Reader Responses on the Israel/Hamas War and Reconciliation and Justice

Coconut tree responses


Newsletter #208 — February 12, 2024

Israel/Hamas Discussion Banner

Part of the BI Israel/Hamas War Discussion


We have received several short responses from readers, some that relate to our Israel/Hamas War discussion, and another which relates to our post on Justice. They are combined, along with our reflections below.


Fred Golder's Comments on Israel/Hamas:

Fred sent two comments, the first on January 21, 2021.  He wrote:

Thank you for the brilliant insights into this seemingly intractable conflict. I just finished reading Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann  in Jerusalem.” Her last words, “banality of evil,” resonate in today’s world.  In Ireland, it was the “troubles.” In today’s world it is the “horrors.”


Even intractable conflicts are solvable. They just take more time and effort. We need to teach our children to recognize bias, prejudice, stereotyping. In-group bias, confirmation bias, and the bandwagon effect are fueling the polarization. Being mindful of this is a step in the right direction. Learn to base your opinion on reliable facts.

And on February 5, Fred wrote: 

I want to share my theory for bringing peace to the Middle East with our peacemakers. I  look forward to your comments, criticisms, and suggestions. Keep the conversation flowing. We are peacemakers. We can make this happen. Some people refer to the Middle East problem as an intractable conflict. I do not accept the notion of intractable conflicts.


Just to give you some background information, I had been teaching and practicing conflict resolution for more than thirty years and knew the “how” to resolve conflicts but realized I did not know the “why.” The chaotic situation in 2015 in the United States led me to wondering: Why the divisiveness? Why the hostility? Why the anger? What were the root causes of conflict and what were the most effective solutions? Having one foot in the academic world, I spent almost six years of research into the root causes of confrontational conflict based on the science of evolution, genetics, biology, psychology, emotion, motivation, and personality from some of the leading experts in their respective fields. This research led to my book, Reaching Common Ground.


Conflict is inevitable in human interactions. Before language, humans had two ways of dealing with conflicts: (1) fight; or (2) flight. Language provided another alternative. People could now engage in rational conversations and work together to find better ways of resolving conflicts – cooperation.


There was a time when violence may have been necessary for human survival. Violence is no longer necessary and poses an existential threat to life on earth. People act to satisfy their own needs. Hidden biases prevent us from fully understanding those needs. It is even more difficult to understand the needs of others. When needs are not met, emotional and psychological problems result. Some people may resort to violence when their needs are not met, not realizing that their needs can be met by nonviolent means.


Conflicts can be destructive, neutral, or constructive depending on how they are resolved.  Confrontation and war are not inevitable. Neither is cooperation or peace. Failed negotiations between nations can result in war, death, and destruction. Successful negotiations result in peace treaties, compatible relationships, and cooperative ventures.


Each of us has core values and deeply held beliefs. Some values and beliefs are shared, but many will differ. Beliefs affect our attitudes. Attitudes and beliefs influence our behavior. These values, beliefs, and attitudes can be based on facts, perceptions, superstition, faith, biases, or prejudices. Believing something is true does not make it so. A person is likely to disregard anything that opposes his or her view and embrace anything that supports it. Many people believe that the way they see things is the way everyone sees them or should see them.


It takes a special effort to see the world from any perspective other than our own. Egocentrism can cause us to make incorrect assumptions about what other people are thinking or feeling. We have a natural tendency to think that our beliefs are true because we believe them. We may feel superior to others believing that only we possess the truth. We may forget information that does not support our thinking and remember information that does. We do not accept facts that contradict our core values or beliefs. We form patterns of behavior that can sometimes be destructive.


After Trump lost in 2020 (some believe the election was stolen), I thought things would improve, but they seem to have gotten even worse. This led to more research. This research led a book that would explain things that were essential for all humans to know, a handbook for humans. If people knew these essentials, they would understand the reasons for these violent confrontations and would have the tools to end war and violence in our world. I had just finished the first draft of the book based on some of the earlier research and the newer research when October 7 came. Based on all my research, I have a good idea of the “why,” but I do not know the “how” — complete reversal of what led me to write the book on conflict resolution. Usually when you know the “why,” you are more than halfway to a solution, the “how.”


