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The aim of this post is to understand why or why not people in this community are taking steps to call for a ceasefire (or other avenues to end the killing of civilians) in Gaza. This post is not aimed at people’s donating behaviour, but at political action. 

The aim is not to understand how EA as a whole may align with this (there is another post about how the ITN framework may apply here), as the questions I pose are also about actions that may not be the most effective. Instead, the aim is to understand how individuals within the EA community are thinking about this.

The aim is not to change anyone’s mind; I want to understand the perspectives of people in this community.  


I will read your comments with an open mind. I ask you to read the post, and reflect on the questions I pose, with an open mind too. I would love to have a respectful and open conversation about this.

You are, of course, free to upvote/downvote/like/dislike this post as you see fit. I would just ask that if you do so, could you please also comment with your rationale for why? This would help me understand others’ thought processes. 

Questions for Reflection

Does everything that we do, in terms of helping others, have to be the most effective? Is there room for acting with compassion/empathy? In addition to the steps we already take to do the most amount of good, can we engage in further actions to help others that may not be as effective? 

Note. Before you read on about what I think, I would urge you to think through these questions and perhaps even write some thoughts down. Not only in relation to the situation in Gaza, but how they might apply to your lives in general.

My Thoughts

For me, not everything in my life needs to be aligned with EA principles. I spend money on coffees because it makes me happy. I spend money on dinners out because I like to spend time with friends over good food. Thinking about whether every course of action is the best use of my time or money would be overly exhausting, leaving little room for me to be spontaneous (which I know is a privilege in itself). 

In relation to the situation in Gaza, I believe that my involvement in calling for a ceasefire adds to the total amount of good I am trying to do. As an example of an additional behaviour, I have taken 5-10 minutes to call or email my MP/Foreign Minister a few times over the past ~6 weeks, to demand that they call for a ceasefire. I don’t see the counterfactual as spending those 10 minutes on something even more effective, but rather spending time that I would otherwise not be using on anything productive to help others. 

At the very least, I do not believe this makes me less effective than I usually am. I am continuing to donate to the effective charities I donate to as usual, so in that sense I am no less effective than I have been. My work is also aimed at having the most impact I can in my field, so again, in that sense I am no less effective. 

I also want to say that it is absolutely heartbreaking, terrifying, and unacceptable that antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise. As mentioned, I strongly believe that each life has equal value. I also believe that people are not automatically defined by the decisions of their governments. 

This is where I’m coming from. I look forward to hearing your thoughts/perspectives!





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I have definitely spent a lot of time thinking about the situation since the 7th October and have felt the urge to do something. The one thing I actually ended up doing is email a German MP from the Green Party who is the main person responsible for foreign affairs to ask what the German government is doing to improve the situation for civilians in Gaza.

I generally think that not everything I do has to be effective and that there are lots of things I care about besides EA motivations. I also think political action can be effective and I've been to some climate protests before.

One reason I'm not doing more about what is happening in Gaza right now is that I am genuinely unsure about what the right thing to do is. I have been reading opinion pieces by various people almost every day since the terror attack and it seems to me that even though the suffering in Gaza is incredibly heartbreaking, it is unclear what a ceasefire now would actually accomplish in terms of making the situation better in the long-run.

I think another big reason is that I find the pro-Palestine movement quite alienating and I, for example, wouldn't feel good about going to a protest demanding a ceasefire that is largely organised by people from the movement. I find it unacceptable that a lot of people in the movement seem to think that the terror attacks were justified and are just some legitimate uprising against colonial oppression (besides the fact that I don't think framing Israel/Palestine as an issue of colonisation is particularly helpful and true). As a German, I have obviously grown up with a specific stance that is relatively pro-Israel and a strong sensitivity about antisemitism. I think it's possible that I am too biased here but actually condoning the terror attacks seems like an extremely clear red line to me. 

I wish there was more protest that makes the clear distinction between supporting the civilians in Gaza/supporting Hamas/being against the existence of Israel/criticising actions of the Israeli government. When I was thinking about wanting to go to a protest, I researched whether there was a demonstration that felt sufficiently aligned with my views in my area but I couldn't find anything so decided not to go.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest response, Luzia. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. 

