Harriet Gimpel

A Healthy Silence?

Trying to figure out if it is emotionally healthier to articulate my fears or keep them to myself. The former may just make them resonate louder, filling the space around me, reducing all space for any other thoughts. Expressing them, regretfully, changes nothing.

My voice joins other minority voices, small minorities and large minorities – the minorities acknowledging their anguished concern for innocent Palestinian victims of Israeli retaliation in Gaza or incursions in the West Bank similar to their brokenhearted concern for Israeli soldiers and despair over the fate of the hostages taken from Israel by Hamas, still in captivity in Gaza, dead or alive. My voice lacks any influence of significance.

Often, I just silence my voice and continue writing. It is hard to discuss with Israelis who disagree with me. It is beyond me to convince them that there has to be another way. They, like me, may want an end to the war, but unlike me they simply adhere to the argument that Israel has no choice because the Palestinians only want to annihilate us, and don’t want an end to the violence against us. Other times, I silence my voice when I encounter people inclined to share my ideas, simply because it is tiresome to discuss, and grind the water through the mill, again.

In my silences, I confront my own fears and engage in inadequately informed analyses. Fear: if things escalate in the north, central Israel – Tel Aviv and the Sharon region – will be targeted by Hezbollah from Lebanon. Fear: West Bank towns do have terror cells which could attack us in Kfar Saba as easily as I have been saying since October 7. Fear: I cannot rely on the government of Israel and its defense strategy. Fear: Israeli society is so polarized that liberal, democratic values may be lost, and legislation in kind may be slipping by us when we are fixed on security and defense.

I am reading a book about different contemporary rabbinic approaches to the idea of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and reinstating sacrificial offerings as a means of sanctification and bringing oneself closer to God. Of course, some, but only some of the rabbinic approaches place this in some symbolic, allegorical frame accompanied by alternative sacrificial offerings on the altar. At least one scholarly rabbi addresses the biblical approaches of some of his counterparts by an exegesis placing a society in which social justice reigns before, if not in place of, rebuilding the Temple and sacrificial offerings. Making that a perpetual objective could only make society progressively better and the Temple always just beyond justifiable.

But reading this book, with some intellectual nuances that escape me and others I grasp only elusively and choose not to ponder, I am struck by how messages in the arguments less to my liking trickle into political ideologies of masses who reflect likely less than I, yet ultimately use these messages to justify Jewish violence against Muslims, against Palestinians, on the Temple Mount, at the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock. It quite amazes me to recall how fear of entering the Dome of the Rock was once instilled in me in different times, when signs by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel blatantly warned Jews against ascending the Temple Mount in their ritual impurity. In my curious adolescence, I nevertheless did enter the mosque.

The prevailing messages have changed.

For years, a message resonated of Israel seeking peace. Our ears have been deafened to this message. Some reiterate that peace has no viable place after the attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 cruelly, brutally taking the lives of Israeli civilians in their homes. The ensuing war still with no end in sight, provides endless examples of loss of lives of Israeli soldiers leaving widows, orphans, and bereaved parents and siblings, just as there are reports of families under debris in Gaza, lifeless, and multigenerational with no survivors to report their deaths. And yet, is peace not the only solution?

Israeli voices for occupation of parts of Gaza and parts of southern Lebanon are not voices for peace.

When I read the newspaper or watch television in my moments of silence, my fears of the sustainability of Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are substantiated. Egypt placed tanks on its border and the Hashemite Kingdom could fall to Iran.

We could try peace. There must be ways we have not exhausted.

When I resume my freelance translating of speeches by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin from 1993 and 1994 that I have been commissioned to do by the Rabin Center for its website, it is easy to identify his attempt to respond to the concerns of all extremes then in Israeli society. I can imagine Palestinians pointing to some of his statements as patronizing, possibly expressing supremacy, though I would disagree with the latter. These speeches have their context. Yet, it remains demoralizing to see the vast gap between the peace he envisioned, together with the Palestinians, and where we are today.

I know the way back is not the way forward, but I do know there is a way forward that leaders must tread.

In another quiet moment, I read a comment by a Palestinian colleague in our binational WhatsApp group chat. In the Israeli team’s chat, one colleague rightfully expressed her frustration with the intolerable point made by a Palestinian team member. We could ignore it. It could be a language issue with everybody writing in English while for most Hebrew or Arabic is their mother tongue. Or it could be in a context in my mind and in a different context in his mind. So, I questioned in the chat if what I understood was accurate. I felt relieved. Asking the question was itself healthier than remaining with my disturbing interpretation and its ripple effect on anger. I may not like his ultimate answer either, but he confirmed that I misunderstood, and we agreed that talking in person would be more effective than texting in our group chat.

Harriet Gimpel, June 29, 2024

About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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