Harriet Gimpel

Avoiding the News: Less than Success

“What, is this being part of this Jewish people? To justify and rationalize, and hurt, and wonder nevertheless about the insensitivity to the other, and feel more pain, hurt?!? Ok, I have to go. We’re going into a family gathering…”

That was a text message. I sent it Saturday to one of my besties. If you can’t tell, that’s my way of saying, “I need to know that someone on my team is cheering me through the day in her heart, just in case…”

The context? In my futile, but incessant attempts to follow the advice of my boss, my doctor, another bestie, and my partner (though the latter doesn’t follow his own advice) to avoid the news, on Friday, I read a piece in Ha’aretz with stories of several elderly who would likely have lived another five years but for heartbreak since October 7. One story stays with me, perhaps because I identify vicariously, through the memory of my father transitioning between dementia and lucidity and back. A woman in her 80s, evacuated from her home at the kibbutz, has dementia, and from the story it was more advanced than it ever became for my dad. Her son who lives in Europe came to visit recently. She told him that she can’t go home because it’s not safe, that there are terrorists there. She died in the days that followed. I read and pursed my lips. Moistness in my eyes.

There’s more context, more building blocks. That morning I noticed a Palestinian colleague shared another UNRWA document in our binational office WhatsApp group, more destruction Israel has brought upon Gaza. Israelis need to be aware of the extent of the destruction. But I understand yet another bestie who tells me she has no empathy in her heart now for Palestinians when family and friends have children endangering their lives in Gaza, or killed in battle, or murdered on October 7. I understand her. It’s just that I do think about the component of post-trauma when soldiers may someday think about what could have been avoided. But I have red lines too. My colleague shared another UNRWA document. I have zero tolerance for UNRWA.

Friday evening before dinner, I was in the bedroom with our 6-year-old and 7-year-old granddaughters. They discussed what song to play on YouTube. The ultimate choice was either, “Am Yisrael Chai,” [The Jewish people lives!] or what the 6-year-old called the song about the soldiers. She explained her preference for the soldiers’ song because, “only the soldiers will protect us.” However, the older one explained that “Am Yisrael Chai, means all of the people making up the Jewish people are still alive.” Conversation about them using my lipstick resumed.

Saturday morning, a Jewish colleague shared an article from Ha’aretz newspaper in the uninational Israeli office WhatsApp group. He said he just couldn’t stay alone with it. That was enough to make me read it – about what 1.5 million Gazans in Rafiah will do if the IDF invades. The photo shows a child and a dog running playfully across a patch of sand and an endless tent city for refugees. Not a pretty picture – the images in my mind that is, as I read. But I read. I guess my red lines are flimsy. My less than success at avoiding the news.

As I read, we were on our way to a family gathering with the cholent Haim had prepared to feed the clan. I read select lines aloud. Haim seemed to be in a less empathetic moment, and I chose to let it go, but not really. Part of me acknowledged his reaction was an intuitive measure suggesting I place another round of cinder blocks around my internal walls. Haim and I are generally inclined to agree about this war. The people we are going to meet at this family gathering – that’s another story. Few of them are likely to be amenable to my view of things. We can agree on wanting the hostages returned. We might not necessarily agree on a ceasefire now and if so, I don’t know if we’d agree on what happens thereafter, even if, presumably, none of them wants Israelis settling in the rebuilt Gaza. There will be parents of soldiers at lunch. One young father who spent three of the last four months on reserve duty will be there. Lest I be misunderstood, my heart and soul are with our soldiers. I have tremendous reservations about the policymakers who dictate what our soldiers are doing and where – and why the former didn’t have those soldiers where they were needed on October 7, or preempt the horrors of that day. Even if everybody at lunch will agree that Bibi Netanyahu has to go, it hardly means we are united.  So, I sent the WhatsApp message to my friend for virtual support: “What is this being part of this Jewish people? To justify and rationalize, and hurt… Ok… We’re going into a family gathering…”

Five hours later, I saw her response. We should come for coffee. We did. She talks about the reserve duty that one of her sons is doing, though he is not in physical danger, nor kept from going on with his professional work because of the nature of his service. She and her husband criticize the way the government enables their son to benefit from it financially while so many other reservists have abandoned businesses with no financial security to meet them once discharged from service.

They challenge me on the sensitive issues. Do my Palestinian colleagues have the same empathy towards Israelis, towards what happened to Israelis on October 7, that I apparently have towards their people? The only news my friends watch is Al Jazeera. Not the Israeli news. Everybody has red lines. Few are those who choose which media outlets manipulate their minds.

We ask in unison, about European countries who opened their doors to Syrian refugees: Where are they now? She qualifies the question. What if, just pregnant women and frail elderly, maybe children of a certain age, Gazan refugees, were offered temporary refuge in Europe, then how would Israel alone be held responsible for humanitarian needs not met?

Sunday – another day in the office. Repeated discussions about patterns of discussion and expressions of empathy, or not, between Israeli staff and Palestinian staff, about one-on-one discussions among us and group discussions, and the differences. There’s a lot to be said about asymmetry of power. And partnerships. Questions not asked and imaginary conversations that create real dynamics.

Today I had a doctor’s appointment. She volunteers with evacuees since October 7. Her husband is volunteering in agriculture. For her, October 7 overturned convictions, proved wrong her belief in a shared basis for making peace and that Israel needed to make more gestures to enable it. No empathy. She says it calmly. She sadly says when she hears about poor, innocent Gazans, she just doesn’t care. She doesn’t watch the news. She prescribed not watching the news and an ointment for my stress-induced rash.

Earlier, at 5:30 AM, I saw a text from an American friend congratulating us for the two hostages Israel rescued. That sent me directly to my news feed. First, I saw two soldiers were killed during the night in northern Gaza. Then I read the good news about the two hostages returned home from Rafiah. This evening as we watched the news the phone rang – Haim’s friend, Yisrael. One of the fallen soldiers was his cousin’s son.

Harriet Gimpel, February 12, 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.