Did you get a response from the German MP you emailed?

I have felt much the same in terms of feeling the urge to do something, but not being sure of the best course of action. The footage and information from the ground in Gaza seems to get more and more horrific each day, making me feel more and more helpless. But at the same time, makes the urge for me to do something even stronger. My main reason for reaching out to MPs to call for a ceasefire and sanctions on the Israeli government is that I don’t think the way in which the Israeli government is conducting itself is acceptable. 

There is absolutely no justification for what happened on October 7th. It was truly horrific and should never happen again. It should not be condoned. It makes me sad to see the number of people who are justifying what happened. The presence of reasons for acting in a certain way doesn’t automatically make it acceptable to act in that way. 

There is also no justification for the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, and it bothers me that there doesn’t seem to be this parallel drawn for the Israeli government’s actions (at least to the same extent in mainstream media). I have heard a lot about Israel having the right to defend itself. While that may be true, I think the way in which it chooses to do so is paramount. Perhaps this won’t be accomplished by an outright ceasefire, but by sanctions on the IDF (which have also been part of my emails to MPs). I have also read that the IDF has highly sophisticated intelligence capabilities, which makes me wonder why indiscriminate killing is even necessary (let alone morally permissible)? 

I have also felt similarly in terms of the protests and will be completely honest and say that I have not yet attended one. Perhaps people like us, who think along the lines you have mentioned (supporting civilians in Gaza and criticising actions of the Israeli government), need to be louder? It might be worth trying to figure out as a collective what the best course of action might be. I am open to suggestions on how we could do something like this!

Some thoughts on why I personally have done minimal 'calling for a ceasefire' type actions (I think I've signed a few petitions). I'm not sure all of these are reasonable, but like, here are the emotional or practical blocks I face:

1. Effectiveness: I agree that not everything I do has to be maximally effective. However, if something isn't fun, I want it to be at least a bit effective, and I've never been sure how effective letters to MPs etc are. I'd guess the more detailed and personal, the more effective - but in my experience, writing a well-researched and personal email of this nature is actually quite time-and-energy consuming. I'd feel more motivated to do this if I had some reason to believe it would help. (there are a few questions here: my influence on my MP, my MP's influence on my govt, my govt's influence on the Israeli govt). 

2. Something around sincerity and performativity??
I care a lot of sincere speech and sincerely-motivated speech. I feel innately most interested to talk about things that confuse me or questions I have, or to express an unusual opinion I havent seen expressed.  If loads of people around me are saying 'X is bad!', for whatever reason I seldom feel motivated to also say 'X is bad', even if I think it's bad

3. Complexity of the situation
I don't understand the situation that well. I don't mind about being wrong about something, but I'm aware that a lot of the reason I think Palestinians are the main victims and Israeli aggression is unreasonable are because people in my social bubble are saying that, and it feels bad to base one's opinion on that. Having done some more reading about it, this feeling has gone away somewhat, but again, doing enough reading to have a grasp on the situation isn't that trivial.

4. You can't do everything
I agree with your point that not all of one's time and energy should be spent on maximally effective activities. But I also think that it would probably be unsustainable if I spent all of my free/rest time on political/altruistic actions - I'd be exhausted and not have a good quality of life. You'll say 'well, I'm not saying you should spend all your free time on this' - but how much? There are lots of crises of this nature - how should I pick which to support? And then you're back to effective altruist ways of thinking about prioritizing! 

To be clear, the fact that I haven't done much about the war in Gaza weighs on me, but I also think it's not trivial to work out what I should do and whether I should even do something (given that any time I spend on it would displace either rest or work). 

2. Something around sincerity and performativity??
I care a lot of sincere speech and sincerely-motivated speech. I feel innately most interested to talk about things that confuse me or questions I have, or to express an unusual opinion I havent seen expressed.  If loads of people around me are saying 'X is bad!', for whatever reason I seldom feel motivated to also say 'X is bad', even if I think it's bad

I think this type of attitude would lead to bad outcomes if generalised. 

