Category Archives: War Between Israel and Hamas

After 8 weeks of War


According to UNICEF, whose numbers should be reliable, unlike those emanating from the Hama  officials which I frankly have no reason to believe are true, 5300 civilians and children have died in the Israeli air strikes. 115 children have been dying every day. And things are getting worse! That is what Holy War in the Holy Land looks like, not lmited war!


I also heard more civilians have died than in the near 2-year- war in Ukraine so far.  And Ukraine has been dealing with a ruthless blood-thirsty tyrant. Some have said Russia is the world’s most brutal regime in the world.

Israel, is supported militarily by the western countries like Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom. Canada called for a pause in fighting but not a cease-fire. It got what it asked for. Maybe it should asked for more.

It seems to me Canada might be supporting a war without limits. If that is the case, as some say, Canada is supporting war crimes. That, I think would be a first for Canada. That would not be something to be proud of. That would a a stain on our reputation. When friends see other friends going too far, the good friend would warn the friend. Good friends give each other the truth, even when its hard.  Especially when its hard.


No Limits No Soul


A Statesperson, to warrant the title, must recognize, that even in war, there are limits and those limits must not be breached. In the heat of battle this is sometimes difficult. But whoever said the job of the Statesperson was easy? If it was easy we would have many statespersons.

According to John Rawls the American philosopher analyzing the decision the American president Truman made in Japan in World War II, this is what Truman said


“Truman once described the Japanese as beasts and to be treated as such; yet how foolish it sounds now to call the Germans or the Japanese barbarians and beasts! Of the Nazis and Tojo militarists, yes, but they are not the German and the Japanese people. Churchill later granted that he carried the bombing too far, led by passion and the intensity of the conflict. A duty of statesmanship is not to allow such feelings, natural and inevitable as they may be, to alter the course a democratic people should best follow in striving for peace. The statesman understands that relations with the present enemy have special importance: for as I have said, war must be openly and publicly conducted in ways that make a lasting and amicable peace possible with a defeated enemy, and prepares its people for how they may be expected to be treated. Their present fears of being subjected to acts of revenge and retaliation must be put to rest; present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace “

These words are equally applicable to Netanyahu. The statesperson recognizes limits. Truman failed to do that. So has Netanyahu. I have not seem him recognize any limits. Hea will destroy Hama no matter what the costs.

Limits in war are more than just moral imperatives. As David French wrote to the Israeli’s in the New York Times, “Don’t lose your soul.”  No limits no soul.


Resist the Lure of Extremists


Although the numbers of causalities are at best estimate,  it has been estimated that the number casualties of  the American bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki it has been estimated  that 69,000 people were killed and 65,000 injured in the bombing of Hiroshima  and 39,000 killed and 25,000 injured in bombing of Nagasaki. Those are big numbers. John Rawls argued that the bombing was not justified.


I would like to add something here to what John Rawls said in his analysis of America’s bombing of those two Japanese cities. The statesperson must be someone who can resist the lure of the extremists. This is not easy to do. Particularly in times of war when feelings were running high. In fact, in the Middle East this has proved impossible. But it is not impossible. Look at Martin  Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. And there are others. These are men and women who found there is another way. A way that rejects violence and rejects extremism. That is the only way forward in the furnace of the Middle East. That is the way of non-violence. It is almost the only thing that has never been tried.


The statesman or woman is not on offer in the Middle East. Not on any side, at least as far as I can see. Hamas embeds its soldiers among hospitals and schools to  make it necessary for Israeli’s to kill the civilians if they want to kill Hamas.  It is certainly not offered by Netanyahu. He is the exact opposite of the statesman. He is always willing to turn to the extremists, even if it means the death of Israel. Rawls is much wiser than Netanyahu. He suggests this:


Statesmen need not be selfless and may have their own interests when they hold office, yet they must be selfless in their judgments and assessments of society’s interests and not be swayed, especially in war and crisis, by passions of revenge and retaliation against the enemy.

The statesperson is the person who avoids doing those things that make it more difficult to achieve peace. For example, Netanyahu has made peace much more difficult, if not impossible by sprinkling the occupied territories with extremist settlers in the occupied West Bank. They are deliberately trying to create what they call “facts on the ground” which will make it harder for Israel to make peace. Apparently, there are now 750,000 of these settlers and they can vote. And Netanyahu knows it. They make peace virtually impossible. Netanyahu was warned over and over against this but he persisted in his folly. Now Israel is paying a big price for that mistake.

