Harriet Gimpel

Internal Combustion

Over late morning Saturday coffee, we read this morning’s headlines about our attacks in Gaza this morning. I felt sick, demoralized. We started discussing how many terrorists were among the casualties, but how many innocent victims, and why don’t innocent Gazans flee when Israeli forces are in the vicinity. We must call upon the government of Israel to end this war. Though I question why Hamas has yet to accept the Israeli ceasefire offer. Because they insist on a guaranteed end to the war, no temporary ceasefires in stages, no agreements requiring Hamas to relinquish power? Hamas reminds us – it cares mostly about the future of Hamas and little about the people of Gaza.

That reminds me of my dear friend from Rahat in the Negev, inhabited by Palestinian, Bedouin-Arab citizens of Israel. This week, my friend (who spent a decade in Germany where he earned his Ph.D.) said, not complimentarily, as we mulled over the fate of our country, that Netanyahu behaves exactly like an Arab leader.

But today got better. We went to Tira, the Arab town, within Israel, adjacent to Kfar Saba for my 5-kilo supply of Medjoul dates for the next few weeks, and other things we like to buy there.

One of my besties who rarely texts, sent a WhatsApp saying we need more days like today. That was it. I immediately opened my newsfeed – Noa Argamani, Shlomi Ziv, Almog Meir Jan, and Andrey Kozlov – four hostages were released by a heroic Israeli mission in Gaza. The panels on the ongoing wartime broadcasts were filled with teary-eyed commentators. Not for a minute though did any Israeli, including the families of the returned hostages, forget to remind us that there are still 120 Israelis in captivity in Gaza. Then amidst the celebrations, and there were celebrations, it was announced that commando fighter Arnon Zamora had fallen, died from fatal injuries during this bold mission.

Looking back at phrases jotted on this virtual page since last week, I see “the bodies,” and I turned to Haim to check myself: it was this week that the IDF confirmed that the hostages Nadav Popplewell, Amiram Cooper, Yoram Metzger and Haim Peri are no longer among the living? This week, today, every day, the day after October 7, 2023, and 246 days later. The evening when the bodies of these four men were returned to Israel, Israeli television networks changed their broadcasting schedules from high-end reality programs to milder programs, suitable to another day of a grieving nation.

On Wednesday, during a uninational staff meeting, Israelis alone, our binational WhatsApp group started buzzing with messages from our Palestinian colleagues from the West Bank. One of them was awakened the day before, for the first time in her life, by 25 Israeli soldiers banging on the door. It took her husband two minutes to open the door, and then the soldiers held a gun to his head as they demanded an explanation as to why it took so long to open the door. They proceeded to check the house, destroying furniture in the process. It happened throughout her neighborhood following an incident in which a member of the community apparently was responsible for stone throwing or another act of violence aimed over the wall at Israel.

She was too preoccupied to tell us about it until the next day. Following our empathetic responses to what she experienced, she added that neighbors’ homes were looted, that Israeli soldiers took jewelry and other valuable items. My heart aches to know that Israeli soldiers do such things. Sometimes they are compelled to do worse, but this they do not have to do. Doing such a thing is a violation of whatever I thought I share in common with an Israeli soldier. I regretfully no longer need to worry e that anyone, dedicated to Israel and the Jewish people as they may be, will try to tell me that it couldn’t be. It should be reported, and the soldiers should be brought to trial and sentenced. Reports by the NGO Breaking the Silence will surely reflect this as it shares testimonies of worse incidents.

I feel like I just shared a heartless, sterile account of a despicable incident. But in my jottings from that day, my combustion levels must have been near bursting. I wrote “Why?” three times with three unwritten exclamation points next to the question marks, and my internal, silent screams rupturing my soul – because it’s so tangible. It happens to people I know. And far worse goes on in this war, far worse is the fate of the people of Gaza.

Yet another blemish on Israel’s record, a former colleague told me this week about a program her organization recently conducted for Arab teachers, Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel. The teachers agreed to participate on the condition that they would leave their cellphones outside the room. The antithesis of the behavior of any Israeli! But at this time, I needed no further explanation. Israeli authorities are listening. Palestinian citizens of Israel are under scrutiny, and some find themselves under arrest for expressing their humanity, identifying with the suffering of innocent Palestinians. Circumstances are manipulated by our Jewish-supremacist government to further distance us from democratic values and the imperative of shared society for a safe future for Israel.

And on our way between Kfar Saba and Tira today, driving from the east side of the city, before the good news, Haim pointed to the wall separating us from Qalqilya, in the West Bank. I cynically thanked him for reminding me how vulnerable we are, just how similar the distances between Kfar Saba and Qalqilya are to the distances between Israeli towns, cities, and kibbutzim and Gaza. Just how easily terrorists can enter our city.

Scared and then calmed – it’s only a national trauma. When my emotions are collected and contained, I know I am not alone. Others share my concerns. There are brave and committed young people who have volunteered for noble purposes, and soldiers with admirable values who have bravely saved lives, and we will rise above the tragic events of October 7 and the corrosive effects of the days that have followed. There is no alternative. But this past week the alternative did not escape me. Yet it escaped my lips: I asked Haim if he thinks and what if. But there is no alternative. Israel must go on. Its future must be the reversal of trends in Israel and trends disturbingly evident throughout the world.


Harriet Gimpel, June 8, 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.
Related Topics
Related Posts