A Second Thought Experiment For Defenders Of The Israeli Assault on Gaza

Matthew Gindin
6 min readJan 20, 2024


John Rawls And The Conflict Between Jews and Palestinians

John Rawls.

John Rawls published A Theory of Justice in 1971. The work centers around the values of equal basic rights, equality of opportunity, and raising the prospects of the least advantaged in society. It has became a seminal piece in the philosophy of justice and political thinking since then. In order to seek justice, Rawls suggests, one should undertake a thought experiment called “the original position.”

Persons in the original position are asked to imagine a just society shielded by a “veil of ignorance.” The veil of ignorance prevents them from knowing who they themselves would be in this society. They don’t know their gender, class, health, or ethnicity, for instance. They are then asked to imagine, while designing this society, that it will begin functioning in the real world and they will “hey presto” appear in the society as any random member of it.

This thought experiment can be extended to any social or political situation involving different genders, classes, race, etc, i.e. pretty much anywhere. I would like to suggest that when sizing up different social or political structures, all of us tend to actually do the opposite of Rawl’s experiment without realizing it. If we are men, we imagine ourselves men within it. If we are women, we imagine ourselves women.

How does this apply to Israel and Gaza?

The people defending Israel’s actions, simply put, tend to imagine themselves as the Israelis in the situation, and the people critiquing Israel imagine themselves as the Palestinians.

I’d like to suggest that the best way to approach the question of Israel’s assault on Gaza (and the West Bank, as you’ll see below) is through the lens of Rawls’ experiment.

If one imagines that one would suddenly be born into the Israel/Palestine conflict as anybody, i.e. equally likely to be a middle class Israeli in Tel Aviv or an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem or a Palestinian grocer in Hebron or a child fleeing bombs in Khan Younis, what happens to how you view what should be done, how the structure of the relationship between Israeli Jews and Palestinians should be?

Of course this works both ways: one might realize that one wants to be free of the fear of Hamas, and something needs to be done to protect Israeli civilians. Yet surely one would also find what is being done by the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank intolerable and begin earnestly trying to think of a solution which would protect one should one be born a poor Palestinian woman in Gaza City.

I am addressing this article primarily as a challenge to supporters of Israel’s current war policy for three reasons.

  1. I am Jewish, and as I have written many times, I see my sphere of power and responsibility to lie within my own community, not with Palestinian society.
  2. Israel has by far the greater power and resources to change the situation. There is no comparison between the military, cultural, economic, technological, political, and educational resources of Israel and that of the Palestinians.
  3. The attack of Oct 7, however horrific, is both in the past and much smaller in scale than Israel’s response- a response which is ongoing right now and funded and aided by both Canada (my country) and the US, and supported by many in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad.

If you are in the camp of defending Israeli war policy, please bear with me and read the following summary of what is happening to Gaza and the West Bank, then engage again in Rawls’ thought experiment.


The assault on Gaza, now past one hundred days in duration, has resulted in the torment of 2.3 million people- the displacement of more than 85% of them (perhaps two million), the destruction of 1/3 of their homes, the denial to them of free access to food, water, medicine and electricity while, according to EuroMed’s summary, 30,000 have likely been killed by Israel, most of them women and children. 60,000 have been wounded, many of them maimed for life.

More than 1,000 children had undergone leg amputations, sometimes more than once or on both legs, by the end of November, according to U.N. children's agency. The number is higher by now. According to CNN, More than 10 children on average have lost one or both of their legs every day in Gaza since October 7, with many amputations being performed without anesthesia.

More children have been killed in codename “Operation Iron Swords” so far than in all global conflicts in 2022, or 2021, or 2020, or 2019, and the proportion of civilian casualties- 61–71% in some current Israeli estimates — is higher than in any conflict in the 20th century.

“Health services in Gaza are “decimated”, with medical staff exhausted after three months of war forced to extract shrapnel without adequate pain relief, conduct amputations without anaesthetics and watch children die of cancers because of a lack of facilities and medicine,” reports the Guardian.

“Tens of thousands in Gaza with chronic life-threatening illnesses have gone without treatment for months, and are now “without defences”, their bodies’ weakened by malnutrition, cold and fatigue, doctors say. In one incident described to the Guardian, a child with a brain condition died hours before a UN team arrived with vital medicine.”

“Cancer specialists told the Guardian they had been unable to treat patients in desperate need, including children with leukaemia or tumours requiring immediate life-saving surgery.”

Gaza’s entire 2.3 million population is facing crisis levels of hunger as the risk of famine increases each day, according to a report published by a UN-backed body, the report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said:

Between 24 November and 7 December, over 90 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip (about 2.08 million people) was estimated to face high levels of acute food insecurity, classified in IPC Phase 3 or above (Crisis or worse). Among these, over 40 percent of the population (939,000 people) were in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and over 15 percent (378,000 people) were in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

Between 8 December 2023 and 7 February 2024, the entire population in the Gaza Strip (about 2.2 million people) is classified in IPC Phase 3 or above (Crisis or worse).

This is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country. Among these, about 50 percent of the population (1.17 million people) is in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and at least one in four households (more than half a million people) is facing catastrophic conditions (IPC Phase 5, Catastrophe). These are characterized by households experiencing an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion of coping capacities.

According to the UN, Israel, having struck a temporary deal to allow in aid, is currently allowing 20% of the amount of aid needed.

Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, since the start of 2023, at least 483 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,769 injured by Israeli forces and settlers, most since Oct 7. Settlers and the IDF have entered homes to terrorize families, vandalized farms, and beaten, jailed, tortured and killed Palestinians. A record number of new settlements and new roads have been built in the occupied West Bank. In the West Bank, in 2023, settlers have seized another 110km square of Palestinian land, more than they had seized in total since 1967 (80 square km). Such land seizures impoverish Palestinians and decimate their communities and culture.

Thank You

If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I hope you will imagine yourself randomly appearing as a Palestinian under attack by the Israeli state, and what, if that was you, you would want to be different. If, like me, you are either Jewish or a resident of a country that supports Israel, I hope you will consider not what you would like them to do, but what you would like us to do.

PS: my first thought experiment can be found here: https://medium.com/@matthewzgindin/a-thought-experiment-regarding-israel-d7c7ad74c6b0