As Rawls said,


“… the proclamations of a nation should make clear (the statesman must see to this) that the enemy people are to be granted an autonomous regime of their own and a decent and full life once peace is securely reestablished.Whatever they may be told by their leaders, whatever reprisals they may reasonably fear, they are not to be held as slaves or serfs after surrender, or denied in due course their full liberties; and they may well achieve freedoms they did not enjoy before, as the Germans and the Japanese eventually did. The statesman knows, if others do not, that all descriptions of the enemy people (not their rulers) inconsistent with this are impulsive and false.”



The statesperson must not be like Hitler or Netanyahu. As Rawls described Hitler he could just as well have been talking about Netanyahu:

Yet characteristic of Hitler was that he accepted no possibility at all of a political relationship with his enemies. They were always to be cowed by terror and brutality, and ruled by force. From the beginning the campaign against Russia, for example, was a war of destruction against Slavic peoples, with the original inhabitants remaining, if at all, only as serfs. When Goebbels and others protested that the war could not be won that way, Hitler refused to listen.”


The United States generally, follows the rules of war. But Rawls says they failed in the case of Hiroshima:


“The principles of the conduct of war were always applicable to it. Indeed, in the case of Hiroshima many involved in higher reaches of the government recognized the questionable character of the bombing and that limits were being crossed. Yet during the discussions among allied leaders in June and July 1945, the weight of the practical means-end reasoning carried the day. Under the continuing pressure of war, such moral doubts as there were failed to gain an express and articulated view. As the war progressed, the heavy fire-bombing of civilians in the capitals of Berlin and Tokyo and elsewhere was increasingly accepted on the allied side. Although after the outbreak of war Roosevelt had urged both sides not to commit the inhuman barbarism of bombing civilians, by 1945 allied leaders came to assume that Roosevelt would have used the bomb on Hiroshima. The bombing grew out of what had happened before.”

The Statesperson



John Rawls said that in times of war a country needs a stateman. Now of course, we would add, or stateswoman. In fact, women might very well be better at this than men. Men have a long and spotty record of tawdry statesmanship.

Who is the statesman?

Rawls gives an interesting analysis of who the statesman is.

“There is no office of statesman, as there is of president, or chancellor, or prime minister. The statesman is an ideal, like the ideal of the truthful or virtuous individual. Statesmen are presidents or prime ministers who become statesmen through their exemplary performance and leadership in their office in difficult and trying times and manifest strength, wisdom, and courage. They guide their people through turbulent and dangerous periods for which they are esteemed always, as one of their great statesmen.”


And bluster, and belligerence, and bellicosity are not strength.  Sometimes they manage to hide the weakness. In fact, they are deep manifestations of weakness. Netanyahu is not strong. He sounds tough but is really weak.


As Isaac Asimov said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” This has been demonstrated over and over again in the Middle East. Israelis keep repeating how Palestinians have never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity. I agree. But this is just as true of Israel. The Middle East cries out in its agony for a strong leader like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Someone who knows the futility of bloodshed and how violence guarantees failure. It is the extremists who are weak. The strong man (or woman of course) is the one who pursues the avoidance of violence because the violence will inevitably destroy the goal.


John Rawls offers an alternative. That alternative is to be a statesman (or, of course, a stateswoman. What makes the statesman different, you ask. Rawls puts it this way: “”The ideal of the statesman is suggested by the saying: the politician looks to the next election, the statesman to the next generation.”


Netanyahu is not a statesman. The Palestinians don’t seem to have one either. And that’s a pity.

Does the End Justify the Means?


John Rawls in his analysis of the bombing of Japanese cities by America at the end of the Second World War, turned to another important philosophical principle: the ends must justify the means and if they don’t the means must be discarded in favour of those that do. This was the argument made by another great philosopher this time from Canada and in fact from my university—Arthur Schafer. I hope to go into greater detail on this point in a future post on this issue but will just mention how Rawls deals with it. This is what he said:


“Finally, we note the place of practical means-end reasoning in judging the appropriateness of an action or policy for achieving the aim of war or for not causing more harm than good. This mode of thought—whether carried on by (classical) utilitarian reasoning, or by cost-benefit analysis, or by weighing national interests, or in other ways—must always be framed within and strictly limited by the preceding principles. The norms of the conduct of war set up certain lines that bound just action. War plans and strategies, and the conduct of battles, must lie within their limits (The only exception, I repeat, is in times of extreme crisis.”


In other words, war without genuine limits is never acceptable. Rawls, like Camus, and unlike Lindsey Graham and unlike Hamas, acknowledges there are limits to what one can do in a just war or it ceases to be just. Limits are not just important. Limits are essential to the just war. A war without limits, which so many wars in recent years have become, is not a just war.

