil War favors those who fought for slavery. That ought to be a red flag. 

When it comes to asymmetry of power, you seem to suggest there is some virtue inherent in weakness. There is not. In fact, one of the guiding principles of our military is to NEVER fight fair. Our armed forces seek to maintain an edge so that we have an advantage if we ever need to use force. This does not diminish or enhance the morality of our use of that force; but if might does not make right, neither does meek.

From a historical perspective, the Nazi analogy works again. By the time of D-Day, the German air force was not a factor and the Nazis were relegated to launching rockets across the Channel, just like Hamas. Yet Allied strategic bombing continued apace. By early 1945, the balance of power between the remaining Germans on one side and the US, UK, USSR, etc. on the other was more tilted than the balance we see today between Hamas and Israel. Germany was sending old men and boys into battle with shovels in the hope of negotiating a peace with the Allies short of unconditional surrender. But on the Allies pressed, for months of death and destruction that ultimately gave rise to a peaceful Western Europe.

Would your moral analysis have indicated that there should have been a cease fire? How about in 1944, when tens of thousands of French, Dutch, and Belgian civilians were killed by Allied and German bombs and bullets while the Allies did whatever they had to do to destroy the Nazi war machine? Should those civilian deaths have prompted the Allies to rethink their moral analysis? Of course not.

War is the worst thing humans do, and shame on those who start one. What is wrong with applying the same moral test to the current war that applied in WW2? Evil, genocidal maniacs started a war, the forces of good should destroy them as quickly as possible, and the blame for the collateral death and destruction lies at the feet of those who started the war. That seems pretty simple and accurate and doesn’t require one to “coarsen the soul,” as you say. I grieve for all innocents lost and ALSO recognize that the only thing worse than war is letting people like Hamas, or the Nazis, or the Confederacy, get their way. 

More on Israel:

Your reader wrote, “Hamas won the election in 2006 with a majority vote, so many Gazans agree with their stance on Jewish elimination.” That is inaccurate. The election system was not proportionate. From Fair Vote

Although vote totals from all districts show Hamas with only slightly more support than Fatah, the nature of a winner-take-all system combined with spoiler dynamics in certain districts allowed Hamas to win a far greater share of seats than votes in the legislature. Whether through superior campaign strategy, luck or a combination thereof, the winner-take-all district system clearly allowed Hamas to win a large majority of seats with only a narrow plurality of votes. ...

... Hamas is ... significantly over-represented in the full legislature, while Fatah is slightly under-represented. Hamas holds 75 of 132 seats (57%) despite the support of 41-45% of the electorate. Fatah hold 44 seats (33%) despite 36-41% support. ... [So Hamas’] victory was nowhere near as sweeping as its legislative majority suggests. Hamas’ plurality in the legislature may be a mandate from voters, but its majority is a mandate from only the election system itself. 

Another reader wrote

Please, could you explain the difference between a settler and a migrant? The glaring irony, it seems to me, of many left-leaning immigrant communities in America and Europe that are outraged that others may deem necessary to move and make a new life in their homeland. Why do the millions of migrants illegally coming into America get a pass, but the thousand or so Israelites moving into an area considered “off limits to Jews” demand destruction and violence?

You responded:

A very good question. The left is for freedom of movement everywhere, except Jews into the West Bank. But that’s their inconsistency, not mine.

I dissent: That is a very bad question and there is no “inconsistency.” Mexicans moving to California and Texas are not trying to move the border with them. They are not being used by the Mexican government as a pretext to annex US territory (even though some of that land used to be part of Mexico before being annexed by the US). That is the opposite of the settler situation in the West Bank. Those settlers do not yearn to become Palestinian citizens, assimilate, and live the Palestinian dream. They are planting the Israeli flag, FFS!

Looking back at a few more episodes:

I listened to the entire Dishcast with Peter Beinart at the time.

A book from 2018 I would recommend is Catch 67: The Left, The Right and the Legacy of the Six Day War, by Micah Goodman. I think he would be a good guest for the Dishcast, as would Haviv Rettig Gur, a journalist with Times of Israel.

P.S. Once a year I still watch the video Dishcast with Femsplainers and Frum while partaking in party favors. I so wish we could have more episodes of this.

Yeah, we need a little light relief these days, don’t we? Thanks for the prod. From a “longtime Dishhead” who voted this week:

I’m a lifelong Dem, an enthusiastic Obama Democrat (wow do I miss him). To me, it feels like Woke peaked in 2020, right around the time the folks like me decided we were done considering the potential merits of the movement’s ideas.

But here is why wokeness has seemed like it has been “winning” the past few years:

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