My theory on the “why” from my research is that the Palestinians/Arabs who support the destruction of Israel and the Jews considers this a “sacred obligation.” You cannot provide facts, logic, or reasoning when it comes to “sacred values.” The only solution is to change this destructive “sacred value” into a constructive “sacred value.” What are the needs of the Palestinians/Arabs? How can their needs be satisfied without destroying Israel and the Jews? I reach out to all of you to help find the “how.” If you do not accept my theory of the “why,” please express your theory of the “why.” As peacemakers, we have a “sacred obligation” to help the parties find a peaceful solution.

Our Response to Fred:

Fred, thanks for sharing this insight into your journey through the conflict resolution field and your thoughts of how this can be applied to the Israel/Hamas conflict.  We have several responses.

First, we agree with most of your assertions, particularly that conflict is inevitable, and it can be good or bad (we would say "constructive" or "destructive,") depending on how it is conducted. We agree that people have beliefs that drive their behavior, and various cognitive biases (that all humans have) push us into believing that we are right and those who disagree with us are wrong. Further, we are more driven by emotions than reason, and hope and joy take a backseat in our minds to fear and anger.  So it is "natural," unfortunately, for humans to lash out and fight back against those who oppose them, often using violent or other destructive means, because that is "easier," and "more natural" when one is angry. But we also agree, it doesn't have to be this way. And if we want to survive as a species on earth, we agree, we must fight the instinct to strike back at anyone who opposes us. But we disagree with a few of your other assertions:

The first thing we disagree with is your statement in your February 5 email that you "do not accept the notion of intractable conflicts." Actually, what you describe in the essay that follows are exactly the kinds of issues that cause conflicts to become intractable.

What we keep reminding people is that "intractable" does not mean "impossible." It just means "very difficult."  Indeed, you said that too, in your earlier email: "Even intractable conflicts are solvable. They just take more time and effort."  This, of course, also requires a willingness to tolerate and coexist with people who have very different beliefs and a willingness to compromise on a wide range of distributional issues.

But in addition to more time and effort, they also take different approaches. You also allude to that when you say that before October 7, you thought you knew "the how" of resolving conflict, but did not know "the why."  Now, you said, you know "the why" but not "the how." 

We would argue that is because the traditional conflict resolution tools (such as those described in your book) do not work when one (or more) of the parties has no interest in resolving the conflict.  Rather they have a moral or religious belief that they must fight (violently) to the end — that destruction of "the other" (in this case Israel and Jews) is their "sacred duty." Principled negotiation does not work in these cases. Neither does distributive negotiation or even needs-based approaches, unless the "need" being fulfilled is the identity need of one side to destroy the other. (Hamas's raison d'être as overtly stated in its Charter, is the destruction of Israel.) 

So what does the conflict resolution/peacebuilding field have to say about the situation when one side is steadfastly insistent that it must destroy the other and that its very identity is based on its never ending effort to do that?

You say that you "cannot provide facts, logic, or reasoning when it comes to “sacred values.” (We agree.) But then you go on to say "the only solution is to change this destructive “sacred value” into a constructive “sacred value.”

How could this be done? For us, the only way we can imagine doing this would involve strengthening the positive version of Islam which tries to expand its influence and number of adherents by demonstrating the beauty of its philosophy to potential followers. This contrasts sharply with the negative and destructive kind of Islam, that seeks to expand its power by threatening and destroying nonbelievers, as Hamas is trying to do.

In addition to strengthening positive Islam, one must simultaneously weaken and discredit the destructive version of Islam that is causing so much bloodshed and conflict around the world, much of it being Muslim-on-Muslim violence, which has killed far more people than has Israeli on Palestinian violence. But, with respect to the current conflict, the focus needs to be on preventing Hamas from being able to successfully attack Israelis, Jews, and anyone else who challenges their rule, and reaffirming Israel's right to exist and the willingness of the international community to defend this right.  This will require  (1) a robust Israeli defense, (2) very strong Israeli deterrent and (3) a concerted effort to deny the legitimacy of terrorism with its explicit targeting of civilians, thereby, as much as possible, whittling away at the support that those views and the proponents of those views are being given from outside actors around the world. 