Rawls insists that the defensive war must not cause more harm than good. In his view it really is that simple. He might be right.

I heard Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and he pointed out that every year for 7 years he has published a report about children killed in wars. He has complained about countries like Syria, Russia, Israel and the Taliban in the past. None of them were happy with his reports. Until now he said, the most children that were ever killed by one country in such conflicts was 600 in a year. He also said that he did not rely on the numbers of deaths in Gaza presented by Hamas as they were not reliable, but he said,  “it is clear that the number of children killed in a few weeks in Gaza is in the thousands.

Earlier he also said, Gaza had been turned into a graveyard for children.

Does the end justify that means? Thousands of children dead and of course, many more adult civilians, many of them women and old people?

I have a hard time seeing that as doing less harm than good.


Live the Peace you want


The American philosopher John Rawls in his article on the dropping of the Atomic bomb by the US on Japan, made another point: 

“A decent democratic society must respect the human rights of the members of the other side, both civilians and soldiers, for two reasons. One is because they simply have these rights by the law of peoples. The other reason is to teach enemy soldiers and civilians the content of those rights by the example of how they hold in their own case…. This means, as I understand it here, that they can never be attacked directly except in times of extreme crisis…”


This is an interesting idea. Rawls requires the democratic society to do more than go to battle against the aggressor. It must actually teach the non-democratic aggressor what it means to be a democracy. And it must teach by example; not words! The democracy does that, because when the war is over it wants to have one more democratic partner and one less enemy!

Rawls makes another very important argument, very closely aligned to the last one. This is what he said: “just peoples by their actions and proclamations are to foreshadow during war the kind of peace they aim for and the kind of relations they seek between nations

I put it this way: Live the peace you want. Show the peace by your actions because, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

 As Rawls says, just peoples know in their hearts, that  “present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace.Just leaders—statesmen as he calls them,  want to do more than avoiding losing the war. They also want to make sure they don’t lose the peace either!

Even in the midst of war, the democratic state must have its eye on the prize—i.e. the peace that is to follow. It wants to create a partner for the peace; not an enemy for eternity Again, I would submit that both Israel and Hamas are falling down here. Hamas is not democratic so this does not apply. Moreover, its actions have been so horrendous that it is very difficult to conceive of them as a future partner in anything. Israel though is not trying to create the just peace that can make a partner. Israel has voted for extremists at least since Ehud Barak ceased to be Prime Minister. He was followed by Ariel Sharon, and very briefly by Ehud Olmert, another extremist,  and then Benjamin Netanyahu a consistent extremist, and as a result turned from peace to war and in the process it ruined its soul! Israel turned itself into a monster. I know such a statement will hurt my Jewish friends, but I believe it is true. Israel has been provoked by extreme violence, but it has turned itself into Hamas light. I will have more to say on this in subsequent posts. Both sides are creating enemies for eternity. Both sides must deep six their extremist leaders who are leading them into the wilderness.

The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine


When the war between Hamas and Israel began I decided I must read a book about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  I read such a book quite a few years ago. I certainly needed a refresher. The read certainly was not refreshing however.

As a result, I read the book, The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine by Michael Scott-Baumann. From the blurbs on the cover it seemed to be an impartial view of that conflict. I think I made a good choice. Its a very good book.

What have I learned as a result of reading that book?  One main thing has become absolutely clear to me. That is that I have no idea who started the war or who started the current conflict either for that matter. So I had not learned who is right. But I am sure about one thing I am sure about Iwho is wrong.  Both sides are wrong! And they have been wrong over and over again.

 Mainly, they have been wrong because both sides have repeatedly acquiesced with what their extremists are doing in their name. And the result of that is clear. Turning over “your side” to your extremists is so ensure that peace has no chance. You can’t give peace a chance when you turn your case over to the extremists. And the same goes for the other side. No moderation; no peace. The extremists will make sure of that. Over and over again it seems that is exactly what they extremists want.

And if no side is right then the Buffalo Springfield are right when they sang:


“There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”


Lawyers in War


One day I was a law conference. I don’t remember anything about it anymore, but I do remember what happened at lunch.  I was having lunch with a round table of about 6 lawyers. A young woman was sitting next to me wearing a Canadian military uniform. This was interesting, I thought. I was right.

I asked her what type of law she practiced in the military. I didn’t have a clue. “Well,” she said, “My job is to advise soldiers in the field.”  “In the field?” I asked. “How do you do that?’

