Harriet Gimpel

No Room for Ambiguity

Wednesday, I drove our 4th grade granddaughter to pick up a friend in Raanana (a neighboring city bordering on ours, Kfar Saba). That’s when we noticed the city’s street signs, usually white with black lettering, covered with black fabric and white lettering. Each street had a temporary new name. The names and ages of 263 fallen soldiers, women and men, from Raanana over the years. From Sunday evening for Memorial Day and through Independence Day on Tuesday, until the cloth was removed, and the real street names reappeared.

Haim read me a headline on Tuesday evening mentioning the president of Tel Aviv University, knowing he is on my list of favorite leaders. Prof. Ariel Porat asked the police to permit a Nakba Day demonstration on campus on Wednesday.

Talking about campuses. Talking about the Israel Police. A police force under the portfolio of Minister of National Security Ben-Gvir. The only reaction Haim got from me, no surprise to him, was applause for Prof. Porat. Israel plays on the issue of requiring Palestinian leadership and political entities (and the Palestinian state-in-the-making) to recognize the State of Israel and its right of existence. So how can we continue to deny or disregard the Nakba? Just because it requires acknowledgement of some ugly things (major understatement) for which Israel is responsible? Even if under “justification,” as part of the Jewish existential struggle at the time of Independence, if we expect recognition, we must recognize the Nakba. We must acknowledge narratives that clash with ours if we expect the same from Palestinians.

Worse. We need to anticipate, as a nation and a people. In reconciliation with the Palestinian people (it will happen), as we demand condemnation of the Hamas attack on October 7, we will be compelled to condemn the condemnable that Israel has perpetrated, acts executed by Jewish settlers, undeterred, in the West Bank. Academic.

I almost thought I had emotion management under control. Detach. The state of mind colleagues, friends, and family have told me to adopt for months. Limit your news intake and all that stuff. I keep hoping to hear news about something other than war. Saturday, Yael Dayan died. A lifelong spokesperson for peace, and as an MK, at the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights, for equality. Her resonating message to the public that peace is a prerequisite for equality. Resonates. But back to disconnect and detach.

Last night, we watched a comedy sketch from a television series. An Independence Day parody: Golda Meir meeting with Abdullah Hussein and telling him David Ben-Gurion is preparing to announce Israel’s independence. Ben-Gurion conducting cabinet discussions, around the table religious and labor party conflicts making it impossible to write a document, the language of the parody starkly similar to public discourse since October 7. Parody. Remindful that politicians would convince us we are amidst another existential war. Parody. Spoof. Room for ambiguity.

Without conscious effort, I minimized my screen time, mechanically joining our granddaughters for things that should be part of how they collect childhood memories of Independence Day. I can’t bring myself to say “celebrations.” Monday night, Haim’s daughter, looking at me, her expression revealing a failed attempt not to understand, yet half questioning, lest she be mistaken, said, “What a peculiar Independence Day.”

That reminds me, maybe I was failing at my detach efforts.

But the days that followed seemed to leave me with this film of artificial calm wrapped around my soul, impenetrable to reality, not having to deny it. Functional. I have been functional, but it could be easier without the internal ideological battles and emotional stress I have to apologize for, because it’s all this vicarious stuff that others are confronting under fire, waiting for news and release of their loved ones taken hostage, discharge from reserve duty in threatening military situations, grieving losses, and I just have work to do.

Friday morning, our staff WhatsApp group beeps. I read the item the day before in Ha’aretz with appall. But in detach mode. When you read about Israeli settlers attacking a Palestinian truck driver in the West Bank based on their assumption that he’s delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, it is impossible to cling to any hope for the future of Israel. They destroyed his cargo too. Soldiers did nothing to interfere. No room for ambiguity.

The WhatsApp message includes footage of the incident posted on Instagram. I glanced at similar footage the day before, while in detach mode and quickly stopped watching. Refrain from clicking on my link above if you want to continue to entertain self-righteous views of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Detach. But I am disgraced that these settlers are considered part of the Jewish people, and that the government of Israel overlooks their actions.

Friday afternoon, news that the IDF Spokesperson is making an announcement to the public at 6:30 PM. Not usually a good sign. We were relieved his announcement did not include a new list of fallen soldiers. It was the announcement of the military operation which resulted in the return to Israel of the bodies of three hostages. Three people with names and stories. International news. Saturday another name, Ron Binyamin (52), was publicized. Four bodies were returned to Israel. DNA. Identification. The IDF Spokesperson on Friday said he wanted to set the rumors spread on social media to rest with the truth. He concluded by reminding the public to refrain from spreading unverified news and to take into consideration the impact of rumors, whether ultimately proven true or not, when they reach families of hostages or fallen soldiers prior to official notification by the authorities –always delivered before authorized media announcements mention names.

We had a quiet Friday night dinner because contrary to usual practice, we planned a Saturday family lunch with the kids and granddaughters. We got to watch the evening news without switching to “Gabby’s Dollhouse,” to either keep the quiet or hide the news from the younger crowd. So much for detach mode. Much of the news focused on the three hostages’ bodies brought back to Israel. Stories about these three people, Shani Louk (22), Amit Bouskila (28), and Itzik Gelerenter (56), interviewing members of their families, and evading description of the overnight military and Intelligence mission that resulted in the return of their bodies, but not allowing us for one moment to forget October 7, and showing footage of that fateful day yet again.

But there are other items in the news. A highly respected, veteran commentator and panelist, Amnon Abramovich, just as I was pressing my detach button, said Israel was justified in launching war on October 7, yet not justifiably conducting the war it is currently continuing. Then results of polls on how the public rates various members of the government. Can you call it reassuring when the public has so little faith in its leaders? Most disturbing were the results showing an overwhelming majority of the public with declining hopes for our future. Thought it was just me. Detach mode. Trying to believe my friends who throw in a word here and there about hope for our society to rediscover common grounds for building and rebuilding as it did in the past. I can’t detach, adding that rebuilding will recall that building in the past occurred despite differences and controversies within, and not denying that, even if under claims of justification in evolving circumstances invariably mistakes were made, injustices were imposed by Israel upon the Palestinians.

Friday night, an Israeli fighter plane took down a militant Palestinian in a counterterror attack in Jenin (West Bank), and eight other people were injured. When we saw a rerun of the report after lunch, Haim’s son spontaneously asked the rhetorical question of why a fighter plane, and not just a helicopter, was required for the operation. In detach mode, I spontaneously asked the next rhetorical question: then tell me why my Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank shouldn’t fear a plight similar to Gazans.

And when I review this detached week in my mind, my fears emerge of a time when Ben-Gvir policies will be evident in far more than police violence seen to date at public demonstrations against the government. A time when Bibi Netanyahu’s purposes will endorse quashing our right to demonstrate. Scared.

Palestinians attacked by Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Jews do this stuff. No longer a question. And just because there is no justification for antisemitism, and no justification for racism, or annihilation of any people, I plea that Jews, alongside non-Jews who believe in humanity, equality, rights to self-determination, demand Israel behave differently.

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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