Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

We Are Not at War

A letter from an Oberlin student, to his community. 

Why must there be another letter about the war in Gaza? How can anything new and productive possibly be said, now that so much energy and ink has been spent, and every aspect of the war in Gaza has been debated at length? This article does not seek to foster greater anger or debate on this campus — Lord knows we have enough of that — but instead offer calm, humanity, and a path forward by dispelling misconceptions which serve only to divide us. 

To begin, I am a proud Jew, and a committed Zionist. This letter is not, however, a defense of Zionism, or about antisemitism, nor is it a defense of the current Israeli state. The purpose of this letter is to offer a framework for Oberlin to move forward from this conflict, as we must. 

We, Oberlin students, are not at war. We are safe here. While some Oberlin students are intimately affected by the war, such as those few with family in the region, the College community as a whole is not. Nevertheless, we have let this war divide us as a campus, let it foster hate towards our fellow students, and let it distract us from the very real political crisis in our own home. This campus culture is unsustainable and horrible for our education and our sanity. Jews have been isolated and harassed at Oberlin. Arabs have been dismissed and targeted at Oberlin. For this campus to be safe and productive, we must calm down and move forward. We are not at war, so we need not act like we are. 

To move forward, we must first see this war for what it is: a regional military conflict, in a region known for its military conflicts, being waged halfway around the world. Nothing more and nothing less. It is not a conflict that has a direct bearing on Oberlin’s campus or the vast majority of Oberlin students. To that end, we must dispel from our discourse false narratives that serve only to divide us from each other and foster hate toward the perceived enemy. Only when we return from our walled-off media environments and see this war clearly can we hope to rebuild. 

This is war, not a genocide, for in no genocide would the offending army provide for and facilitate protection, medical aid, food, water, electricity, and more to the victimized population. The Israeli army fights daily to keep aid corridors in Gaza open, and it is Israeli efforts which make every donation given to the Gazans possible. Civilians have died, and that is a tragedy, but according to IDF statistics they have not died at higher rates than in similar modern urban combat, such as the Battle of Mosul against ISIS, as of May 3. Israel must and is being held accountable by her allies, including the U.S., and the horrific behavior of individual Israeli settlers and soldiers must and is being held to account in the Israeli judiciary. All war is ugly, and all war is a crime, but a large war is not the same as a genocide. It is enough to simply oppose war and work to end it without fabricating claims of genocide. We all must pray for a ceasefire agreement via a hostage deal, so that everyone’s family can return home and this bloody chapter of Levantine history can end. 

This war is not the front line of the struggle for democracy, for the necessary democratic liberalization of the Middle East will never come from Israeli-American military efforts alone. Nor are Israelis and Americans under attack from Iran, Hamas, or the Houthi movement merely because they live in a democracy. This rhetoric of a battle for democracy intentionally and falsely characterizes the war as an existential threat for the U.S. and runs the risk of provoking a greater escalation of the war. 

This war is not a decolonial struggle for the Palestinian people. In fact, this war is not anything for the Palestinian people except a human tragedy. For Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, and the Houthi movement, it is a war to slaughter Jews, slaughter Americans, and establish fundamentalist Islamic theocracies. For Israel, it is a war of self-defense, of revenge, and war to liberate the hostages. For the people of Palestine, however, the people who have borne the majority of the war’s tragedy, they have not started nor do they stand to gain from this war. They are caught in the crossfires of a local war between Israel and Hamas, and a larger conflict between the U.S. and Iran. The people of Palestine, for the most part, are not Hamas terrorists and are simply trying to stay alive in the midst of this human tragedy. We do them a disservice by attaching their plight to the violence of Hamas and its allies. Hamas is the reason for this war, and it has no place in a peaceful and prosperous Palestine. 

This war is not an existential war of survival for the state of Israel. While groups such as Hamas, or states like Iran, genuinely seek the total dismantling of the state of Israel and wholesale genocide of Jews, these entities, Baruch Hashem, are not anywhere near powerful enough to realize these goals. Israel is safe, and diaspora Jews are, relatively speaking, safe. We Zionists blind ourselves when we approach every conflict like the start of a second Shoah, and we must temper our language and our emotions to the war that we have, not the war that we fear, lest we incite greater violence against Jews. 

Most of all, we must understand that this is not a war being fought based upon American politics or American conceptions of race. Any attempt to write American politics onto it, however well-intentioned, is doomed to only do harm. This is equally true for the Christian right, who weaponize the war as evidence for their crusade against Muslim Americans, as it is true for left-wing activists, who falsely claim a connection between the American problem of racial injustice and the Middle Eastern geopolitical mess. It is this identified connection between American politics and the war in Gaza that fuels so much misplaced anger here on campus, and it is this, above all, that we must deconstruct.  

We must, as a community, relax from our constant state of anger and public outrage toward empathy and understanding. We all must remember that being a Jew or Zionist does not make one a “colonialist-racist” any more than being a Palestinian activist makes one a “terrorist-supporting Jew hater.” Above all, we must always deal with the other with love and compassion. As the refugee Albert Einstein once begged us, “remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” 

With this common understanding, we can begin to move forward productively through difficult dialogue and conversation. Every student and organization on campus that wishes peace must be open and eager for dialogue with their fellow students. For if we, so far removed from the war, cannot find a way to talk to each other, what hope is there for peace? Oberlin is an educational community, and so we, as a community, have an obligation to engage in these difficult discussions, as they are the only way to move from a tense calm, like we have seen between flare-ups at Oberlin, to a true return to normalcy. 

Lastly, we must dedicate our efforts and our activism here on campus toward supporting the students and community members who are suffering because of the war and the significant rise in anti-Arab and anti-Jewish hate and violence associated with it. We, here at Oberlin, cannot end the suffering in the Middle East, but we can alleviate the suffering here. Palestinian students and Jewish students need your support. It is in this that we at Oberlin can make a real difference and improve our corner of the world. 


Gavriel Vavel ben Yosef v’Chava  

Marshall Engel, Oberlin ’28

Chair, Obies for Israel

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