Harriet Gimpel


I closed my laptop and it landed perpendicularly on my foot. There was a little mark and a little bleeding, because my skin is thin. I forgot about it within minutes. A few days later it swelled. Peculiar, but true, and analogous.

First, an explanation. It swelled a few hours after my body was recovering from an elective medical procedure under anesthesia. It made obvious sense to me. My body was scanning itself and encountered a lesser traumatized area, yet apparently still sensitive. I elevated my leg and the swelling passed quickly. Recovery occurs in reaction to trauma even if we were effectively oblivious to it, having been sedated for the process.

An interval of gratitude, and distress. I guess I have been programmed by generations before me. In the middle of the night, I awakened. Smiled. Thanked God and the universe and the people I love. Thankful to have people to care for me. Thankful to be loved. Thankful to have access to good medical care and options. Grateful.

But then, in the middle of the night, it swept over me – tears – the hostages taken from Israel are still in Gaza. No loved ones by their side to ease their pain. No choices for medical care. The pain of their helpless families demanding their return. Israel threatening to attack Rafah – more death, destruction. Growing need for humanitarian aid likely to be intercepted before reaching those who need it most.

In my helplessness, I attempted shifting my thoughts elsewhere to maintain healing mode. Switched to insular mode, I resumed thinking of gratitude, only to hear the resounding echo in my mind that since October 7 there is no insular mode, there is nothing personal or individual without the trauma of October 7. Healing will begin in the middle of some night that has yet to come. And then, like a pain that dulls with time, but hurts before the rain, this is here to stay.

My six-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter came to spend the afternoon and posed numerous questions, as usual. Like her older sister before her, just last summer, she asked if I had been in the army. I told her that since I lived in the United States when I went to high school and for a few years after high school, I didn’t serve in the Israeli army – since you do that after high school graduation. She unhesitatingly said she wants to live in the US after high school too.

Last year, amidst protests in which we actively participated when the most abominable Israeli government ever – still in power – attempted judicial reform to usurp our semblance of democracy, I expressed empathy for parents with children enlisting in the army at a time when it seemed impossible to rely on government defense policy, strategy, motives.

We were attacked on October 7. What government would not retaliate? I remain critical of policy and strategy. Still, I fail to understand why much of the world prefers to see Israel’s attack on Gaza as the first frame in this film.

I understand painfully well how and why it is possible to interpret Israel’s actions in ways I wish I could discard as unjustifiable. Yet, it doesn’t mean that I don’t find some of Israel’s actions to be defensible. And some reprehensible. It does not mean that I don’t find much of the interpretation inaccurate.

Ultimately, there is only one side to war. The bad side.

My thoughts return to serving in the Israeli army. It should be a privilege. In a democratic society, we should demand our government manage its policies and strategies to ensure that is a privilege. Nevertheless, I respect alternatives to military service. As I was about to explain to Ms. Six-and-a-Half that you can also do national civil service instead of going to the army, she popped the next question: do you go into the army twice? Got it. Her father is on reserve duty, and certainly beyond just completing high school. I explained.  She asked: Will things be the same as now when I go to the army?

Once upon a time, when I was an American teenager, 14 pushing 15 to be precise, there was a terrible war that broke out, October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War. A popular song at the time promised a little girl that this would be the last war.

Israel won the war, incurring terrible losses.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas attacked Israel. I was pushing 65, to be precise. A terrible war ensued. The worst war. I fail to see a winner emerging.

We must make this war the last war.

Please, for the children.


  • Harriet Gimpel, May 4, 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.
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