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‘Today’s news reminds us that captivity is a deadly race against time,’ hostage expert says

Political science and diplomacy experts on the latest developments in the Middle East

  • Updated: February 8, 2024 – Added Ian Hurd, expert in international law

EVANSTON, Ill., --- International relations and political science experts from Northwestern University address the latest news from Gaza, and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s fifth trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Journalists are invited to reach out to them directly at their email address below or by contacting Northwestern media relations at for assistance.

On diplomacy efforts
Ian Kelly is Ambassador in Residence, International Studies and Slavic Languages and Literature. His expertise is in global diplomatic strategy for solving the decades-long conflict. He can be reached at

Quote from Ambassador (former) Kelly:
“Blinken is making the rounds to get regional buy-in for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The U.S., Israel and the Sunni Arab states have a common interest in deterring Iranian-backed militias and containing Iran's malign influence. Key will be a viable Palestinian state, at peace with itself and its neighbors. It's a monumental challenge, made even more difficult by Israeli leaders against a Palestinian state. But the effort has to be made.”

On the hostage crisis
Danielle Gilbert is an assistant professor of political science at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her focus areas are the consequences of hostage taking in international security; how and why rebels kidnap; hostage diplomacy and state-led hostage taking; and the organizational dynamics of armed groups. She can be reached by contacting

Quote from Professor Gilbert:
“Today's news reminds us that captivity is a deadly race against time. With its violent abduction and unjust detention, hostage taking is always difficult for hostages; Hamas's hostages face devastating hunger and psychological torture. While the Israeli military continues its own destruction in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu faces increasing pressure and desperation from hostage families to make any sacrifices to bring their loved ones home. 

“The announcement from the United States and Qatar – that another round of prisoner exchanges and cease fire are on the table – is extremely welcome news. There is much we still don't know: how many hostages — Israeli, American and otherwise — are still alive; what price Hamas will ultimately require for their freedom; and whether Israel’s government will be willing to pay. Still, diplomats from the United States and across the Middle East continue to push for a deal to bring this horrific crisis to an end.”

On war atrocities and international law
Ian Hurd is a professor of international relations in the departments of political science and legal studies at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on the politics of legitimacy and how it is created, used and contested in international relations. He is the author of “How to Do Things with International Law” (Princeton 2017) and the prize-winning “After Anarchy: Legitimacy and Power in the UN Security Council” (Princeton 2007). He can be reached at

Quote from Professor Hurd:
“The atrocities that are outlawed by international law, such as genocide, mass killing and torture, do not occur by accident. They happen when leaders consciously choose them as way to advance their political goals. Some leaders are motivated to use human suffering as a tool. The fact that this is illegal under international law is not enough to persuade them not to do it. The inhuman conditions in Gaza today are the result of choices made by the leaders of the Israeli government, and despite the obvious illegality of those choices Netanyahu and his associates seem intent on continuing with more of the same. Hamas leaders, similarly, apparently thought attacking civilians was a good idea despite its criminality. International law isn’t able to reverse those decisions, but it does provide avenues by which the people responsible might one day be held responsible for the choices they have made.”