Harriet Gimpel

Another Week – Personal Reflections, Oct 21, 2023

I am fortunate, safe in my home. A woman’s home is her. palace? In Hebrew the expression is that the home is one’s fortress. The home is one’s fortress? Since October 7, 2023, I live in a country where all too many will be haunted by the mistruth of that statement. And it happened in Israel, in the country of the Jewish people, not in an antisemitic regime on another continent. I am sad. I am grieving. I am surrounded by grieving Israelis. And I have happy moments too.

I am endlessly grateful for the concern expressed by friends from all periods and places in my life, from family across the world, from acquaintances, from Jews, Muslims, Christians from different chapters in my life who are incessantly writing, calling, texting, inquiring by Facebook. It recharges me with the energies I need to work and go about the mechanics of life. It fills me with the energies to try to do my small share of minimal volunteering and it gives me the renewed strength to call or text to others in Israel (and sometimes abroad) to check-in, sometimes finding that they really needed a telephonic hug.

You ask me how I am, and I will try to answer with brevity. I will try to avoid politics and just explain what I am experiencing emotionally (though that is partially inseparable from my politics). That’s why sometimes I feel isolated. It is hard to contain my convictions, navigate sometimes conflicting strands of thoughts on what I think should happen, conducting the internal discussions of those strands while I am conducting myself like a pendulum, or feeling like an accordion, expanding, and reducing my bandwidth, and mixing my metaphors.

It can feel isolating when you feel people somewhat correctly assuming your position explaining to you what is wrong with it, keeping some of your thoughts to yourself because you are not always sure that they are defensible or even justified. Not sure inside yourself. Conflicted. Asking yourself, if everyone else puts aside various positions for some greater task that they believe must be done – is there something inexcusably wrong with me if I do not agree with so many people who love Israel like I do. It is terrifying. Then I get a hug from Haim. My strong opinions probably burden him. He does not disagree with many of my concerns, and I need that reinforcement in the one-on-one discussion that I can only have with him candidly expressing my mixed feelings. He can say things that I challenge with counter arguments and then he agrees and qualifies his remarks, and I am probably burdening him emotionally leading our thoughts and opinions to a dead end. (Poor choice of words yet can’t find the alternative expression – impasse?).

I want the captives, the hostages taken by Hamas returned home immediately. I want to believe that Israeli society is rallied in some uniform manner because I understand that is necessary. I know that I want our soldiers safe. I want Hamas to be wiped off the face of this earth, I don’t want innocent Gazans to be victims. I want our civilians safe, I want innocent Palestinians on the West Bank, in the Palestinian Authority to be safe. I don’t want to see evil deeds inflicted by Israeli soldiers who are out-of-line and extreme and I want to be sure they will be punished, and I will not engage in making charts of evil and injustice by any individual juxtaposed with monstrous evil of terrorists. Monstrous evil of immense magnitude. No justifications. But no tolerance in the past or now for Israel exercising different measures in punishing evil acts by Jews towards Palestinians. I want to be sure that Israel does what it must for our safety. But what must it do? I want all citizens of Israel, Jewish or not, to have the same freedom of speech that I do.

The organizers of the protest movement (against the proposed judicial reform) in the months prior to October 7 took their amplification systems to the Gaza border to call out to the Israeli captives in Gaza, so they will hear the voices of support. I will refrain from giving any examples I have heard of statements by heartless Jewish extremists in Israel who have condemned the current demonstrations led by families of captives demanding everything be done to release them. I see the good, caring, volunteering, creative, Israelis using every possible method to help citizens evacuated from their homes, support families of captives, comfort bereaved, provide for soldiers in the field.

Monstrous beings who could have once, conceivably, mistakenly been identified as people, yet took the kind of stimulants that enabled their barbaric brutality are beings which took those drugs with their intentions in mind – and wanted to ensure they would do what they intended.

I process some stories, apparently, in my dreams and woke up this morning by a mild nightmare. That seems healthy. I largely am avoiding social media and horrific video clips and trying to detach somewhat from the news. But I hear verbal descriptions of atrocities captured in video clips that I have not seen. Those descriptions turn into movies in my mind, and I am working on rapidly getting to the exit from those imaginary theaters.

When I see the billboards and hear the statements that we will win, that we are strong, I understand that collective morale is needed. Then I cringe. Wars are never won by any party. Lives are sacrificed for wars. Maybe you will argue that lives are sacrificed to ensure safety for nations. Maybe.

Narratives are engineered. There are different narratives in Israel and in Gaza. There are different narratives between Jews and Palestinians, citizens of Israel and those who are not. Narratives designed to serve different interests over generations. Narratives being implanted at every moment. Narratives allowing each side to claim its victory. Forever. Narratives of one nation being challenged by narratives of another. Narratives with cracks. Cracks filled with pain. Arab citizens of Israel having a Palestinian identity – which is not a uniform identity. Arab citizens who saved Jews and some who lost their lives in tremendous acts of bravery. Arab citizens grieving with Jewish citizens and simultaneously worried about family members who live in Gaza.

Feeling like an adolescent. Struggling to resolve internal conflicts. Reminding myself we live with internal conflicts, but they are in a deeply painful moment.

A friend telling me her son’s job now is to evacuate bodies. She only wants him to be safe and anticipates his lifelong emotional trauma. An isolated story. It sounds superficial as I write it. I repeat, I am not engaging in quantitative nor qualitative comparisons, not of horrors experienced by Israeli victims on October 7 and thereafter. I am not engaging in comparisons of suffering of one people over another to justify retaliation.

I am angry beyond words at our government. The amazing support of President Biden and the government of the United States – beyond words to say how I value it. But then, I qualify and fear that statement is essentially my statement of support or compliance with the idea of war. I am trying to contain these conflicting feelings – a marginal task considering the pain, anguish, sadness, losses of others. I am part of a mourning nation, a fighting nation – and I hope it wins its safety and sanity.

Parenthetically, I also think that Biden’s visit and that of other supportive leaders is to keep Bibi in line (and not because he has ever taken comprehensive military action in the past, but it’s complicated). Beneath the surface of the Arab summit in Cairo, with Abu Mazen participating, the world must be pulling the strings towards imposing the long-dismissed two-state solution. A conjecture and a conjecture about what will transpire until then.

With every word I say and counter with a seemingly opposing statement, I also find myself concerned by the order of the things I say, lest it appear that one statement I make overrides the previous. I am concerned about the humanitarian needs and the physical safety of innocent Gazan civilians. I love Israel and I want Israel to be safe. I want Israelis, all Israeli citizens, to be safe.

In the darker moments in my mind, I remind myself that history has taught us that people survive horrors, and even if post-trauma accompanies them forever, they rebuild homes, families, lives, and learn to rejoice again. And the post-trauma for many who fought in the Yom Kippur reached its 50th year, Israeli society – and the Jewish people (and others) – is faced with the events of October 7 and the days following that and the uncertainties of the days still ahead. The post-trauma assured for yet another generation. It will be there, and it will be transcended.

And may there never be another event in our history to induce trauma and post-trauma. May the sadness be compartmentalized and may our inner spaces and our outer spaces be enabled to heal.

Harriet Gimpel — October 21, 2023

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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