She was advising Canadian soldiers in the Iraq war. Then she explained that any time a group of soldiers went on a sortie it was her job to be available in case they phoned and needed legal advice. I was shocked. Shows you how naive I was.  She said for every mission soldiers had to be able to phone someone, like her , to give them legal advice about what they could and could not do on the ground in the heat of battle. She would have to be available to the phone for as long as the operation was active. For example, she told me, they might ask something like this: “We are in this town in Afghanistan with 6 soldiers.  We see at the end of the block a school.  Next to it are 3 heavily-armed Afghan soldiers.  They are looking our way. They see us. It looks like they might shoot at us at any time. “Can we shoot at them?”  “Do we have to wait for them to shoot first?”  What about the school, it is likely filled with students. Does that matter? Can we shoot at them? Help me!

Then it was her job to give them legal advice. On the spot in the heat of battle! She couldn’t wait for someone to research the law. She had to advise on the basis of minimal facts and then had to do this fast before they got shot. And these were all life and death decisions. Either for the Canadian soldiers or “the enemy.”

I know that every country has lawyers in war that are called upon to help the soldiers in their killing business.

Wow!  This sure beat my job of practicing law in a small city in Manitoba. I might send money out to pay a mortgage. Or prepare a will and power of attorney. Boring stuff. Not really. I never had a boring day at work in nearly 50 years of practicing law. But I never had anything as exciting as this young lawyer. That was really a life-or-death situation for them. Not for her, but for them and the laws of war are tricky.  I know very little about the laws of war.

I have been thinking of her now as there is so much controversy in Gaza about Israelis attacking. Are they following the rules of war?

I suppose Israel has lawyers like that. I can’t imagine giving legal advice under such circumstance.

Was is not how it used to be.


When Compromise is Heresy


People are calling for a cease fire in the war between Hamas and Israel. Israel says it won’t stop firing until all of its hostages are released.  Hamas has not offered to release the hostages it recently captured at great expense. It likely sees them as their only hope right now. Neither side seem inclined to compromise. I would love to see a ceasefire. How to get there?  I don’t know.

Here is what I do know. This bloody war is the consequence of turning states over to the extremists as both Gaza and Israel have done. Extremists, particularly when filled with religious zeal, even if they are not particularly religious, inevitably see compromise as heretical. Such groups are extremely unlikely to compromise. When two groups under the dominance or influence of extremists with such religious zeal, the end result is bound to be bloody. Don’t look for quick and easy ceasefires.

The tragedy of the Middle East is that both sides (or should I say all sides?) in this seemingly intractable dispute are chained to murderous theological ideologies that leave no room for compromise or resolution. Each side just wants to bludgeon the other side to death—to oblivion. How can you make a deal with the devil, both sides ask. The answer—of course—is that you can’t. Neither side can make a deal with the devil so they go on pummeling each other to death. That is the inevitable result when both sides have an unshakeable conviction that the other side is the side of the devil. Then your own side becomes the sole bearer of truth and justice for the only rightful god.

We can do better. To do that, murderous ideologies with their murderous certainties,  must be discarded.


Hooray for Our Side


Stephen Stills wrote and sang  a wonderful song when he was with the band Buffalo Springfield. It is a classic embodying a lot of the good from the 1960s which I still think of as my time.  The song is very appropriate for the current times.  Here are the lyrics:


For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here

But what it is ain’t exactly lear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop

Children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?


There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

Young people speaking’ their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind


It’s time we stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?


What a field day for the heat

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”


It’s time we stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?


Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

Step out of line, the men come and take you away


We better stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

I think this song written in the 1960s sums up a lot of what’s happening in the Middle East now.

Religion has declined in much of the world. In fact, I would argue it has declined most strongly in those areas where it appears to be most vociferously present. My wife Christiane used to have a pin that said something like this “When religion turns to hate, it is no longer religion.” When religion declined it transformed into politics and became hate it turns into the most ugly form of politics imaginable.  A long way from the holy. When that happens the “other side” is transformed from the other side to the devil. This is what demonization does. By definition it dehumanizes the other.

Sometimes this is done by ignoring the other. For example, when Israel ignores Hamas or treats them with disdain as it has done for more than 15 years, it dehumanizes them. Hamas of course, treated Israel with vicious hate when it attacked them on October 7th of this year.   Dehumanization again.

The first step in the process of dehumanization, as happened in Rwanda in the 1990s is to call the other side non-humans. Like pests as happened there. It happened again in Israel when their defense Minister called Hamas “human animals.” That gives them the license to kill.

This is what leads to the conflagration in the Middle East. Now we all have to live with it.