Harriet Gimpel

In Anticipation of the Retrospective

Sort of like refining the oil, when you struggle to refine the message, and yet you know that without the residue of acidity at the bottom of the bottle there is no taste to the message – that is how I feel as I try to screen and sift and sort my thoughts – and mix my metaphors.

I want to wait for the retrospective. You know, that art exhibit where you see all the pictures you have seen before in different places, different decades, different moods, with different curators positioning the pictures.

Extremist Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians on the West Bank, shooting, threatening, causing villages to evacuate, and the lack of an appropriate response by the Israeli establishment is tantamount to endorsing and carrying out deportations.

Public slogans on the billboards along the highways and throughout the main streets of our cities, with the slogan and its logo added to bank advertisements, and to campaigns by electrical appliance chains, and ads by small businesses: We will win. We will win together. Bolstering public morale. Attempting to make soldiers feel that they are backed by the support of the public (especially when I would not doubt their lack of confidence that a competent government has sent them to war.) I am worried about our soldiers. With every new news headline, I hold my breath lest the loss of another soldier is reported.

But these slogans, personally compel me to take a step back and question the messages that were cynically and seriously challenged just a week before October 7, 2023. The messages that we are one, that we are brothers, and as I knew then, I understand now, that we – Jews of sorts and different sorts – we are not one people, but we have one destiny. We are and will be victims of the same antisemitism in Europe, in the United States and Canada, in South America.

I fail to see where attacks on Gaza will lead us when innocent victims lose their lives. There are so many things I choose to believe. I want to believe that at the top of priority list of the government of Israel is the release of 241 hostages (and the number changes as bodies are identified or new information or Intelligence emerges) taken from Israel on October  7 (including Jews, Arabs, Bedouin Arabs, foreign citizens working or studying in Israel, infants, elderly, soldiers, young parents, young women and men, children – people). Is it?

I convince myself that our Intelligence takes the whereabouts of the hostages into account when the IDF executes attacks. I have heard acquaintances, friends, and colleagues, Israelis, Jews and Arabs suggest otherwise. And then I hear another Israeli assure me that I am right until another eyebrow is raised to my left. Then, I explode inside, just short of regurgitation, in anger and disbelief and another moment when I am compelled to step back and wonder when a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem tells me pointedly that she is appalled that the government of Israel has such disregard for human life that it is willing to kill its own children taken hostage in order to kill more Palestinian children. How dare she say that? But what if… And then in that moment where I read no news and avoid scrolling among headlines or listening to any broadcasts, I hear – right or wrong, true or false – the evolving narrative of the other as it emerges. When we see the retrospective, will we understand how the Israeli narrative is evolving?

As I write, I am shown a video clip on Reels with Israeli citizens, Arabs in Lod, lined up by the police against a wall. At first, I interpret it as indiscriminate discrimination by the police. Then I read the text that the Arabs involved admitted to holding weapons accumulated and a plan to attack their Jewish neighbors in this shared city. Next, I ask myself if this is not the work of an extreme right-wing Jew to incite against Arabs. I pause to recall the question posed to me last week: how do you know that there is not a group of Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank, in Qalqilya, planning an attack like that of Hamas on October 7? And you know that where you live, Kfar Saba, is logistically the first stop. You can’t believe it and you can’t shake it off.

When we see the retrospective, which tiles will we see in the composition of this mosaic? If we look back to the founding of the State of Israel and analyze the narratives that served this fledgling dream-realized, we will surely see the inconsistencies. We will face manipulations of the varied versions of reports of the same incidents, and the terminologies invoked for different audiences to gain their support. How did the Zionist movements engage with the American Jewish image of the peace-loving, peace-seeking Jew subject to the evil of the Arab world following the horrors of the Shoah known to varying degrees to call them to join the forces in fighting to maintain the independence of the new state in 1948? How did the leadership then design the messages to take the anguish and vengeance of European Jews to the battlefield? How did those kibbutzim which were effectively outposts, and civilian residences, with their fighters rationalize deplorable acts in which they took part with their socialist ideologies of equality and embracing of the other? And then of course, the moments when Jews, Israelis, were and are faced with the undeniable need to protect themselves and when that incurs loss of lives, and the chain of actions and further retaliations is set in motion. Integrity requires you acknowledge: one cannot track who is proactive, who is retaliating. You’re at war for 100 years or more.

A reprieve please, some relief from the hammers in my head pounding out messages to which I nominally subscribe and then I align with their refutation, and pound away the way one takes slabs of chicken cutlets, pounding them until they become thinner and thinner and easier for the kids to chew.

I’m listening to the soundtrack of my reverberating attempts to find a way to say that I want my people to be safe. If other nations attack Israel now, I will not refrain from saying we should protect ourselves – and I know what that means. I want our soldiers to be safe. I want the hostages to return home now. I do not want Gazan civilians victimized. I do not want to engage in speculations about how many Gazans who are not members of Hamas support Hamas, nor endorse their actions. I have not seen any of the 43-minute footage shown to the Knesset earlier this week. The footage accumulated from the body cameras taken from the Hamas terrorists who were killed in Israel showing how they slaughtered Israeli children in their beds and shot and mutilated bodies. The footage that resulted in an emergency call bringing several psychologists to cope with the impact upon the people in the room. The footage presumably shown to Blinken on his November 3 visit to Israel. The footage that the media discusses and debates – should it be shown to the world? Not that it is for the press to decide, but one of the questions is whether we have the right to spread such footage when families of victims can recognize their loved ones violated to death.

Do I have to spend my energy on analyzing and understanding aspects of gang theory and differential theory in order to relieve vindictive Gazan civilians of responsibility and to view them as victims? I am not spending my energy on such analysis and will not engage in this kind of justification of evil, but eventually we may have to understand this to generate change.

I know the extremist Israeli settlers, Israeli citizens living in Occupied Territory on the West Bank in the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority must be prosecuted for the evil, terror, destruction they invoke on their Palestinian neighbors. I cannot forgive the government of Israel for not taking the necessary preventive measures and not imposing harsh punitive measures by law.

I know we must protect the Jewish people and all citizens of the State of Israel, those who are Arab citizens and share part of their identity with Palestinians who are residents of Gaza and residents of the Palestinian Authority and share their lives with us in Israel. I know we must protect the members of the Jewish people who share my destiny. I know that the Palestinian-Arab citizens of the State of Israel share much of my destiny. I know that national identities and citizenships and residencies in other places is confusing. I know the flag of Israel needs to make room to include all its citizens and include a symbol or more than one that are the symbols of Israel’s citizens who are not Jews.  I know we must wage a war on education. We need to insist that opinion influencers examine narratives – ours and those of our enemies. Our enemies in Gaza and the Occupied Territories, those along our northern borders, those in Iran, and those scattered around the war. We need to be critical, and we need to exercise restraint and we need to learn how to fight for our life and find a way not to lose lives in the process.

When we see the retrospectives, I wonder what the commentators will reveal.


Harriet Gimpel

November 4, 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.