Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Review Article on Israel-Gaza War Contains Numerous Misrepresentations

Editor’s Note: This article contains discussion of sexual harm.

In his Feb. 9 article in the Review, Zane Badawi laments what he sees as President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s failure to condemn “genocide” (“Indifference to Palestine Exposes False Progressiveness at Oberlin,” The Oberlin Review, Feb. 9, 2024). With so much misinformation in Badawi’s piece, it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with the most obvious: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant never said, “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.” Did the editors of the Review check the accuracy of this quote prior to publication? More than two weeks earlier, this misquote was corrected in multiple news outlets, including both The New York Times and The Guardian.

“An earlier version of this article omitted part of a quotation from Yoav Gallant,” The Times’ correction, appended to the end of the piece, stated. “He said, ‘Gaza won’t return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate everything.’ He did not say only, ‘Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.’”

The difference should be obvious. Israel’s intent is not to destroy the people of Gaza, but to destroy the terrorist group that tortured, raped, and murdered 1,200 Israeli men, women, and children, and took another 250 hostage on Oct. 7, 2023. As of Tuesday, 134 of those hostages are still held captive, with reports that the young women among them — some 18 or 19 years old, the same age as many Oberlin students — are being raped while in captivity. Every single Obie should ask themselves: if one of these young women were your sister, or your friend, what would you expect your government to do?

In any war, civilians will be killed. This is the tragedy of war and why it’s best not to start one, as Hamas did. But war is not genocide. 

“Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that’s fought an urban war,” John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, wrote. 

Israel’s civilian to combatant casualty ratio in this war is comparable to that of the U.S. when fighting in Iraq — not a small feat considering the extent to which Hamas has embedded itself within the civilian population. Badawi’s claim that Israel has “murdered” Palestinian children or civilians is simply false, as murder requires intent to kill, and Israel’s intent, as demonstrated by the above, is to spare civilians to the extent possible. Badawi also fails to note that among the 25,000 casualties are 10,000 Hamas fighters.

For any civilian deaths that do occur, the guilt ultimately is with the party that started the war with a brutal attack and that continues to hold civilians, including a one-year old baby, as hostages. Moreover, contrary to Badawi’s implication that hostage rescue is not a goal of Israel’s military operations, two hostages were just rescued by the IDF last weekend from an apartment in Rafah.

Many wars create refugees, as we saw this century from the wars in Syria and Ukraine. It’s normal under such circumstances for civilians to attempt to remove themselves from harm’s way. Unfortunately for the people of Gaza, however, Egypt keeps its border closed to them, preventing them from really leaving the war zone and from sheltering in a place where humanitarian groups could easily reach them without the possibility of Hamas stealing aid meant for civilians. This both increases the likelihood that civilians will be killed, and exacerbates their suffering due to lack of food and medicine. Where are the protests against Egypt’s closed border? Where is Badawi’s criticism of it? 

In 1948, too, a war created refugees. It was not, as Badawi states, “Israel’s establishment” that “turn[ed] hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees overnight.” Rather, it was a war started by Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt in response to Jewish acceptance, and Arab rejection, of the UN’s proposed plan to partition the land into one Jewish and one Arab state. The reason that war created only Arab and not Jewish refugees from the land that was invaded was simple: the Jews had nowhere else to go.

In the decade after the 1948 war, when one Arab country after another expelled Jewish populations that had lived among them for centuries, many of those refugees, too, had nowhere to go except Israel. Today, about half of Israel’s Jewish population is descended from Sephardic and Mizrachi diaspora communities — many of whom could have come to Israel as refugees. It certainly wasn’t always easy, but Sephardic and Mizrachi refugees focused on building a future. While problems persist, their descendants are integrated into the country rather than retaining perpetual refugee status and a burning desire to destroy the countries from which they came.

Post-1948, Badawi skips right over 75 years of history — but a lot happened during those 75 years, including intifadas and offers of Palestinian independence that were refused by Palestinian leaders. Most important in this context was that, in 2005, Israel evacuated every last civilian and soldier from Gaza. The disengagement gave the people of Gaza the opportunity to have freedom and to chart their own course. At that time, there was no occupation of Gaza and no blockade. A year later, the people of Gaza elected Hamas, a group whose charter states, “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it,” and, “The Prophet, Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, says: ‘The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,’ except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.’” On Oct. 7, Hamas acted on that sentiment.

Badawi further ignores that ample archaeological evidence, as well as the Bible, one of the world’s oldest written records, attest that Jews have lived in the land that is now called Israel for millennia. But Badawi objects to Jews legally purchasing property in their ancestral homeland. 

None of this is to say that anyone, at Oberlin or elsewhere, should be indifferent to the plight of the people of Gaza. Those who are concerned should be calling on Hamas to release the hostages and surrender, actions which would end the war, and the consequent suffering, immediately.

President Ambar was correct on Oct. 10 when she said, “There is no place for this type of terrorist attack [i.e., October 7] on innocent civilians, and I denounce it outright.” And if she were to take any further position on this complex geopolitical issue, she should call upon Hamas to release the hostages unconditionally and to surrender. She should also make clear that voices like Badawi’s do not represent the position of the school.

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