Harriet Gimpel

Predisposed to Dismissed Images

Apparently, I am easily unsettled by allusions to disturbing possibilities. Apparently, I accept things as possibilities that others have the luxury of being able to dismiss. Apparently, my imagination complicates matters. Apparently, my imagination engages in confrontations with depth perspective, absolute values, and less than effective constraining orders in my mind.

On Thursday morning, three terrorists embarked on a shooting spree to kill, getting out of their car stopped in a traffic jam coming from Maale Adumim, approaching Jerusalem. Two of them were from a village on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Shortly after this incident, I had a team meeting on Zoom including a woman from Bethlehem. She had been on her way to the office in Beit Jala and turned around and went home, telling the rest of the Palestinian staff to leave the office and go home if they were there. Beit Jala is near Bethlehem. IDF presence could be expected to follow the attack. Will the homes of the terrorists’ families be demolished? A proven ineffective deterrent continued from the British mandate period.

Mostly, my colleague was concerned about her three children getting home from school safely and timely. We know children have been killed by rubber bullets, unintentionally. A high price – and then it sounds like everything about this conflict is measured like a budget. The price to be paid to have the Israeli hostages returned from Gaza. The price Israeli society will pay if they are not. The prices paid in soldiers’ lives. The prices paid in the loss of life of children and other innocent victims in Gaza. The prices paid in Jenin. The cost of ensuring my security. The cost of saved lives and lost lives. Maybe there have been some errors in punching the numbers on the price tags – and people pay.

It disturbs me that brave IDF soldiers protecting me are the greatest fear of people I have intertwined personal and professional relations with.

Driving to the office on Wednesday, on the radio, I heard an Israeli soldier just discharged from months of reserve duty. He described an evening a few days earlier when he and his fellow soldiers saw a little girl coming out of a building. They offered her food. They were kind to her. The soldier explained dilemmas and concerns. She could have been a ploy to get them into the arena and a human shield for terrorists. A calculated risk.

Israeli soldiers are young adults and some more mature adults. They are children and they are parents. They are a cross-section of Israeli society. During the isolation of their service, they repeatedly report the common denominator and understanding that we cannot allow the polarization trajectory of Israeli society to continue as it had until October 7. Detached from the media for months, unaware that the same politicians and one at their head responsible for the divisiveness and fragmentation of our society remain unrelenting.

The closure of the West Bank since October 7 generated an economic crisis, among other crises, that is simply overshadowed by the gravity of the situation in Gaza. It explains increased militancy among Palestinians in the West Bank. It explains Israeli anticipation of more attacks like the one on Thursday morning. Not justification. Just an explanation.

The Chief of Staff and the Education Corps of the IDF have addressed the issue of looting. It’s a taboo. It’s war. Taboos are violated. The ethical code needs reinforcement. I mentioned to a friend that this looting disturbs me. She became enraged at me. I sent her a news clip from the Israeli press attesting to it – and it did not go into details. She did. She said that if soldiers used, confiscated, portable heaters found in Hamas residences to keep warm that is ok with her. She didn’t hear about any soldiers bringing valuables back to Israel. Gazans looted Israeli homes in October.

Another day this past week, a headline crossed my phone screen about organized looting in Gaza due to hunger, Hamas control of resources. That is lifesaving looting by Palestinians. Not a relief to read about it. Asymmetry.

Earlier last week, another staff Zoom meeting left me riven from within. Drifting from project updates, a Palestinian team member shared highlights of her earlier conversation with a Gazan friend: Fear. Uncertainty. Humanitarian crisis. Protecting her children. Rape.

My entire body contracts when I think about the barbaric, brutal rapes and sexual war crimes by Hamas on October 7. Extensive international denial, despite the evidence, remains beyond my comprehension. Convulsions.

That same day Israeli media reported on the sentencing in a gang rape case of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat three years ago. Some of the rapists were minors. These criminals will never serve in the Israeli army.

What had my Palestinian colleague implied earlier?

My imagination did its thing. Skipped lunch. I was home alone. Had a short Zoom meeting about our CRM, and I made it shorter. I was temporarily incapacitated. I cancelled my next meeting. One participant called me. She understood. I filled a salad bowl with tissues. She validated my concerns, my worst possible thoughts. I knew she would. She’s Jewish. She’s Israeli. She avoids denial.  I knew I needed to calm down.

Maybe she made me feel worse. I isolate views rather than comparing situations. Comparisons are meant for making choices. Evil, greater or lesser, is evil, and I have no evidence, just an image of conceivable evil.

I knew that sharing this with others, I would cause them counterproductive heartache. Or maybe I would find solace in causing them to see that there is rational justification for considering the worst possibilities. War.

I knew Haim would balance emotional wellbeing with looking at reality. I don’t have to convince him to see the worst conceivable scenarios. I accept his reluctance. He leads me to circumvent conceivably harsh realities, avoiding invalidation. He takes me as a partner on the bypass.

Our soldiers in Gaza are never alone. Under no circumstances could certain taboos be violated and go unreported. Now, in Gaza, could not have happened. If there were circumstances historically where it could have happened, that was then.

If I pursue this, I will not feel better. Take the bypass.

Jewish tradition sanctifies life.

Fragments of thoughts rush across one track and on another track, horrors sustained by terrorist attacks and explicit missions aimed to annihilate the Jewish people, the State of Israel.

Is sanctification of life subject to interpretation?

In-between speaking with my colleague and speaking with Haim when he came home, a friend had the misfortune of calling me. The internal turbulence seeped out of my every word. I knew she would dismiss my concerns. She would insist on the incomprehensibility of what had been alluded to by my colleague to the point that it took a few minutes until she understood what upset me. She thought I heard another story of Israeli hostages subject to Hamas’s sexual violence.

The next day she told me how upsetting the conversation was to her. There was no purpose to upsetting her. Or did I, on some level, want to upset her, shake her steadfast views of the reality she wants to believe in? I want to live in her reality. If it only existed, in its entirety. Maybe, somehow, I want her to abandon denial and fight for the reality we both want.

I would rather not remind anyone of the rampage by extremist Israeli settlers setting fire to the West Bank village, Huwara last year. They did things that “Jews don’t do.” Not in my book. Not people who sanctify life.

The war will end.

The establishment of a Palestinian state is not a prize for the violence and brutality of October 7. It just happens to be a right, unrecognized as such by many Israelis. Israel is not historically to blame, certainly not initially, for that unfulfilled right. The rest is history. Complicated. Defense. Nakba. Inequality. Deportation. Temporary?

Distrust. Fear. Defense and self-protection.

The war will end. Restoring a basis of mutual trust will be an imperative to any agreement. Israeli leadership is proposing some peculiar ideas for the kind of arrangement to follow.

I discovered this week that my belief in the message is steadfast. Neighbors. Reconciliation. My faith in the partnership wavers. And then I remembered. Occupation. Partners denied freedoms I have. They are not our equals, circumstantially speaking. Inequality. Asymmetry.

Any solution requires an end to occupation.

Please don’t abandon us. Please friends abroad, politicians abroad, disillusioned Jews abroad, please help us regain our center of balance. Sanctifying life. Enable me to dismiss some of my concerns as inconceivable moving forward.

Do you know what I mean?

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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