Harriet Gimpel

A Quiet Night

Had I slept last night, I could tell you what happened when I woke up this Sunday morning. Instead, I can tell you about what happened when our 6-year-old granddaughter woke up this morning. I was in bed with the television on, her mother finally getting some sleep next to me. Pictures of drones, missiles, and interceptions covered most of the screen with a window showing the panel of commentators. She saw the flares in the dark sky on the screen, “missiles.” I confirmed yet told her they were from last night.

We went into the kitchen. She couldn’t find the cornflakes. I forgot her mom had put an arsenal of food in the saferoom last night. Her bedroom that she shares with her younger sister happens to be the saferoom. All three girls slept there last night. She found the cereal and proceeded to ask where missiles come from. I used the palm of my hand as a map to show her Iran and Israel. I told her the missiles were launched by a country called Iran against the State of Israel, but we managed to intercept them. I mentioned shrapnel so she would understand why sirens warn people to go into their saferooms, despite interceptions. For the record, we had no sirens in our area, just the buzz of planes in the air all night.

I explained we were lucky that almost all the drones and missiles were intercepted, and that we have friends, other countries, like the United States which helped us last night. I did not tell her that a 7-year-old Bedouin girl from the Negev was seriously injured by shrapnel.

I wanted somehow for her to be proud of Israeli capability that protected us last night. Maybe I really wanted to be proud. So much faith breached on October 7. Capability is inadequate when risk management fails. Pyromaniacal Israeli settlers early yesterday seeking retribution after a Jewish youth, a settler, was arbitrarily slain by Palestinians on Friday – a source of disgrace to Israel, my Israel, amidst the pain, and added to the government’s peculiarly selective neglect for law enforcement throughout the last year.

I did not want the story of the 7-year-old Bedouin girl to provide any context for comparisons and understanding vulnerability. Our 6-year-old granddaughter wouldn’t know that this girl, close to her age, lives in a location where the State of Israel fails to provide its citizens with the necessary shelters throughout the community – to the disgrace of Israel.

Making comparisons, our granddaughter asked if we hear sirens, does her dad have sirens at the same time. I explained why sirens where we live don’t necessarily mean her dad has sirens. I spared her explanations regarding attacks from Lebanon and Syria. Her father was supposed to have another week of leave from reserve duty, but Friday morning the army called him to return immediately to duty – in the north.

When the news began about drones launched from Iran aimed at Israel last night, we called her mother, at home alone in Raanana with three girls, ages 2, 6, and 9, sleeping in the saferoom. Still, if there had been sirens in Raanana, three adults are better than one. Tonight, our reserve duty soldier returns home.

Thursday night, our 9-year-old granddaughter told us when she came home from school, that now that Ramadan is over, we’ll be attacked from the north. One can only imagine the information 4th graders pool from classmates’ homes and process. If I was upset that her father was unexpectedly called back to reserve duty on Friday, maybe that explains why she liked nothing we made for Friday night dinner. I know, even for children, problems of the privileged.

My head is still buzzing with thoughts of what is to follow, of things commentators said throughout the night. An opportunity to return the hostages. An opportunity to end the war in Gaza. An opportunity to leverage the power of the precarious and unprecedented alliance formed around intercepting Iranian missiles. An opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities, let me take this one for just one more thought: are we endangering ourselves by the renewed weekly demonstrations of the last few weeks, calling for elections and replacing our government? I understand the argument in kind. I know, as I knew this time last year, that we endanger ourselves if we don’t fight for democracy. I know that you can frame these demonstrations as destructive to our security. I know that demonstrating is a democratic right and when we exercise it, we demonstrate strength – the strength of democracy. We need it to fight for the character of Israel.

Now, I have to go back to messages from Palestinian friends and colleagues telling me the things I know and wish I did not feel obligated to hear. Struggling with something shattered, humbled by something shared, committed to peace in desperation.

  • Harriet Gimpel, April 14, 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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