Words Matter: “Ceasefire”

Politicians, pundits, and activists around the world and across the political spectrum have called or rejected calls for ceasefire in the current Israel-Hamas war. This resource offers guiding questions and prompts to engage with the concept of ceasefire. It is designed to generate thoughtful, probing discussion that encourages learners to dive deep into the questions surrounding a potential ceasefire, even if they don’t arrive at definitive answers.1

1. There are various factors that influence the Israeli government’s consideration of a ceasefire agreement, including the release of hostages, national security, and international diplomacy.

2. Words and phrases that are used interchangeably with ceasefire have different meanings and connotations; they can be used intentionally to convey a political message.

3. The context surrounding calls for ceasefire—who, where, why, and how—shapes how such calls are perceived.


Begin this discussion by posing a few questions:

  • When you hear the word “ceasefire,” what comes to mind?
  • What are the goals of a ceasefire? What are the reasons a group might agree to a ceasefire?
  • In what ways have you heard the word “ceasefire” used in regards to the Israel-Hamas war?


Begin by asking learners to compile a list of synonyms for ceasefire. These might include: humanitarian pause, temporary ceasefire, peace, truce, etc.


1. What do you imagine are the differences between a ceasefire and peace agreement? (These could be a matter of legal definitions and/or the subtext added by the terms’ social and political connotations.)

2. Why do you think there are many calls for a ceasefire and few calls for peace between Israel and Hamas?

3. What do you imagine are the differences between a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause?

4. Why do you think someone would call for a humanitarian pause instead of a ceasefire? How is the connotation of a humanitarian pause different from the connotation of a ceasefire?

Israel has signed ceasefires with Hamas in the past, in addition to the November 2023 pause in fighting that led to the release of 105 hostages. This discussion is designed to guide learners in unpacking the various factors that Israeli politicians, military leaders, and society are considering with regards to agreeing to a ceasefire with Hamas.

Start by creating your own lists of any factors that Israeli leaders may be considering regarding a ceasefire with Hamas.

What they say: 

Anti-Ceasefire: Consider this video and this video (1:44-3:03; trigger warning: brief discussion of the atrocities committed on October 7th) against a ceasefire.

Pro Ceasefire: Read this article in support of a ceasefire (paywall). 
(Feel free to use other articles and videos that feel more timely or appropriate.)

Questions to consider:

1. What are the reasons cited against a ceasefire?

2. What are the reasons cited in support of a ceasefire?

3. How are the reasons similar and how are they different?

4. Are the reasons guided by the same set of priorities (national security, hostages, international diplomacy, etc.)?

Note for educator: The goal of this exercise is to help learners understand how calls for and against ceasefire often are guided by similar values that are prioritized or interpreted differently.

Depending on the forum and speaker, calls for a ceasefire take on very different connotations. Certain calls for a ceasefire are perceived by some Israelis as malicious attacks on Israel’s right to self-defense, while others are understood as a strategic option for the Israeli government to consider. The discussion prompts below will guide learners in exploring how the context of calls for ceasefire—their who, when, where, and how—shapes their connotations and how these calls are received.

Examine the following statements:

1. “Ceasefire now! From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free. Israel must stop the genocide in Gaza.”

2. “Ceasefire now! Bring the hostages home now. We can’t wait any longer.”

Questions to consider:

1. What does each statement focus on?

2. What is “missing” from each statement?

3. Are both statements calling for the same thing?

The following video clips illustrate the differences in statements calling for a ceasefire. Feel free to use other videos that feel more timely or appropriate for your setting.

1. Pro-Palestine Ceasefire March in Washington

2. Pope Francis (0:00-1:40)

3. Tel Aviv Rally (0:00-1:23)

After each clip, consider:

1. Who is calling for a ceasefire?

2. Where are they calling for a ceasefire?

3. How are they calling for a ceasefire?

4. Why are they calling for a ceasefire?

5. What do you understand each to mean when they call for a ceasefire?

Note for educator: 

1. Draw attention to what’s not included in each of the calls.

2. Challenge learners to unpack what priority is stressed in each ceasefire call. For example, Pope Francis is prioritizing the total halting of death and suffering over security concerns and regional politics, while the Israelis calling for a ceasefire are prioritizing the fate of the hostages.

Concluding questions:

1. How does the context of calls for a ceasefire shape the connotation of the calls?

2. Why might some calls for a ceasefire be received more positively than others?

1For historical and contemporary background on ceasefires in Israel, see this FAQ sheet.

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