For ease of discussion, let's imagine a hypothetical unambiguously horrible thing. Say tomorrow Joe Biden, with no justification, announces a bill placing all citizens of Albanian descent in internment camps. 

Do you think such a policy would actually go through? Probably not. But how would it be prevented?

Well, it would be prevented by everyone would kick up a storm. The airwaves would be dominated by people blasting the decision, everyone's lunchroom conversations would be like "what, that's insane", there would be massive protests, democratic funders would threaten to pull out, poll numbers would drop, the rank and file democrats would attack it, etc. Even democrat officials who hated Albanians for some reason would feel pressured to publicly stand against the policy, until the overwhelming pressure causes a drop in the policy. There are innumerable examples throughout the world of policies being dropped due to public outrage like this. 

All this relies on people publicly stating X is bad, even if other people are already stating X is bad. In fact that's kind of the point! You need a critical mass of people to exert enough pressure to make changes. If everyone adopted the attitude "don't say X is bad if Y number of people are already saying it", then you never get more than Y people saying it, when you might need many more than that to make a difference. 

I think you misunderstood me - I'm talking about my innate motivations, not what I would propose as a general norm.

I think part of the lack of motivation is that I in fact don't viscerally see (my) public outrage having much of an effect. Like, you're right that it plausibly does. But I'm strongly liberal/left and I've spent most of my life under right-wing governments, having my social circles being vocally outraged about all sorts of things, and having the governments basically seem to ignore this outrage. 

Yeah, to be clear, I'm not trying to shame individuals here. 

One of the issues here is that the effectiveness of public outrage is highly dependent on how many people are riled up: A small group of outraged people will generally have zero effect on policy, but a very large group of outraged people has demonstrably real effects. This can make an EA ITN style analysis kinda weird: in order to be effective, a cause can't be neglected. 

Thanks Amber and titotal for engaging with this conversation and for being honest about where you're coming from! Some follow-up questions and thoughts:

  1. In terms of effectiveness, I agree that there is no guarantee that a letter to an MP would be effective. It is very likely that a lot of the letters we send to our MPs don't lead to any change, but if the volume of these letters is large and the reach to the number of MPs is broad, we may be able to move at least some MPs to act. Perhaps a parallel here with EAs working on high risk high reward projects (i.e., while some of them will have little or no impact, the best could have a very large impact)? 
    When emailing MPs, I used a template I found through the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, which I then edited. This gave me a starting point for my email and had all the email addresses ready to go, which saved a lot of time. I actually did receive a few responses from the MPs as well, which I then took some time to respond to. You're right, this did take a while to write up (~20 minutes).
  2. That's so interesting! I was keen to hear more about your thinking here, so thanks for responding to titotal's comment on this. 
    a. Is there something about commonly-held perspectives that come across as "going with the flow", rather than being something people genuinely believe in? Like just saying X to fit in? 
    b. I totally understand that feeling of not being heard; it can genuinely be quite demotivating as oftentimes there is little to no change. In line with titotal's comment about critical mass, I recently came across this paper, which suggests that the tipping point for social change is 25% ("When minority groups reached the critical mass—that is, the critical group size for initiating social change—they were consistently able to overturn the established behavior"). Would this be a case for persisting, especially with causes that we find meaningful/important?
  3. That's fair. I've tried to follow people on social media with opposing views to make sure I have as balanced a perspective as I can (though to be completely honest, it's so easy/automatic to dismiss contrary viewpoints. I have noticed it takes conscious choice for me to cognitively engage with posts I don't immediately agree with), and to double check claims using different sources. Again, as you pointed out, this does take some investment. I find I'm quite emotionally invested in this issue though, so I naturally gravitate towards wanting to spend time learning about it. I understand that this is not the case for everyone, just as I am spending more time learning about this compared to other humanitarian issues. 
  4. That's an excellent point. It's certainly why I have tried to point people towards EA principles. 

Thanks again for your comments. Not only have they helped me understand your perspectives, but they have also made me reflect upon why I hold my own views. 

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Because I think it would be a bad idea and a terrible incentive that would ultimately lead to more terrorism in the region and several more October 7ths.