The problem, in this particular case is that (1) Israel's defense failed miserably on October 7, (2) deterrence doesn't work in the traditional sense of the word if one side thinks that dying a martyr is the ultimate human value, and the Hamas leadership doesn't particularly care if their civilians are put at risk. (While Hamas may decry the numbers of civilians killed, they have pursued a human-shield-based strategy designed to produce a humanitarian catastrophe with large numbers of civilian casualties) (3) Hamas has then used the humanitarian catastrophe as the centerpiece of their public relations campaign which has been astonishingly successful in creating hatred of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinians, including Hamas. This strategy has been so effective that Israel is the entity being charged with "genocide," not Hamas, even though Hamas started the war, is vowing to continue such attacks whenever possible, and maintains a Charter which overtly calls for the genocide of Jews. Though many Arab leaders privately denounce Hamas, publicly, they don't dare to do so, since the since the "Arab street" is overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. and Jews, more generally. And, either through ignorance, anti-Semitism, or a general "intersectional" hatred of "oppression," many people around the world agree that the illegitimate actor here is Israel, not Hamas. This is astonishing, and shows how much work needs to be done around the world to discredit violence and empower nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Guy is also preparing a post that I'll just briefly allude to here, that this positive attitude with respect to Hamas (and its tactic of using civilian shields to protect terrorists) is also due, at least in part to a "failure of the imagination."  We cannot imagine acts as heinous as the ones perpetrated by Hamas on October 7.  We, particularly peacebuilders, have difficulty imagining that anybody could possibly be capable of this kind of "evil."  We (and here I include Guy and myself) repeatedly call out "enemy imaging" and suggest that we need to look for the good and the legitimate aspirations of "the other." But those admonishments only apply in situations in which the other has some legitimate aspirations. When their driving directive is the total destruction of the other, even peacebuilders need to acknowledge that and deal with it.  And the only way to deal with it, that we have figured out, is to contain the people who believe and behave that way, whittle away at their numbers and their support, and make it increasingly difficult for them to threaten others. 

Another Readers' Comments about Our Israel Coverage

Another reader, who asked to remain anonymous, responded to our comment in Newsletter 201 (paraphrased from another anonymous reader) that "Jews are far more than a religion, they are a people.  The notion that they are simply a religion is used, the [original] reader pointed out, to challenge the legitimacy of the Jewish state."

The second reader replied "true" and gave an illustration which I found very useful:

People get confused [about Jews]. They think being Jewish is like being Catholic. But in fact being Jewish is like being Japanese — a people and originally also a religion (Shinto). That is one reason Jews don't proselytize (would Japanese go out and ask for people to join them in becoming Japanese?). In this context, conversion, although religious, is more like a citizenship process. You are joining a people. And it is hard [to do that] in most places. Whereas becoming Catholic only requires you to declare you believe in the tenets. I know it confuses many who think they are playing into Hitler's hands, but he was not wrong — Jews are a race (shared with Arabs) and a people and a religion. But a Jew can convert to anything else and he or she remains a Jew (citizenship) just like Japanese  can convert to a completely different religion and still remain Japanese. 

The same reader also commented on the statement in Newsletter 201 (again paraphrased from our earlier anonymous reader) that "The view that only Jews belong in the land between 'the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea' is no more acceptable than the position that Israel must be wiped from the map."  Though we have read that some Israelis believe that, we wondered, in the earlier post, how many do.  Our reader's response was:

 Almost a third of the Israeli population is Arab. And after October 7, 70% of those Arabs identify with Israel (before, usually about 40% did.) [See this article for more information on this topic.] I never heard anyone say that only Jews belong there, and it would be hard to do so, since it's not true. But I have heard a lot of people say that it should be "the land of Jews," as it was, and that any solution that dilutes them and makes them the 42nd Arab state in which Arabs have the ability to overpower the Jews is unacceptable to them. They've seen this movie before [with Jews  driven from so many Arab countries]. 

That is why, perhaps, the most anti-Arab Israelis are those who hail from Arab countries, as opposed to the Ashkenazi Jews [who came from Europe]. Others who have seen the movie are the [Israeli] Druze, who do army service although they don't have to, and the Bedouins who are less patriotic, but do military service as well.  So in a word, it's complex and hard to understand when you look at it from the U.S., as most of your readers do. Some Americans also have an instinctive hatred of Netanyahu. without knowing why. Now they are right — he fell on his duty seriously [with respect to October 7 and the events thereafter] — but before, he was elected democratically, whether we like it or not.

The reader went on to comment on our statement (again in Newsletter 201) that: "It is understandable why why they [Israeli Jews] might decide that, [wanting to rid Israel of its Palestinian inhabitants and neighbors], thinking that if coexistence is an impossible dream, the only answer is to get rid of "their enemy" entirely.  After all, they think (with good reason if you believe Hamas's statements) that that is what the Palestinians are trying to do to them."

