Harriet Gimpel

Cynicism and the less than palatable

Last week, new public service messages dressed the billboards on the roads. One follows a theme from a television message showcasing young and brave soldiers missing a limb, recovering from injuries during military service since October 7. The television message basically aimed at getting us more accustomed to seeing growing numbers of young adults missing an arm or a leg, as an integral part of society. The billboard, on the other hand, minimalized focus on the missing leg of a sporty-looking young man in shorts, seated on the floor with one leg in the forefront. Leaning on one arm and reaching out with the other, the billboard calls for us to reach out to one another within Israeli society, in the spirit of post-October 7 billboards declaring victory is intertwined with unity.

Despite my cynicism, if not repulsion, when I see the “Together, We Will Win,” slogans, the billboard calling for us to reach out to each other got me for a moment. Compromise within, no less than compromise with Palestinians is the way to reconciliation and peace, and aligns with my values – doesn’t it? But when I tried to translate that into practical terms, I asked myself: who am I supposed to reach out to? To despicable, barbaric, extreme right-wing, religious Jews who burn homes of Palestinians, who intercept Palestinian trucks lest they carry humanitarian aid for Gaza and attack the drivers or terrorize Palestinian villages in the West Bank hoping to frighten the residents into evacuating. I should reach out to them? Reach out and come together – you got to be kidding!

Of course, if our government did its job, these elements of society would be behind locks and bars, not people I would have to consider embracing for societal unity.

Cynic that I am, the highlight of my week was the opening lines of an Ha’aretz article about liberal, religious Jews, claiming the community discourse is no longer about Jewish identity. Now, it says, the discourse is about what makes a good Jew – and in this article, the definition of a good Jew excludes Jews who revel in watching another people victims of famine.

Now comes the less palatable part. I accept the horrific and nauseating idea that Israel will come to a negotiation table to make peace and will have to sit with representatives of Hamas around that table. Mainly because I want peace – safety and security. So maybe I have just taken a step towards the right – the Israeli governments under Netanyahu which empowered this barbaric terrorist organization. Who said “cynicism?”

Then I wonder, can I reach out to the extreme right in Israel? If I accept Hamas at the table, I will have to accept them. I only wonder how moderate right-wing Israeli, Jewish residents of the West Bank can continue to live there, among them, among the acts that these right-wing extremists perpetrate. Then I realize the question that begs asking is how I can continue to live in the State of Israel. When I ask that question, and see no alternative, I flee the stabbing pain in search of the fork in the road. I have to do what I can to influence my society, and hope that quashing the extremist law-breaking elements of our society will occur without the outbreak of civil war. Influencing the character of Palestinian society is beyond me. At best, presumptuous as it may be, I can only hope that the shared Israeli-Palestinian organizations I support will serve as some kind of model that will make both societies better places for their people.

The E word, empathy. Compassion, and let it be mutual. A Palestinian colleague sent me an audio file of surveillance planes and helicopters that were buzzing over his head for several days last week when the army was doing its thing in Jenin, with a recognizable degree of disregard for innocent residents in its way.

I identified. First, the surveillance aircraft reminded me of the buzzes overhead throughout the evening the night we were attacked by Iran. Then I recalled, the sounds of the helicopters overhead for months and months on end when I lived in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada. When it drew to an end and the helicopters stopped, I was so accustomed to them, I couldn’t fall at sleep without them. The difference is the helicopters were there to protect me. My colleague in Jenin has no delusions about the helicopters protecting him.

I failed to sleep well this past week after video clips of Hamas terrorists, father and son reporting on raping and murdering Israeli women on October 7, and the video released of the young Israeli women soldiers at Nahal Oz brutally taken hostage by Hamas. Their parents and siblings were interviewed following the broadcast. News of three more hostages’ bodies retrieved from Gaza this week ensued.

Our 6-year-old granddaughter lingered by the poster with photos of the hostages outside of the building where her gymnastics club meets. For months, she hasn’t stopped to look at it. Of course, the same poster in different sizes is unavoidably visible throughout this country. What caused her to linger here this week? After a few moments, I asked what she was thinking. She asked about the hearts next to some and not others. I know she remembers that the hearts are for those who have returned home. I spare her the distinction of the broken heart marking those returned dead. I can only speculate what else goes through her mind, what she sees, hears, processes.

My Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem shared her fears with me about events like those in Jenin this week occurring closer to home for her, possibly while her kids would be at school. In Jenin, there was shooting outside of schools. Helpless parents had to rely on likely helpless teachers to comfort their children.

Gaza. Frame it as they will. Israeli remarks about a Palestinian state being a prize to Hamas demands being reframed. By us. By the Palestinians. It is justice. I can only hope for a Palestinian society that will never want to frame its existence as a prize for war crimes and atrocities it brought upon Israelis on October 7, 2023.

The date will forever be entwined with the horrors of that day – and they include the failures of the government of Israel that paved the way to Hamas understanding they could get away with it. The government encouraged Israeli polarization, and watched a society slowly move toward a breaking point over government tactics to accomplish judicial reform. The failures of the government streamlined into the absence of defense and security forces on the scene for hours on that fateful October day.

Before I seek threads of hope for a better future, allow me one more disturbing thought. Haim suggested I write this week’s blog about the corruption in our government. That would be a challenge considering my candid efforts at brevity. Suffice it to say, Haim said this following an investigative journalist’s report showing how the Ministry of Transportation, due to the corruption of the minister, paved roads, or refrained from paving and fixing roads and highways, for reasons that have nothing to do with transportation considerations. The prioritization of her transportation policy based on political considerations means there were road conditions on October 7 that intensified and exacerbated the difficulties Israeli defense and security forces, and helpful citizens faced in reaching the victims of Hamas –murdered, captured, fleeing injured, or just running madly for their lives.

When the radio plays songs for peace, songs of generations past and past wars when a naïve society could believe there was a genuine commitment to peace, I laugh in pain. Songs for peace are songs of a lost spirit. In those times of naivete there were injustices and seeds planted by Israel to complicate a situation that has evolved to where we are today. But not only is Israel to blame – not by a long shot.

And in the end, we need to regain some naivete and we need to ask our enemies to do the same. We need to believe the songs for peace. We all need to relinquish our hate.

Only people with peace in their heart make peace!

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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