I'm not exactly sure what the best course of action is to counter Hamas, but a ceasefire doesn't seem right. 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Marcus. 

My biggest concern is the way in which the Israeli government is trying to counter Hamas. What do you think about imposing sanctions/restrictions on how the Israeli government carries out their actions? 

I largely think that Israel has a large duty here to protect its citizenry from the terrorists who want them dead. I don't want sanctions imposed on Israel. I think they are largely "in the right" and that the majority of the blame for the death and despair in the region is due to Arab states/Palestinian leadership wanting to wipe Israel off the map. Longer-term peace in the region will only result when there is an acceptance that there will be a Jewish state called Israel approximately where it is now.

Thanks Marcus. I would appreciate if you could please expand on your points, so I can better understand your perspective? Particularly, why do you say that the Israeli government is "in the right", especially as it relates to the way in which they are carrying out the attack on Hamas. I have heard that the IDF has highly sophisticated intelligence capabilities. If this is true, would it follow that they would be able to avoid killing civilians while still attacking Hamas? 

I guess we shall see how the next few days play out, with the temporary pause that has recently been announced. 

Because it would give Hamas time to regroup and prolong the conflict. The best outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians is the swift destruction of Hamas. 

This is a simplistic analysis. Humanitarian conditions in Gaza are dire, a ceasefire now would allow for aid to flow in and many lives to be saved.

And while I agree that Palestinians are better off without Hamas, whether or not it is worth the price of thousands of dead civilians will depend on what happens afterwards. Will their homes be rebuilt, and their lives improved, meaningful steps taken to statehood and long term peace? Or will they be left stewing with rage in the rubble, brewing the ground for Hamas 2.0 to come along in a few years and start it all over again? 

There is some amount of fighting required to destroy Hamas, and some amount of collateral damage that will result. A ceasefire now, by giving Hamas time to adapt, should be expected to increase the total amount of fighting required, and hence the total amount of collateral damage. It will also facilitate the provision of aid (e.g. fuel), by ensuring it is not stolen by Hamas.

Edited to add: I certainly hope there will be detailed follow-up to prevent the resurgence of Hamas, with a 1946-style denazification program. But that seems not very relevant to the question of a ceasefire here, because a ceasefire is just a pause, not a peace treaty.

There is some amount of fighting required to destroy Hamas, and some amount of collateral damage that will result.

Though pressure from the international community can cause Israel to be more careful about avoiding civilian casualties and to provide more humanitarian aid. Israel has an incentive to cause many civilian casualties for the sake of deterrence (which is an incentive that Israel has acted on in the past[1]), and perhaps in order to cause Palestinians to flee to Egypt at a later point in time.

My best guess is that in the current war ~every deadly attack by IDF is carried out by people who believe that the target they are attacking is definitely/possibly a "legitimate military target". But it is Netanyahu and other politicians who get to decide how many civilians the IDF is generally willing to kill to achieve a military objective X. If those numbers are sufficiently large, the outcome can be indistinguishable from a genocide.

Disclaimer: I have served in Israel Defense Forces, I live in Israel, I feel horrible about what Israel has done in the past 75+ years to millions of Palestinians and I do not want Israel to end up as a horrible stain on human history. I am probably unusually biased when dealing with this topic.

  1. In its early years, Israel Defence Forces committed massacres of Palestinians as acts of retaliation. This included the Qibya massacre (that was committed in 1953 under the command of Ariel Sharon) in which more than 69 Palestinian villagers where killed, two thirds of which were women and children, according to the extended-protected Wikipedia entry. This was a response to an attack that killed an Israeli woman and her two children. The prime minister Ben-Gurion (the primary national founder of the State of Israel) lied about that massacre and claimed it was done by civilians. ↩︎

Sure, I agree that international pressure probably makes Israel more concerned about minimizing collateral damage than they otherwise would be. I don't see what this has to do with ceasefires though. If anything it pushes in the opposite direction: a ceasefire strengthens Hamas, reducing Israel's control of the situation and hence reducing their ability to minimize collateral damage for a given level of cost. If the international community has a certain amount of moral suasion that can be applied, we should not waste it on counterproductive asks.