Although it seems most Gazans and also West Bankers side with Hamas, as do about 85% of Arabs, it remains untrue that Israelis want to get rid of them. They do want to get rid of Hamas as an organization whose aim is to wipe them out (despite naïve peace people who maintained that Hamas had renounced its wish to destroy Israel, which is still in its charter and always was.)

The reader then went on to qualify that statement a bit:

Well in fairness, there is a far-right group who would like to get rid of all Israeli Arabs,  just as there is an ultra-orthodox group who visits Iran and wishes Iran would destroy Israel so the Messiah can come. (Yeah we have all sorts of folks!) But it is by no means the view of the Israeli right [or left]. Also, I have always thought that Israel's left and right don't map neatly onto ours [the U.S. left and right.] For example, Ariel Sharon [who was right] was a disciple of Ben Gurion [who was far left]. Yet it was Sharon who withdrew totally from Gaza. In a sense, he tried a proof of concept [land for peace] and [that concept] failed. Likewise, it was Begin [another Israeli leader from the political right] who gave up the Sinai to make peace with Egypt.  It has long been said that concessions can only come from politicians on the right.

We remember that observation too.  The thought was, if I remember correctly, that when the left made concessions, they were opposed by the right and didn't fly.  But if the right made the concessions, the left would certainly go along.  Unfortunately, there is now near universal agreement among Israelis that the land for peace concessions made in Gaza and southern Lebanon failed spectacularly. The question is, what to do now?  

John Eley Comments on Retributive and Restorative justice

John wrote us on February 6, 2024, with a comment on Newsletter 206 on Justice. John wrote:

It occurs to me that any discussion of retributive justice and the contending concept of restorative justice is going to need to address the major point of difference. As I understand it, retributive justice, at least in English and American jurisprudence, holds that when a person harms another and violates a law, he, in effect, harms the society, or at least the polity, and that the society needs to act in its defense. This means that in criminal law the cases are "the US against" ... rather than "John Doe against." Any shift from this to restorative justice, which would allow John Doe vs Jack Brown, needs to be carefully considered, as it upsets a very long tradition.

A second point to be made is that the concept of bad luck egalitarianism needs to be added to any discussion about equity and equality. There is lot of good material on this approach.

The Burgess's Response to John

These are interesting points, John.  It seems to me that there is some correlation between your distinction between harming the state and harming another person on the one hand, and retributive and restorative justice on the other hand.  But the correspondence is not one to one.  Both retributive and restorative justice approaches can and have been applied in both criminal and civil cases here in the U.S. and Canada (where restorative approaches are much more widely used). I don't know about its use in Britain. In criminal cases, it tends to be used more often in minor cases, and particularly juvenile cases, to try to keep kids "out of the system," rather than in major cases involving serious offenses. But there is some literature (I can't put my hands on it quickly, unfortunately) suggesting that it is even useful in serious cases such as murder and rape.

The key distinction, it seems to me, is whether you are primarily focused on punishment and deterring bad behavior or restoring relationships. Do you want to punish the wrong doer in an effort to restore society to some sort of just equilibrium in which "they get what they deserve?." Or, are you primarily focused on restoring relationships, either between people, or between wrong doers and their fellow citizens. It seems to me that restoring relationships, both between the perpetrator and the victim, and between the perpetrator and the wider society has considerable benefit.  It helps make the victim whole again (or as close as possible anyway), which retributive approaches seldom do. And it helps reintegrate the perpetrator back into society, presumably reducing the chances that they will re-offend. (This article suggests that is true, but I haven't researched this deeply.)

As to your second point, I hadn't heard the term "luck egalitarianism" before, but found a useful explanation in Google, which took it from the U.S. National Institute of Health: 

On the other hand, an individual may face health risks or may lose her health through no fault of her own. This means that a person may have undesirable health status because of bad luck not because of her own choices. Luck Egalitarianism suggests unchosen circumstances cannot justify inequalities. Therefore, we own individual compensation for aspects of their disadvantaged status which they have not chosen. Society should make sure that they have access to the health services they need.

I suspect there is a typo in this — it seems it should say "therefore, we owe individual compensation..." not "own individual compensation." This seems to us to correspond to our "middle ground" that we described in Newsletter 206: "As we see it, social "goods" ought to be distributed in roughly direct proportion to the value that individuals add to society (the traditional notion of "equity,") with adjustments for the fact that some people, through no fault of their own, are less able to contribute value than others." So if people lose their health because of bad luck, and are unable to hold a job that provides health care, we should indeed make sure they have access to the health services that they need — and other goods and services as well of course.  That's the social safety net that we very much support.

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