I feel like a lot of your comment is not really very relevant to this discussion. For example, in the same way that I don't think the My Lai massacre provides much evidence about the contemporary US military, I don't think Qibya, which took place 70 years ago, tells us much about contemporary IDF doctrine. 

I'm trying to make a general point about improving Israel's incentives, not about whether one should press a button that magically makes Israel declare a ceasefire right now.

The way that the international community handles this situation may influence whether states/governments/politicians can expect to benefit from acting on incentives in a way that violates ~universal norms related to justice and human decency.

I feel like a lot of your comment is not really very relevant to this discussion. For example, in the same way that I don't think the My Lai massacre provides much evidence about the contemporary US military, I don't think Qibya, which took place 70 years ago, tells us much about contemporary IDF doctrine.

Unlike the My Lai massacre (which seemingly resulted from a command by a captain of infantry in the US Army), the Qibya massacre resulted from an order that was given by the Defense Minister of Israel in coordination with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The raid was led by Ariel Sharon, who at the time was a Major in the IDF. Sharon personally ordered his troops to achieve "maximal killing and damage to property" (quoting from the extended-protected Wikipedia entry). Later, as Minister of Defense, Sharon bore personal responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, according to the official Israeli commission that investigated the cause and circumstances of the massacre. Sharon later served as the prime minister of Israel from 2001 to 2006 (and played a major role in Hamas taking over the Gaza strip).

I find it particularly challenging to know what is the most 'effective' or 'rational' in this situation. To me, it seems that a relatively good thing to do personally for myself is to raise awareness in my circle about the amount of suffering and death facing Palestinians right now. 

I was thinking that it would be easier to talk to relatively more rational or empathetic people, or to people in countries where free speech is generally considered a given right - such as the UK and the US. But so far, I feel quite weirded out by bringing up the Palestinian side of the argument in both of these countries and Western Europe in general because I find people on this issue to be incredibly biased, consciously or subconsciously. 

I am recognizing that there is bias on the Palestinian side as well and that some people in the movement (by no means all) do not condemn Hamas and the October 7th attack. But I do think that the pro-Israeli bias is much more prominent. There are particular groups of people who I found especially pro-Israeli without considering enough opposing evidence to their opinion, and it becomes confusing and hard to talk to people from these specific groups.

By no means do I want to generalize this to all members of the group, but I think certain cultural views predispose people to bias to one side of the argument to the point that there is less room for rational review of evidence available. An obvious group I couldn't communicate with are some of the Evangelical Christians in the US, who use spiritual rather than empirical justifications. A less obvious group is many Germans, who tend to be sensitive towards antisemitism and Israel due to their country's despicable past but do not extend the same level of empathy towards Palestinians. This is a particularly challenging bias that applies sensitivity to a certain group rather than sensitivity towards the extent of 'bad things' that can happen to another group. Another particularly challenging hypocrisy I encountered is people who would be 'pro-peace' and oppose sending arms to Ukraine or hesitate from publically denouncing Russia (the Israeli government famously didn't send any weapons to Ukrainians) but would deem it problematic to stop sending arms to Israel. 

That being said, I understand that someone's background is not a unique contributor to their views or biases. I know many Israelis who have quite moderate stances on the current situation, but also many now-Israelis from my country and elsewhere from the former USSR who have one of the most extremist views I have ever encountered.

The point is, it seems to me that with some people no amount of evidence would change their opinion about Palestine even if they are relatively rational otherwise. It makes me wonder how much can be done. 

I want Israel to exist and keep being an innovative and forward-thinking country, but without recognizing and fixing crimes against humanity there is no room for advancement. I also think all hostages should be released unconditionally, but I also attend pro-Palestine marches because I don't think anything can ever justify 14,000 + innocent victims being murdered. I condemn any justification of the October 7th attacks, precisely because people who suffered from these attacks have nothing to do with Israeli colonialism at large. Any attempt to justify this to me is as troubling as justifying any other horrible event and is not very compatible with EA values.   

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